When Stephen Hastings first meets a client who expresses interest in an outdoor kitchen – a living space that will function as a true extension of the home – he can usually tell before any discussion begins if the resident has a custom design in mind.
The finishes inside a client’s home are the first clue. What does their indoor kitchen look like? What about the appliances and furniture they have in the living room? When approaching the front door, is the landscaping neat and clean? “You can really tell where people want to take it by how much pride they have in their house,” says Hastings, vice president of landscape development for Becker Landscape in Indianapolis. “If their property looks good, you can tell if they’ll want that upgrade.”
Becker Landscape focuses only on custom residential design/build projects – no prefab outdoor kitchens that can go up in a week’s time. Instead, each of the firm’s projects is unique. The finishes (granite, marble and soapstone countertops, for example) and the appliances (wine coolers, warming drawers, pizza ovens) are tailored for each job.
Hastings recalls one client who chose a slab of granite that cost more than $100 per square foot, just for the stone. A typical granite surface would range from $50 to $55 for the materials and installation. “He loved it,” Hastings says of the client’s choice. And, the countertop fit perfectly into the space, which included an expansive gazebo overlooking a pool, big-screen televisions, a sophisticated speaker system and high-end furniture. Oh, and a top-notch grilling station.
Clients are willing to spring for upgrades and create “entertainment meccas,” Hastings says, because they simply cannot buy a home that already has these custom outdoor accouterments. “These folks have realized they can’t go out there and find a house that has everything they want at the price they want, so they’re saying, ‘Fine. I’ll stick where I’m at, but I want to make upgrades the way I want to live in my house,’” he says.
So, selling high-end outdoor kitchens is not really all that difficult these days, Hastings says. “Clients are trying to get what they truly want."
“These projects really tend to sell themselves,” says Richard Cohen of Richard Cohen Landscape & Construction in Lake Forest, Calif. “People tend to sell themselves on the projects because it’s what they want.” Cohen says he doesn’t have many stories to tell where clients decide after seeing a design that they’d rather not spend the money. Rather, what they need to sign on the dotted line is confidence in the landscape firm. “They want to know that you can deliver what they want,” he says.
Landing on exactly what a client desires is the key to selling a high-end outdoor project. That involves detailed interviews with residents to tease out information about the way they live, entertain and dream of spending their time outdoors. Cohen comes prepared to the first meeting with photographs of completed jobs so he can point out special features, from the functional (refrigerators, trash centers, cabinets) to the luxury (covered structures).
“When I interview clients, I try to get as much information as possible,” he says, adding that he also likes to drive clients to completed jobs so they can experience his work. Then, he talks them through the process, walking them through the design – showing them how it would emerge in their own backyards.
“I provide clients with a packet that includes names of clients who have done these projects so they can call my customers and talk to them,” Cohen adds. He encourages prospects to ask questions like: How is the outdoor kitchen working for you? Are you getting a lot of use out of it? Did you get the attention to detail that you were looking for? Is the finished product what you expected? “They can allay their fears by talking to past customers,” Cohen says.
Hastings asks clients to share photos of designs they like so he can get a taste of their goals. He takes into account the style of clients’ homes – the architecture, their existing finishes – and incorporates that into the landscape plan. Putting his ideas on paper helps clients see the vision.
He’s building confidence all the while – a sale depends on that. “It’s how well they feel comfortable with you,” he says. “You are dealing with clients’ personal money. It’s not a bank. It’s not a construction loan. You are dealing with their hard-earned money, and you want to be respectful of that. We never push features that a client doesn’t want.”
But usually after a first meeting, Hastings gets a commitment from clients to begin a design development plan. He says, “We show them, ‘Hey, this is where we think you need to be (in terms of features),’ and then we get the buy in pretty quickly.”
Profiting from luxury.
Hastings says there’s no shortage in this type of work due to the real estate market. People are staying in their homes and “blowing up their backyards.” But the profit margins on this work – as exclusive as some projects may be – are in line with other landscaping services the firm provides. Hastings says a 10 to 20 percent profit margin “would be fine.” Where the company can enjoy a nicer cushion is on plantings and landscape complements, he says. “(Plantings) are like a bolt on to the backyard landscape,” he says.
Cohen also says his firm expects about a 10 percent net profit margin on high-end outdoor kitchens. “It’s similar to other construction parts of a job as far as profit level,” he says.
But what Cohen loves about this works is the creativity. “I like being in a position that I can be a problem solver for people, and I can help them accomplish what they want on their properties so they can enjoy it,” he says.
There’s nothing better for Cohen than when a client comes back to him and tell him that the project was worth the investment. And, these luxury outdoor spaces can sell a house fast if residents decide to eventually move on. “People can picture themselves outdoors enjoying these spaces,” he says. “It’s one of those sizzle items of a property that people fall in love with.”