Our cover package this month focuses on social media, and how you can best use it to promote and grow your business. I get a lot of questions from contractors and suppliers about what they should do with social media.
And, here on this page, is what I tell a lot of them: Don’t do it.
This may seem hypocritical, especially coming from someone with a half-dozen Twitter accounts, several blogs and what is likely an unhealthy amount of time logged onto Tumblr.
It may also seem odd since we’ve encouraged you to adopt these platforms as the latest and greatest tools for connecting with customers.
But my advice to you is this: Don’t do it. Stay off Facebook. Delete your Twitter account. Unsubscribe from your LinkedIn groups.
Wait. Let me expand that: Don’t do it unless you have the time.
According to our latest research, the majority of landscape contractors – about 60% – spend between an hour and more than five hours on social media. And, a couple hours stretched over a 50- or 60-hour week isn’t that much.
But, if your blog has one post dated in the winter of 2009 that reads: “Just started a blog! Excited to share more about our company with you!” or if the timestamp on your last tweet is measured in days, consider the value it’s bringing your followers.
My point is this: Doing social media well takes time and attention, just like maintaining successful relationships in real life. If you don’t have the time to update, post and generally manage your online presence, it looks bad. It looks worse, even, than not being on there in the first place.
I’m a firm believer in doing fewer things, but doing them all better. That’s why you’ll find L&L in quite a few places online, but not on Pinterest, Google+ or Tumblr. I like all those platforms, but we just don’t have the time to knock them out of the park.
So, do I really think you shouldn’t be on social media? No. You absolutely should. But not because I say so.
You should do it because it validates you as a professional business to customers and potential employees. You should do it because it humanizes your company and can help focus your attention.
You should be on social media because you believe it improves your company and is another example of something you do really well.
And doing social media well is exactly what we’ll cover this month, starting on page 42.
– Chuck Bowen
Selling enhancements is a great way to not only keep your revenue growing, but it also gives you another way to stay in touch with your customer. And nothing says enhancement like a design/build project filled with color. At home, commercial properties or multi-family housing, beds and beds of colorful plants make any property look nicer – a lot nicer.
“Color is a big, big part of the landscape,” says Jeff Miller, president of Creativexteriors in Denver. “It’s a very critical element especially to most people who are visual.”
But not every contractor wants deal with the amount of maintenance it takes to get the most out of seasonal color. It’s year-round work, and, while you will enjoy the regular revenue the enhancement sales produce, customers might be turned off by the recurring cost. Lawn & Landscape spoke with three contractors who specialize in the niche about the ins and outs of the color game.
Slow and steady sales. Miller has been dealing in color for more than 20 years, and doesn’t plan on slowing down. Miller started his work with municipalities, and says working with color is a great way to keep revenue coming into the business on a regular basis.
“You can incorporate color into all landscapes,” he says. “So, if you are a landscaper first and foremost, you can design color into the spaces. The nice thing about color is it’s a reoccurring income. If you do it and do it well, it is something that comes back every single year.”
But because of its recurring nature, Miller doesn’t throw his whole pitch at a customer up front. Instead, he takes it slow, and gets a feel for what they want before suggesting seasonal additions.
“I typically ask them up front, ‘How important is color to you in the landscape and specifically, how important is annual color realizing there is a reoccurring annual cost to replant these things every year?’ A lot of times people will divulge to me what they are willing to do,” says Miller, who does 65 percent commercial and 35 percent residential work.
“If you just start designing a lot of residential color … with no regard of what these people are willing to spend, then you are kind of shooting yourself in the foot so to speak. If you start designing color for people, you need to work them into it. You go in with a minimal program, then you capture their attention with the color and the next thing you know they are saying, ‘I want to do more next year, I love what you did here, but now I want more on this side.’”
|If you are going to sell color to customers, you’ll have to know what flowers complement each other best.|
And those contractors looking to make an immediate splash on the balance sheet might want to keep expectations low. Enhancement sales don’t take off overnight, but they do add up over time. If you are patient, color can make a long-lasting impression to the bottom line.
“Eventually, you can double, triple, quadruple their order over time,” Miller says.
While Miller won’t divulge specifics, he says the margins are “relatively good” when doing color installs and maintenance. But again, it’s the steady work that is attractive, especially for a company that does a lot of design/build jobs and they may not get paid for a while.
