Ryan Jacobs started his company because he didn’t want to stay inside.
“I hated being cooped up in a factory. It felt like my freedom was taken away because I love being outside so much,” says Jacobs, who worked for other landscaping and masonry contractors since age 17, picking up seasonal warehouse jobs every winter when outdoor business slowed.
Over the years, he gained experience on various landscaping projects. His boss’s customers even approached him personally about completing jobs after noticing that he did most of the work. Finally, after the birth of his first daughter, and with no pay raise from his contractor in three years, Jacobs decided to go out on his own.
He spent his vacation days planning his new business and designing business cards online. After placing an ad in a local paper, creating some yard signs and lettering his truck, Ryan’s Landscaping was born in April of 2007.
Falling into hardscaping.
Initially, Ryan’s Landscaping, based in Hanover, Pennsylvania, focused on landscape design and installation, with some maintenance and lawn care, but no hardscaping. “I never would have guessed, starting out, that 80 percent of our business would be hardscape,” Jacobs says.
As he got more calls requesting patios, Jacobs put his team through hardscaping classes, pursuing industry training through manufacturers like Techo-Bloc and events like the Mid-Atlantic Hardscaping Trade Show. Then it started to take off.
“Once we got the hang of it, after two or three really good patios, we felt confident enough to put it out there,” he says. “We started putting hardscaping in our ads and posted projects on Facebook. Once people saw what we were capable of, we started getting more hardscaping jobs.”
Now, hardscaping makes up the bulk of Ryan’s Landscaping, which doubled its business to $400,000 from 2014 to 2015, mainly because of the size of its hardscape projects, Jacobs says. By strategically promoting the company’s hardscape capabilities, Jacobs attracts new customers and up-sells existing landscaping clients.
“Lots of our landscapes have some kind of hardscaping,” he says. “We usually give the option of an etched stone border, as opposed to a natural edge. It can make clients think, ‘Well, this color looks good for a border – now can you do the concrete stoop to match?’”
Having two distinct sides of the business also balances the seasonality of both services. Hardscaping preparation can start before landscape jobs break ground and keep going after planting season ends.
“You usually can’t start too early or go too late into the season with softscape because of temperatures and plant availability,” he says. “With hardscaping, we usually work late into the fall and winter. It’s job security for the employees because they know they’re going to have work.”
During peak season, Jacobs has seven employees split into two crews: one hardscaping and one landscaping. When business slows in late fall, he goes down to one multifunctional crew of four. Throughout the season, when weather isn’t conducive to hardscaping, softscape work provides a reprieve.
“The rain this year set us back on hardscape projects,” says Jacobs, whose area received more than 12 inches of rain in May and June last year. “I remember digging out a patio and getting the Bobcat stuck.
After this incident, we realized we needed to take a break from hardscape projects for a while due to soft soil and equipment damaging lawns. So our crews teamed up together for three and a half weeks to catch up on our landscaping design, install and maintenance work.”
Hardscaping can even eliminate customers’ water issues, he says, presenting opportunities to install retaining walls. As local stormwater regulations grow stricter, Jacobs sees increasing potential for his company’s drainage and stormwater management services, specifically permeable paver installation.
Growing business online.
Though Jacobs began advertising in a local newspaper, Jacobs has since moved almost completely to online marketing.
“I try to market online because that’s where most people go to search for services,” says Jacobs, whose business is 90 percent residential. “Facebook and our website bring in the most business for us.”
“I’ll give an estimate to people in their 70s and 80s who say, ‘I watch your YouTube videos,’ and I laugh because a lot of music I put to our videos is techno.” Ryan Jacobs, Ryan’s Landscaping
Jacobs, who regularly works in the field installing hardscapes, manages every aspect of the company’s website and social media himself. Aside from Google AdWords and Facebook ad campaigns, his only cost is the time invested – and the returns have been massive.
By sharing engaging photos, videos and written content online, Jacobs has amassed more than 17,000 combined followers and subscribers across Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Houzz and Flickr.
Online fans regularly message the company through social media to request services, either sending private messages or publicly commenting on posted projects saying they want something similar. Others call in, and when Jacobs asks how they found him, they reveal that they’ve been following Ryan’s Landscaping on Instagram or watching its YouTube channel.
“It cracks me up sometimes,” Jacobs says. “I’ll give an estimate to people in their 70s and 80s who say, ‘I watch your YouTube videos,’ and I laugh because a lot of music I put to our videos is techno. I love playing around on social media to make it capture people’s attention. Not only is it fun to do, it feels good to know it’s working.”
Social media sells by giving customers a glimpse of Ryan’s Landscaping before they meet – but it goes both ways.
“It allows them to see ideas, and gives them insight to the knowledge and experience we have executing projects,” says Jacobs, who sends potential clients videos of similar projects on YouTube before giving estimates.
“Social media is also a great tool for learning more about potential customers before the initial estimate. It gives insights to shared interests or good icebreakers to stir up conversation. The more you can relate to them, the more likely they’ll like you and hire you.”
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