So you’ve done it: You’ve made the leap to commercial landscaping. Congratulations. But what do you do if all your crews are doing is maintenance? How do you take that next step to sell yourself as a full-service company? The commercial property you maintain may hire a different company for irrigation, a different company for snow removal and another one for construction.
How do you become their one-and-only contractor? Tom Canete, president and CEO of Canete Landscape & Garden Center, Wayne, N.J., says a simple, but important first-step for his company is marketing.
“Let your customer know you do all that stuff,” he says, suggesting that you hand out mouse pads and magnets with your provided services and contact information on them. “They pass their file cabinet 10 times a day and your magnet’s there. What happens when their other guy doesn’t come through? They call you because you’re staying in their face. You may not be getting the work, but you’re staying in their mind.”
Most landscapers we contacted agree that the easiest place to sell yourself as full-service is with your current clients, and not just for added revenue. Another contractor coming onto your client’s property for lawn care, parking lot maintenance or snow removal could put your business at risk. “If they have to go out and hire a different company, I potentially put my relationship at risk because I’m not able to provide all their needs,” says Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, Hillsboro, Ore.
Tom Houghnon, chief operating officer for Reliable Property Services, St. Paul, Minn., echoes Grover’s statements.
Don’t hate. Consolidate.
Sometimes your clients hesitate to go all-in with just one service provider. Ken Hutcheson, CEO of U.S. Lawns, has some key points to keep in mind when convincing your customers to consolidate.
Accountability. “There’s a natural relationship among these service lines, they affect each other, and if one doesn’t work well, another won’t work well,”he says. There will be one company to look to if something happens and they’re using a single source.
Crew coordination and timing. “So many things we do are dependent upon the weather or the application timing,” he says. Using one crew for everything on the site allows them to time for the best results.
Understanding their needs. “We know what you need and we know access points. There are benefits to us understanding the ins and outs of the property,” he says. Because you’re on the site in the summer, you know exactly where that pesky section of land that doesn’t drain is located. If you’re also doing snow removal in the winter, you’ll know to not pile snow there.
You own the landscape. “It’s more intangible, but it resonates with the customer. We own (the landscape) and want to be proud of it. It’s hard to be proud when we cut the grass but we don’t own any other aspect of it,” he says.
Flexibility with money. “We can easily reallocate funds in your budget and do it very effectively from service line to service line,” he says. If the weather has been unkind when it comes to the plants lining the walkway and there’s no point using the budgeted funds to plant more, it’s easy to reallocate that money to irrigation, in order to help the current flowers survive.
The most important factor is trust. “They always end up trusting the contractor who’s on the site every week,” he says. “If they don’t, you’re not on the site anymore.”
“Your margin is definitely a lot stronger if you’re a full-service provider,” he says. “Mowing and weekly services, while they can be profitable, that’s really where you can get upside down quickly. If you can’t provide the irrigation service or some of the enhancement services, it’s going to be significantly tougher to make a profit and succeed in the commercial market. You’re giving up significant revenue potential that can help compensate for the lower margin mowing work that got you the facility in the first place.”
Grover also says you shouldn’t be worried about a lack of resume or long list of previous work, and you definitely shouldn’t let that keep you from offering your services.
“I’m a firm believer in ‘act the way you want to be,’” he says. “If you have one reference, you’ve got a reference. You don’t have to have a long history before you can say you do it. Say it confidently or show examples confidently. You don’t say, ‘Hey I just started this this year,’ you just say, ‘We provide this.’ You may not have done it last year, but act confident that you know what you’re doing.”
So what happens if your client already has another company do that service, and you’re thinking about offering to do it yourself instead?
“I just say ‘I’m not trying to kick anyone out of the box, but I surely would love the opportunity to bid it,’” says Christy Webber, president of Christy Webber Landscapes in Chicago. “They can’t really deny you that, but at least you get to throw your hat in the ring. Ask for the opportunity to price it at least.”
Ask for the work.
If your client contracts multiple companies for the work on the property, you may stumble across another hurdle in your attempts to be full-service: What if they don’t want to consolidate?
“In those markets, there’s really only one way to go about attacking that,” says Ken Hutcheson, president of Orlando-based U.S. Lawns. “Develop a working relationship with that customer or prospective customer by using one as the entry point. You will not sit in front of a customer that has always kept (services) apart and convince them conversationally that they can bundle all together. You won’t be a trusted counselor unless you have a working relationship with them. Once they trust your counsel, then you can start sharing your reasons why they should bundle and use you.”
What makes the right choice.
When it comes down to it, the client will pick which is the right choice for them.
“We put a proposal in for snow plowing,” Canete says. “The previous guy had it for 20-plus years and charged per hour. They had a check-in system, then had to check cameras to make sure everything was working or they weren’t being mis-billed, and that was their pain.”
When Canete Landscape & Garden Center put its bid in, the proposal included a pay-per-event plan.
“If 7 inches fall, we only charge for 7 inches,” Canete says. “We had proven ourselves with the landscaping, so they checked our snow references. Now they’re one of our top referrals.”
When it comes to why the client should chose you over another company, there’s more involved than just costs. Something to also consider is relationships.
“To sell yourself,” Houghnon says, “say ‘we’re on the site and you deal with us in the summer, you can deal with us in the winter.’ We know the site intimately in the summer. When it comes to winter, it’s the same guys coming so they’re going to know that property because they’re on it so much in the summer.”
It’s also about your knowledge and coordination.
“So many things we do are dependent upon the weather or the application timing,” Hutcheson says. “When you mow affects when you do a fertilizer application.”
It can also benefit the client in a non-typical financial way.
“We can easily reallocate funds in your budget,” Hutcheson says, “and do it very affectively from service line to service line. If the weather means you don’t need as much maintenance early in the season as expected, we can reallocate cutting funds to something else, like mulch or flowers. We don’t need to cut because it’s been dry, so we install flowers instead, or do a mulch application.”
Houghnon says it’s not just about the relationships with on-site crews either.
“Something that gets forgotten is the administrative side,” he says. “The invoices look the same … the billing, the invoicing, the proposal sheets … everything to the certificate of insurance. It’s just more consistency and that’s the key of the thing. Even the person who answers the phone is the same in the summer and winter. Some of it sounds pretty minor, but it’s like anything else. You’re comfortable with the people you deal with.”
One thing most people don’t think about is how can being full-service affect your company negatively? For the most part, it’s all win-win, but there is one pretty big way it can have a negative impact on your company.
“If you’re making money and you’re very successful, but you mess up the snow that one time, you’ll never do the landscaping again,” Webber says.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the relationships and trust you have with your clients and vice versa.
“They’ll say ‘I can get anyone to come out here, but this company also has my best interest in mind,’” says Gib Durden, vice president of business development for HighGrove Partners, Austell, Ga.. “I think it makes you more of a partner with that property manager than just a vendor.”