“We have a lot of employees to do the work for more minimal type margins, but it is reoccurring, and because it is maintenance, it does improve cash flow in the company,” he says.
Fifty-five percent margins. Sure, everyone enjoys the end result of a great color install, but there’s a lot of work that goes into knowing what looks good in what places, and in what conditions. If you are selling color as an enhancement, you better make sure you have strong grasp of the products you are putting in the ground.
Casey Vickery, president of Benchmark Landscapes in Austin, Texas, studies his products thoroughly and tests them out before ever making them the main event of a color install.
He says every plant performs differently in each environment, and some are more disease tolerant and need more maintenance.
“We’ve learned it just from trial and error over many, many years,” he says
Crews will set up different test sites on properties, and will put small numbers of new products in beds and monitor them.
“If it works well, then it’s something we’ll use more extensively the next year. The best way to learn about the products itself is look around and see what’s working for everybody else and use your local growers as resources,” Vickery says.
He adds that Benchmark has customers who will do 400 or 500 flats per change out and they’ll spend $40,000 to $60,000 a year on annual color.
“We’ll have test sites on their large, large, job sites or we’ll create beds for clients for free or make a bed a little larger and have tests sites,” he says. “That way it doesn’t cost the client anything for us to try it out.”
Vickery says contractors in his market can expect about 55 percent gross margin on color work, but the results will vary between residential and commercial customers.
“The residential landscapers are going to have a higher profit margin in it because they are using less quantity,” he says. “Commercial landscapers will have a little lower profit margin in it but they are doing larger quantities.”
Client education. Every contractor, without fail, will come across clients who know more than they do.
That’s very much the case when selling an enhancement like color installation, where a property manager or homeowner can be very passionate – and persistent – about the finished project.
|An eye-catching bed of color can spruce up a commercial property’s entrance.|
“Color selections are always personal,” says Melissa Scherb, vice president of business development for the Chicago branch of Landscape Concepts Management. “I can usually make any color selection work. However, if clients are tied to certain plants, that’s where an issue comes in.”
But the margins on the work help Scherb get past that problem. She says you can expect a net profit margin of 20-50 percent depending on what you sell.
“Using color to boost bottom line numbers is a great way to increase the value of your contracts, season after season,” she says. “My first tip is to encourage your client to see the value in color.
Adding planters or annual beds to storefronts or main entrances not only attracts customers and/or future tenants, but it also gives their site recognition from their neighbors or competitors. It is the easiest way to increase the value of your contract year round.”
Education and managing expectations of clients is critical. For example, Scherb says, you wouldn’t want to put a dark purple flower up against a dark granite building. Instead, push a client toward a lighter-colored plant that will pop.
“Or if a client wants to put in petunias in a shady location where they don’t fertilize, educating them as to why they won’t work is extremely important,” she says.
“I always try to bring with me color selections in advance or give them cuthseets of maybe two options for their site for each season. That way, they feel like they have made a decision yet we have pretty much directed them as to what direction we may or may not want to go.”
But you’re bound to encounter clients who do know what they are talking about, and it’s important to recognize when that’s the case, and use their knowledge to improve the design.
“I say things like, ‘Wow, you really know your stuff. Have you heard about this new plant, or have you ever tried this?’ Usually, I come up with a new plant they may not be as familiar with. This takes them off track and refocuses their attention on something else,” Scherb says.
But, if your client is married to a plant or color, and you can’t change his mind, Scherb says, “I simply say that ‘It’s clear that you have chosen your plant palette, but with all due respect, I am not sure that I can stand behind your plant selections.’”
If a client wants to plant seed impatiens for the third year in a row, and there are downy mildew issues with that plant, she will educate them and advise them to avoid using that flower.
“The last thing they want to do is have a mass planting of species that won’t perform to the level they are expecting.”
Even with the difficulties that will happen with selling color, it’s a service you want to investigate adding.
“I have personally seen color making a comeback,” she says. “I have seen spring color, fall color, bulbs and winter installations on the rise. If you provide your clients with budgets and proposals ahead of their budget time, they can work these numbers into their overall budgets.”
The author is associate editor for Lawn & Landscape. He can be reached at email@example.com.
For more on selling color, sign up for our quarterly Ornamental Insider by visiting www.lawnandlandscape.com/newsletters.
It’s easy to see holiday lighting as only a Christmas-time business. But smart and dedicated operators know there are many more opportunities throughout the year to keep the cash flowing.
