Special Report: What customers want

Features - Cover Story

Here's what to expect from clients and what they expect from you in 2011.

January 25, 2011

As you prepare for the coming season and the coming year, it’s never been more important to get in front of your customers and ask them intelligent and targeted questions. And while differences exist from region to region and market to market, there are certain trends that hold true across the country when it comes to what clients want from their landscape or lawn care company. 

In this special report from Lawn & Landscape, our editors worked with green industry consultant Judy Guido to bring you a list of the top eight things consumers want in 2011. During a period of 18 months, Guido surveyed a group of 450 people – property managers, building owners, investors, facility managers, apartment owners and homeowners – to find out what was important to them about their landscape and the company they hired to maintain it. 

On the following pages, we’ll walk you through the broad trends and perspectives these groups offered, and how you can take advantage of them in 2011. – Chuck Bowen

Someone to help them out
Consumers want to know that the companies they hire do right by their communities. They’re concerned not only about what you sell and how, but also about how you give back to the community, and what causes you support. Lawns by Yorkshire recently signed up with the New Jersey Nets to plant three trees locally for every three-pointer the team sinks. The program got the company national press attention, a huge spike in website traffic and opened doors to meetings with executives from companies like Vonage and CB Richard Ellis.

A low risk
The economic crush has really made risk a four-letter word. Homeowners facing the prospect of stagnant or slashed incomes and property managers with reduced budgets want you to be a sure thing. Companies are being asked not just for prices, but proof of licenses and resumes of their leadership team. It’s not only that you know how to do the work, but do you have the credentials to back it up? Prove it. One Iowa landscaper won a major snow removal contract because he is a certified snow professional and was able to answer a barrage of specific questions on the materials he used.

Clear lines of communication
Everyone, it seems, has e-mail, a smartphone and a never-ending desire to be in immediate contact with you when they have a question or problem.

Customers expect a clear message when it comes to pricing, contracts and information on your company. They may have been burned by fly-by-night contractors and want to make sure you have enough cash to keep the lights on and will stick around until the job is finished. Landscape companies across the country have been asked by clients to develop intranets and dashboards, so the property managers can follow projects closely and on their own schedule.

Someone they know
Americans are angry with corporate executives, Wall Street and all things big after the economic meltdown. Farmer’s markets and the home gardening movement have grown dramatically in the past few years. A full-service Iowa company advertises at an affordable price with its local minor league hockey team and gets regular exposure to 4,000 fans (read: potential customers) where they’re comfortable and open to messaging.

Someone to be green
It’s no surprise that green is a big buzzword for everyone in 2011. Clients want to be sure your technicians aren’t harming their water supply, pets or children. Researchers call this a save our society impulse. And LEED and the Sustainable Sites Initiative are creating a demand for green projects. While construction design firms have seen a 12 percent drop in revenue, green project revenue overall has risen by 16.8 percent (all while the top 10 largest design firms have experienced a 42 percent increase in growth), according to data from McGraw-Hill. Additionally, while the top 400 contractors have seen their top lines decrease by 14 percent, revenues from green projects have increased by 11 percent.

To feel at home
People are spending more time at home with trusted colleagues and with friends where they feel safe. Consumers are reinvesting in their local areas. This helps validate Guido’s predicted 12 percent increase in retro-fitting and renovation jobs that are expected to take place nationwide in 2011.

A good price
Let’s face it, to many homeowners or property managers facing tighter and tighter budgets, everyone cuts grass, or fertilizes or installs irrigation systems the same way. And for some, the only thing that’s going to change their mind about which truck pulls up that week is the bottom line price.

Targeting your target demographic
Big Brother is watching, and recording. Marketers, researchers and analysts mine all sorts of data to figure out what makes people tick. Now, you can take a peek at the man behind the curtain.

Visit marketplace.publicradio.org/features/consumer-profiler for 65 profiles of American households. The site is a collaboration between Marketplace and mapping and data analyst company ESRI. 
Just input some information on your target customer demographic to find out what they do for fun, what TV shows they watch and what they spend their money on.

Here are some examples:

The power parents! You are in your mid-30s to mid-40s, you are highly educated, highly successful in your career and you make bank. You also make jellyfish costumes out of streamers and garbage bags for the 4th grade production of “The Little Mermaid.” You’ve got kids in school and they dominate your free time and your wallet. You drop most of your dough on toys, sports equipment, flat-screen TVs, family vacations and video games.

Senior Sun Seekers
The snowbirds! Break out the playing cards and the SPF, your golden years are all about sun. Your budget may be tight, but that doesn’t stop you from migrating between houses depending on the weather – while there, you like to invest in fixing the place up. You love eating out as well as painting, and gardening. You’re very fit and active and also active in your community – belonging to local fraternal orders and participating in charities. You love the great outdoors, and are a frequent visitor to national parks and also like to hunt and fish.

Main Street USA
It’s the Griswolds! You are solidly middle class, average in your late 30s, own a house and most of you have kids. You’re very family oriented. You’ve got a solid job (which you NEED because braces, piano lessons and summer camp are not cheap). You watch your pennies and tend to prefer frugal activities like home movie night or board games. When you travel, it’s all about the munchkins – theme parks and national parks (Walley World!) You enjoy working on your home and your lawn. You enjoy eating out when not savoring the latest installment from the Jelly of the Month Club. Also, you own cats (don’t let them near the Christmas lights!).