Breaking into commercial landscaping

Features - Cover Story: Going Commercial: Property Managers

The jobs are everywhere, but so is the competition.

January 4, 2019

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As commercial property managers incessantly handle daily responsibilities, the last thing they want to take care of is a minor landscaping hiccup.

That’s what Marc Fisher says. Fisher, president and CEO of InspiRE Commercial Real Estate Services, has worked as a property manager for over 25 years.

“You want to be a solution provider,” Fisher says. “What you really want to talk about is how you can reduce headaches.”

Commercial landscaping can be quite lucrative, but it comes with responsibilities and challenges unseen in residential work. For one, there’s plenty of competition because the jobs are highly desired. One contract alone could be worth more than $100,000.

Then there are the heightened expectations that accompany large-scale jobs. Property managers might meticulously demand the highest quality from your crew.

Still, if property managers can trust your company to take landscaping concerns off their plates, chances are good you can land and successfully manage the jobs. “This is a relationship business, just like anything else,” Fisher says.

Identifying the right clients.

The first step to landing a potential commercial client is figuring out exactly what kind of property you can service. Finding the right match can be tricky. Each type of property has different objectives, so the landscaping needs will vary between accounts. A hospital, for instance, will likely demand more from its landscaper than a “blow and mow” apartment complex just looking to keep the lawns clean.

It’s best to be realistic with yourself before making the pitch. Fisher says one size of service does not fit all, as smaller landscaping companies without enough labor or equipment may not be able to service a top-level property that demands keen attention to detail.

If you’re thinking about getting into commercial landscaping, close your eyes, take a picture and find out what that means to you, Fisher says. “Rather than just go to a meeting and approach different potential clients, I think it’s important to really think about what are your skill sets, and where do you fit into the commercial marketplace?”

Making the bid.

Understanding what a company wants is especially important when you’re submitting a bid. While every company will initially ask about cost, potential clients might care more about the appearance or quality of the final product than the price tag. Some clients might want you to run everything by them first, while others might ask that you just take care of problems, like a dead tree, and alert them later.

Small details can set you apart from your competition. For example, if a company’s mission statement includes a line about sustainability, it wouldn’t hurt to include an explanation of how your company stays sustainable, too. Maybe you mulch excessive waste, or perhaps you can point out how your crews limit water use in irrigation.

“You really need to do your homework about every single opportunity that’s presented in front of you,” Fisher says.

Retaining business.

Fisher says quality service is the best way to keep the job. He says at the lowest level of a buyer-seller relationship, there’s little loyalty involved at all. Meanwhile, at the highest level of buying, which Fisher tabs “joint planning,” it’s all about value and trust. The buyer and seller collaborate on a shared vision, and price is no longer a concern.

“I think one of the most important things to do is to put in your mind this mantra of, ‘If (you) owned or managed the building, what would you do?’” Fisher says. “That’s the way you want to approach almost every building you’re responsible for.”

Fisher also says that when you’re first entering the commercial industry, you may need to take a job that doesn’t make a profit or even take a loss simply to build trust.

People talk, Fisher says, and when you’ve done a quality job and built a lasting relationship with a property manager, new jobs could open up to you elsewhere.

If a manager leaves to take another job, you could follow them to that new business. You could even ask managers to recommend your landscaping company to other businesses, although Fisher says that may already begin happening after you’ve established a relationship.

Fisher adds that another great thing to do is to get plugged in on LinkedIn. He compares his list of connections to the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Much like how every actor is in some way connected to Bacon, Fisher always knows somebody who is tied to the person he needs to reach.

“I just have to dig hard enough to find what that connection is,” Fisher says.

Ultimately, Fisher acknowledges it’s not always easy to make and keep connections. Sometimes it takes extra steps like showing up at HOA meetings or small courtesies, such as ensuring your crew turns down blowers when people at those properties pass by.

Still, going the extra mile will go a long way to landing your dream commercial accounts and keeping customers happy.

“You may be trying to get into that contract, and you may be unseating somebody who has been in that contract for 10 years,” Fisher says. “There’s relationships that have been built; there’s connectivity that has been built. This is not something that’s going to be that you decide tomorrow and get a $200,000 contract … It’s going to take a lot of work to get to that point.”