At first, Chris Beneduce, owner of Impressions Holiday Lighting and Décor of Warwick in Rhode Island, only focused on Christmas. But then, as word of mouth increased, he saw additional opportunities like for Fourth of July displays. After that, he began to see demand from Halloween stores for commercial decorating. He even supplies green-and-white bulbs now for St. Patrick’s Day. A catalogue available to customers has assisted in promoting the fact that he does more than just Christmas lighting.
“The majority of our business occurs during the holiday season, but for some customers, it’s year-round,” Beneduce says.
Commitment is huge to make holiday lighting a 12-month operation. It takes that much more sales effort and promotion, not to mention keeping on workers to install the lights, take them down and store them. Paul Sessel, president of Creative Displays, admits that the challenges go up when looking to extend the business throughout the calendar.
“To make holiday lighting a 12-month deal is probably a hard sale, but we do see party tent lighting and decorative lighting opportunities for patios and backyards,” he says.
Scott Heese, president/owner of Holidynamics, says that networking with the right team is crucial for landscape and lawn care companies looking to extend the life of their new holiday lighting business.
“For example, we offer hearts, shamrocks, birthday stuff, party signs, summer-themed displays such as flamingoes, anchors and palm trees, and birth-announcement displays with storks that have light-up signs that say ‘It’s a Boy!’” Heese says.
“I’ve had off-season sales for weddings, too. One of our affiliates recently did a $60,000 lighting project for a concert. And now we’re starting to see a big increase in demand at Halloween.”
But Heese cautions that those who want to go gung-ho with year-round lighting opportunities need to understand the commitment it involves. For example, he recommends making sure you have four to five months of the year dedicated to the service side – taking down the lights, properly storing them, etc.
“Everything that goes up that season has to come back down and get stored,” he says. “As you build your residual income, you’re going to find yourself taking down your lights through January and February, packing them away properly and putting them in storage.
“Your big ticket is building that residual income where when you take down stuff and put it in storage, you already know you have residual income of ‘X’ dollars, because you rarely lose that contract if you have their goods in storage.”
Mike Streb, director of sales for Christmas Lights, Etc., also sees other opportunities for lighting besides Christmas. A lot of the lighting products his company offers, such as white wire, perimeter lighting and patio lighting, lend themselves to year-round display.
He believes there is more potential for year-round lighting demand from commercial properties, which can lead to solid second and third quarter sales, if the landscaper has the right business mix. “In the off-season, a lot of non-holiday, non-Christmas lighting is commercial – restaurants, hotels, motels, park districts, cities and towns,” Streb says.
“You drive by high-end, upper-crust homes and there is not a lot of white lighting.”
Streb says one of his largest customers is a rental supply company that deemed holiday lighting a natural transition because they already had all of the equipment necessary to install lights.
“Next thing you know,” Streb says, “he’s not only doing Christmas lighting but Jiffy Lubes and shopping centers year-round.”
One of the biggest mistakes business owners make when starting a new profit center or add-on business is not fully dedicating themselves to marketing, managing and selling it. It’s almost as if they expect to buy the equipment, tools or supplies, and then magically see revenue shoot skyward with no effort.
Holiday lighting is no exception. You’ll only get out of it what you put into it. It also helps to work with an experienced professional.
“Partner with someone who has done it before, otherwise it becomes a quick headache for you and your organization,” says Scott Heese, president/owner of Holidynamics. “Not only will you not be generating the profits that you should, you’re going to have an unhappy staff.”
Sales is sales. To really promote your holiday lighting service, place a logo for the new business on clothing, hand out catalogues of the products and promote a professional-looking website by sending out a hyperlink to customers.
But you also need a go-to person, who can come from within the company.
“Have someone on staff who’s dedicated to this service in-season, but also off-season to keep it going year-round,” Heese says.
“Not that they’re living, breathing and eating Christmas in the middle of summer, but they’re a person who the staff knows they can go to if they have any questions, whether they be related to sales or installation.”
Heese says that if someone has the right attitude and determination to succeed, they can easily be taught how to estimate lighting jobs as well, which is part of the sales process.
“If they’re measuring a yard for chemicals, they can easily measure for installing Christmas lights,” he says. “But again, it’s knowing your products and installation methods.”
Paul Sessel, president of Creative Displays, says the personnel question relates more to the size of your company.
