Better your bottom line

Improve your ROI by upselling lawn renovation services.

Take advantage of facetime with customers by upselling.

Record heat, unusual cold, parching drought, torrential rain – the past two years have been unusually challenging in terms of the weather, and its effect on lawns. Fortunately, opportunity often rides on the shoulders of adversity.

Lawns affected by drought, fungal infestations, and other weather-induced issues offer the perfect opening to discuss add-on services with your lawn maintenance customers.

Upselling appropriate lawn renovation services to your existing lawn care customers can be a profitable move. In addition to bringing in increased revenue, services such as aeration, overseeding, and beyond-the-basics pest and disease management allow you to achieve the most spectacular results possible for your customers. This can help to keep that referral business flowing. As an added bonus, since you can sell the service to existing customers, your cost of acquisition for the job can be virtually zero.

The most profitable lawn care upsells for your company will depend upon your location, soil types, and climate, and may vary depending on the weather in any given year. Drought conditions often call for aeration and reseeding due to soil compaction and root system damage.

This year, much of the country is experiencing above average rainfall, which can lead to the need for additional fungicidal treatments as well as dethatching. And if you are located in an area where Lyme’s disease is prevalent, your customers may appreciate the offer of a comprehensive, property-wide tick prevention program.

Before you think about offering add-on services, you’ll need to make the proper investments in education and equipment.

Talking to experts such as your county extension agent, equipment dealers, or lawn maintenance professionals who are not your direct competitors can help you figure out what services and equipment will be most appropriate for your location and clientele.

Educating customers on turf like bermudagrass can help establish yourself as an expert.

Profitable upselling begins with the customer.
Not every customer is interested in having a perfect lawn. Because upselling turf renovation services works best with customers who not only value a flawless lawn, but also can afford to budget for it, targeting the more affluent end of the market is a sensible strategy.

Dave Brown, owner of Dave Brown Landscape Group, LLC in Westerville, Ohio, believes in cherry picking the most profitable customers. He focuses primarily on homeowners’ associations and properties in high end residential neighborhoods.

“Our ideal residential client wants to have somebody in total management of their lawn and landscape,” he says, adding that he has not found offering a la carte lawn care services to be cost effective. “We don’t want to service a client who just wants their lawn mowed. We kindly and politely refer them elsewhere. We prefer the picky client – one who wants to hire someone who can take care of the full property, and wants what we have to give.”

Focusing on full-service customers can pay back in multiple ways. Not only does it maximize billable time, but these customers offer exceptional referral opportunities.

Because they value the work and are willing to spend more for a beautiful lawn, their properties attract the attention of friends and neighbors.

Commercial clients generally have different priorities than residential customers. Homeowners understand the intrinsic value of a beautiful lawn, since it reflects upon their personal identity. For a commercial property manager, it’s mainly a matter of budget.

Therefore it’s especially important to emphasize the value of preventive maintenance when approaching them. For instance, taking care of a newly discovered fungal infestation right away can prevent the need for much more expensive complete turf renovation in the future.

Turf renovation is a great opportunity to boost the bottom line.

Boost value through education.
Most top lawn care professionals agree that when the customer is properly informed, upselling specialized lawn services does not require pushy selling. Instead, they emphasize the value of educating customers to understand the value of add-on services.

“Educate the client from the get go,” says Christopher Noon, CEO of Noon Turf Care in Marlboro, Mass. “We walk the lawn with the client first thing in the spring to make sure we’re on the same page. We might tell them, ‘I think your lawn’s a 3 (out of 10), and this is why.’ Then we discuss what it will take to get it to a 10. That way it’s been communicated right away.”

Regular communication is a vital part of Noon’s customer education strategy. His crews leave a written report of the status of each lawn after each regularly scheduled maintenance visit. Customers also receive this information via email. If a problem is found, the report will include an explanation of the issue along with recommended actions, and the customer will receive a phone call to address any questions or concerns he may have.

“We give a lot of information before we even talk about how to cure (a problem),” Noon says. “We talk about the science and make sure the customer understands that it’s beyond just normal maintenance, that there’s a specific issue we have to curate.”

