Staying focused

Use focal points in your hardscape designs to earn new clients.

Focal point #1: A Passageway to Serenity
Doors represent a portal from one place to another. Usually, we use them to enter a home or a specific room. However, there exists a huge opportunity to use a doorway in a back yard to take the homeowner from their busy life and lead them into the tranquil peace of their garden or patio. This door can be an old salvaged door dressed with an arbor and anchored by climbing roses or formal topiaries. Consider getting to know a great carpenter who can help build trellises, lattice or arbors to enhance this look even more. Don’t forget to include some unique hand-hammered hinges and a rustic handle. These small details will communicate excellence and professionalism to your client.

Gift idea: When you finish the project, give the client a seasonal wreath to dress the door as a way of saying thank you for your business.

Focal point #2: The Sound of Running Water
Water features tend to spark fear in some people because of their high costs and high level of maintenance. We’ve found the easiest way to sidestep this is to simply create pondless features using pots and just a few well placed rocks or boulders. Using pots in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors adds a unique focal point without breaking budgets. The use of mixed height grasses creates a gentle backdrop to the sound of running water. Now I’m certainly not a fan of gaudy lawn art but a well-placed ceramic frog can compliment this type of feature well.

Photo: Aquascape

Gift idea: Tell your client thank you by offering a set of wind chimes upon completion of the project. Every time the wind blows, they’ll think of you.

Photo: David Hyde Focal point #3: 100-Year-Old Brick Path
Unless your client is lucky enough to have an authentic 100-year-old brick path, you’ll have to help create that same look for them using today’s products. It’s easier than you think and you’ll find aged and weathered bricks being manufactured today. Getting the rustic look of hand-laid brick paths has more to do with the construction technique than the actual brick itself. Slightly off-center spacing, little base prep and only dollops of mortar here and there are the key. Most home and garden centers sell moss kits that can be used to fill in between the cracks. The moss and other spreading grasses will help create an antique look. Line the pathway with a variety of perennials and soft grasses. Place taller flowering shrubs that won’t hedge toward the back. Consider adding a small fountain or bird bath as a centerpiece or destination at the end of the pathway.

Gift idea: Let your clients know how much you appreciate their business by engraving one or more of the bricks with their name or children’s names. A local engraver usually charges anywhere from $15 to $25 per brick. A small price for repeat business and a referral.

Focal point #4: Fire Pit
The classic fire pit invites families and friends to join together for great conversation. While fire pits can exist virtually anywhere, we most often design them as stand-alone features in parts of the yard that would be considered most “natural.” – a clearing in a wooded area or a bump-out to a nearby patio serve as ideal locations. Many of our designs are built on a circular patio measuring 16 feet in diameter. We have found this size ideal to comfortably hold up to eight Adirondack-style chairs. The fire pit itself has an outside diameter of 5 feet and an inside diameter of 3 feet. Any hardscape surface is acceptable, but caution clients against simply building a fire pit in a mulched area or an area with surrounding grass. Not only is a hardscape surface a very nice complement to the pit itself, it also serves as a layer of protection from flying embers.

Gift idea: The best way to thank your new clients for their business is with a marshmallow roasting kit available at home cooking stores like Williams-Sonoma.

Focal point #5: Lighting
© 2008 Greg McGillI’m cheating a bit here because lighting is not, in and of itself, a focal point. However, it is important enough to hold its own position because lighting can turn virtually anything into a focal point. Lighting takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. Lighting is low cost and carries one of the highest profit margins of any of our services. For these reasons, make sure to include a lighting option in your proposal to further enhance your focal point feature. Keep in mind that most entertaining is done in the evening when the sun is down. This creates a perfect opportunity to communicate the value of exterior landscape lighting to your client.

Gift idea: Want to say thank you to your clients for selecting you to install their new lighting package? Give them a set of green and red lens covers to use at Christmas. Clients just set them on top of the light and cast festive holiday colors onto the house.

Using focal points will not only earn you new business, it will earn you the right kind of business. You’ll establish credibility and you’ll gain a reputation for creativity without breaking budgets. Start building a whole new portfolio using focal points and you’ll quickly see the value and benefit in your client feedback and in your bottom line.

The author is president of Sarros Landscaping, Cumming, Ga.

August 2010
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