As more potential clients envision their perfect backyards – grilling on summer evenings, roasting marshmallows with their kids – the demand for outdoor living spaces has reached a fever pitch.
Thankfully for contractors, there are installation kit options that help them bring the clients’ dreams to life. Without needing to learn masonry, these kits allow landscapers to create the same outdoors aesthetic that clients so desperately want. By asking clients specific questions on what they’d like their property to look like, contractors are able to select kits based on their customers’ demands.
“Every year, someone thinks of one more new thing from the indoor kitchen that they can bring to the outdoor,” says Rob Wright, director of sales and marketing at Stone Age Manufacturing. “Ultimately, people like spending as much time outdoors as possible and yet they also like their comforts of the indoors. Anything that we can do to bring more of our indoor comforts into our outdoor living space, people seem to be up for.”
While the materials to build someone’s dream backyard might all come on one palette, the work isn’t necessarily easy, especially if contractors don’t do their research. If they know local law and avoid common mistakes, installation kits can help you build your business.
WHY INSTALLATION KITS?
Wright says he’s seen clients increasingly want outdoor living spaces over the last 10 or 15 years, and as landscapers take on more responsibility with less labor help, he thinks an installation kit can ease someone’s skepticism about entering that segment of the market.
“The demand is there, and… we’ve always felt like it was a tremendous opportunity for the landscape contractors to be able to take more of that project instead of doing a small portion and watching someone else do the rest,” Wright says.
Among all of Stone Age’s kits, Wright says people most frequently purchase the 6-foot, 9-foot and 12-foot-long kits, often assembled in an L-shape and fairly basic in design. Wright says people like to keep the initial kitchen island pretty simple so they can build upon it later and add more amenities like a grill, sink or refrigerator.
Then there are firepits. SiteOne Hardscapes Category Director Chris Noone says these are often the backbone of an outdoor living space. Contractors can accentuate any of their designs with flames, an outdoor staple.
Noone says projects like these are “dramatically changing” the business for landscapers, who can appeal to their current or future clients by offering this in-demand service. With installation kits, contractors can build outdoor living spaces that others might need a well-trained mason to create. Plus, if somebody likes your service while maintaining their lawn, they may trust you to build their outdoor kitchen – or vice versa.
Belgard’s Jenny Earnest, the vice president of hardscapes, says contractors who shy away from hardscapes are generally helped by using modular elements in kits. Material costs might be higher by using kits, but labor costs are going to be much lower. She says the kits can mimic natural stone at the fraction of the learning curve and cost.
“Not all contractors are comfortable bidding on projects with extensive hardscape elements, and that’s okay,” Earnest says. “This is an opportunity to treat full-blown hardscape projects like incremental, goal-bound, profit opportunities.”
So, a client asks for an outdoor living space and you’re ready to purchase an installation kit. How do you pick the right one?
Noone says knowing local ordinances can prevent you from promising clients something that can’t legally be done. Take a fire pit for example: If that state or county doesn’t allow for open flame, the entire design of what your client needs might change.
Also, look into what type of labor would be necessary to assembly any given kit. It’s possible that some require equipment or manhours you simply can’t provide, so asking questions of kit suppliers can help offer clarity on what’s possible for your company to handle.
“If your name is going on that project, you’ve got pride in it, what are your capabilities?” Noone says. “The last thing you want to do is underperform.”
Also, Wright suggests contractors look into the warranties. He says manufacturers, suppliers and contractors can often collaborate on specific warranty details so customers can have peace of mind, though he’s seen many outdoor kits go under a five-year warranty and fireplaces are tabbed with a 25-year warranty.
Noone says manufacturing defects might be covered for life, and some warranties transfer from homeowner to homeowner if a client moves away.
Some installation kit suppliers offer educational lessons or forums to help answer any contractor questions about how to properly use their products. Wright urges landscapers to reach out with any concerns they have along the way, and Noone says his staff is comprised of certified instructors. It’s just as much in it for manufacturers as it is contractors that the latter understands how to use their kits.
“I’m a firm believer that education is the key to repeat business,” Noone says. “If they go out and have a bad experience putting together a firepit that’s kitted up for them, and it’s just not a good customer experience, they’re probably not going to do it again.”
LEARN FROM OTHERS.
Imagine showing up to a jobsite with an installation kit loaded up on a skid-steer, ready to move it to a client’s house only to realize something deflating – that the homeowner long ago built an unnavigable fence around their backyard.
“Sometimes people get so excited that, ‘Hey, I’ve got this job. Maybe it’s a great new opportunity for me to diversify my business’ that they forget the small steps, the checks,” Noone says.
The success of an installation kit comes down to the builder. When the project is completed and has things like surrounding pavers or mulch, the installation kits really stand out.
“It looks much better when they touch it. I always joke around that everything we have looks okay on a palette, but once it gets out on a job, it’s got everything that goes with it,” Noone says. “They always somehow tend to make it better than what you assume what you will have, and I think that is the creativity of the contractors and the beauty behind what they do.”