Tommy Best, owner of New Bern Lawn & Landscaping in New Bern, N.C., also relies heavily on scientific evidence. He keeps a file of articles written by turf care scientists on various lawn problems and their solutions.

Best finds that in conjunction with presenting his own credentials (he holds a number of lawn management certifications and is a member of his local extension agency’s Horticultural Advisory Board), the literature goes a long way towards winning his customers’ trust.

Tips for maintaining margins when offering add-on lawn care services.

Consider renting equipment. Certain pieces of equipment, such as aerators, are frequently needed only for a few days or weeks of the year. Before purchasing equipment, compare your costs with your potential profits. Don’t forget to include the costs of storage and maintenance. You may find that renting the equipment you only need occasionally makes more financial sense than purchasing it outright.

Schedule wisely. When possible, try to schedule similar jobs within a tight window of time, and group jobs by neighborhood to reduce fuel costs and drive time.

Organize your crews and equipment. Setting up all your trucks the same way can help your crews work more efficiently. Make sure each crew member has received proper training in using the equipment before they go on the job.

Track your expenses religiously. Tracking the costs of equipment rental, storage and maintenance, along with fuel costs and labor hours, will help you get an accurate idea of your actual expenses per job. Use efficiency scorecards to encourage your crew chiefs to manage their teams efficiently.

Charge accordingly. Make sure you factor a reasonable profit into your pricing. “Don’t just make the sale to get a job,” says Erik Sweetser, president of Green Grass Lawn Care in North Hampton, N.H. “Be aware of the value of your services: if it’s lawn renovation, especially, you’re in there to provide a service that’s going to hopefully last for 20-plus years.”

Win business with peace of mind.
Jim Lawrence, owner of Providence Landscape Group in Charlotte, N.C., has had great success in presenting add-on services as preventative maintenance for lawns, similar to insurance. “We offer a normal maintenance package, but we encourage the valuable insurance packages. For us in the southeast, it’s brown patch development that will wipe out a fescue lawn. We upsell a three application fungicide treatment. Our customers are glad to pay for that as insurance against a total turf renovation in fall, which is much more expensive.”

Another peace-of-mind measure that customers respond well to is the guarantee. “If we’ve treated, say, red thread on a lawn and we see it coming back, we’ll just take care of it,” Noon says. “If a client calls and says they see it again, we go out there right away within 24 hours.” The prompt, no-questions-asked follow up service helps retain customers for the long term.

Effective marketing techniques.
Approaching individual customers directly as problems arise is a very effective way to upsell additional lawn services. However, incorporating generalized marketing techniques into your upsell strategy can result in additional business.

When working with HOA’s, Brown leverages the power of email. He makes sure to get each member’s email address. Members are required to purchase a minimum package, but when it’s time for seasonal maintenance above and beyond the minimum, he sends a mass email offering a group discount to everyone in the neighborhood. “It’s a huge seller. People jump all over it, and it lets us knock out a bunch of work with no windshield time.”

Email isn’t the only way to reach out to neighborhoods with group discount deals. Brown has also been highly successful with going door to door in upscale neighborhoods where he has at least one customer. One marketing method that works well for some companies is the old-fashioned print newsletter.

“(In my newsletter) I write about the things I think are important and educational. I present it as sharing knowledge and experience rather than trying to sell services. Customers appreciate it,” Best says. He adds that the information helps pre-sell his services by letting customers know what to expect in terms of cost and procedure. In addition to keeping him top of mind with existing customers, the newsletter helps bring in new business. “Three to four times a year I’ll target an area and send (an issue) to the entire neighborhood. I always get about a 2 percent response rate, which may not sound like much but if you send it to 2,000 households, you’re talking 40 new customers.”

Best stresses that the newsletter works best as a long-term strategy. “I can put out a newsletter, and get a call two years later from someone who’s kept it on file,” he says.

Lawn care upsells offer lasting ROI.
Aeration, dethatching, pathogen control, and other add-on services can help focus maximum attention on your design and maintenance work – especially when adverse weather conditions cause neighboring lawns to suffer. With proper management, these services can not only help increase your bottom line with little or no new customer acquisition costs, but the results they achieve can boost your customer loyalty and bring you referrals. What’s to lose by offering them? L&L

The author is a freelance writer based in Foosland, Ill.

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August 2013
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