“But one of their people should be able to do it because typically the Christmas season starts when their other seasons slow down,” Sessel says.
The sales process isn’t any different, either, from lawn or landscaping, says Mike Streb, director of sales for Christmas Lights, Etc.
Streb has spent his whole career in sales for a variety of different businesses, and the one thing he has learned is: sales is sales.
“It’s about how much knowledge you have and finding out who your competition is,” Streb says.
Training. Teaching is a crucial component to learning how to sell holiday lighting, and some vendors, such as Holidynamics, offer this tool to those landscape/lawn care professionals who purchase their products. That’s what helped Chris Beneduce of Impressions Holiday Lighting and Décor of Warwick in Rhode Island.
“Holidynamics trained us on sales, installation and marketing,” Beneduce says.
“They told us what to expect, and since holiday lighting is something they’ve done for awhile, they knew what worked and what didn’t.”
When Beneduce added holiday lighting to his business four years ago, he had already been going strong as a landscape lighting company.
So, he simply used the existing staff he had to sell his new service.
From his second to third year selling holiday lighting, Beneduce increased his sales 400 percent.
“It was a perfect add-on because there was only a month overlap on seasons and so it was easy for the existing salespeople to take it on,” he says.
The bottom line? Your salespeople can sell lights too.
Jason Stahl is a freelancer based in Cleveland.
EDGE Brush Mower
The pitch: Cut through heavy weeds, undergrowth, thick brush and small saplings up to 3 inches in diameter and in areas normally inaccessible with the EDGE Brush Mower.
- Direct drive hydraulic motor requiring 14-40 GPM.
- Features quarter-inch steel deck and heavy-duty stump jumper for rough terrain.
- Available in 60-, 66-, 72-, 78- and 90-inch widths.
- Offered for standard or high-flow hydraulic systems.
For more information: www.ceattachments.com
The pitch: Aerate and loosen compacted soil in less time with less labor with a Grasshopper AERA-vator coreless lawn aerator.
- The PTO-driven AERA-vator works without slicing or cutting, improving turf development and water absorption with little surface disruption.
- The vibrating tines deep-fracture soil instead of plugging cores, which means turf areas are immediately available for use.
- The AERA-vator attaches in place of the out-front mower deck for zero-turn maneuverability.
For more information: www.grasshoppermower.com/aerate
The pitch: Gravely offers the Trailette tow-behind lawn sweeper for residential and light commercial use. The 36-inch sweeping width easily clears medium to large lawns of grass, leaves, twigs and debris.
- Has a 10-cubic foot capacity and a solid-bottomed basket.
- It is towed by a front engine turf and garden tractor, zero-turn riding mower or an ATV with a rear hitch.
- Additional features include heavy-duty rear casters, sintered pinion gears, sealed ball bearings on the brush axle for extended life and tubular steel frames.
For more information: www.gravely.com
Husqvarna mulching kits
The pitch: The kit includes everything needed to convert the lawn tractor to a mulching application.
- Mulching converts clippings into very small particles.
- Clippings that are mulched are sent back into the lawn as nutrients.
- Husqvarna offers mulch kits that fit all of our lawn tractors, including those with 38-, 42-, 46-, 48- and 54-inch decks.
For more information: www.husqvarna.com
TurfEx Spreader Attachment
The pitch: TurfEx introduces the TS200 spreader, which is capable of spreading seed, fertilizer and ice melt.
- The spreader comes with a universal mount, which helps it attach quickly to most available zero-turn mowers.
- It holds up to 2.5 cubic feet of material and features a corrosion-resistant polyethylene hopper to reduce weight and maintenance concerns.
- The spreading operation is controlled via the manual flow gate and electric-powered spinner, both of which can be actuated from the mower’s seat.
For more information: www.trynexfactory.com
Wright Velke SuperPro Sulky
The pitch: Wright Manufacturing’s line of Velke sulkies includes a comfortable, heavy-duty SuperPro model.
- Mono-spring suspension and a protective rubber fender over the top of the wheel provide the operator with cushioning.
- The larger, wider, non-pneumatic tire can never go flat, increasing the sulky’s productivity.
- The Velke SuperPro ruggedness can be seen in the extra-wide hitch and seven-gauge steel construction. Yet it folds compactly, just like Wright’s Velke Pro 1 and Velke X2.
For more information: www.wrightmfg.com