Promoting the pros of outdoor living

Features - Outdoor Living

The internet is inundated with ideas for the outside space. How do you cut through the noise and promote the value of a professional?

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October 31, 2017
Kristen Hampshire
© 1Photodiva | iStockphoto

Search Pinterest for "outdoor living" and instantly thousands of enticing patios, pergolas, fire pits and perfectly appointed landscape beds populate the screen. Scroll down, keep scrolling. Click, save. Click another. Now, pull up Houzz. Oh, that furniture could belong at a resort! Click, save. Now wait – is that a how-to video on YouTube? Nice.

This is your inquisitive client: hungry for information and finding all the trappings of an ideal outdoor experience on a mobile device, including the instructions for building it. If HGTV sparked a DIY craze, then social media started a raging bonfire.

As a landscape professional, how do you talk to clients about making these outdoor dreams a reality? What conversations are critical to include in your meetings with prospects who bring their Pinterest “likes” to the table? And, for the DIYers, how do you explain the meaning of a qualified professional?

Diana Grundeen might illustrate the reality of designing complex outdoor living projects by asking how the homeowner has fared with other DIY attempts.

“Our team comes in and this is what we are trained to do. We have the tools, and we can build the space in a week,” says Grundeen, owner of Trio Landscaping in St. Paul and Minneapolis. “Speaking of that experience gives clients confidence that we are professionals.”

The work of a professional positioned next to a typical DIY project can show the difference an experienced contractor brings to a project, says Rocky Morton, owner of Indy’s Finest Fence in Indianapolis. “You get what you pay for,” he says. “You can have your husband out in your yard for two months digging post holes, or we can set the posts in one day.”

Painting The ‘Pro’ Picture.

Indy’s Finest Fence builds about 500 fences per year and has a team of 20 employees who do the work. Morton is proud of the company’s high ratings on Facebook, and he advises people to do their homework.

As a fencing company, Morton runs into many people who get an estimate, suffer from sticker shock and say they’ll do the job themselves. After all, they saw pre-fab materials at the box store, so it can’t be that hard. “It seems like anyone can build a fence. You set your posts and nail your wood,” he says. “But a lot more goes into it than that.”

Professionals like Morton know this is the case. But how do you explain that “a lot more” aspect of the job to a potential client who’s excited about the DIY thing? Morton might bring up common mistakes: not digging posts to the proper depth, which results in a fence that can’t withstand the wind and eventually ripples. Or, failing to properly identify utility lines before digging. “If you hit an underground utility wire, you are liable,” he says.

Morton also talks materials. “We get a better deal on quality products,” he says, emphasizing a relationship with industry vendors that supply commercial-grade hardware and wood that you won’t find on sale at the box store.

“Some will want to do the PVC panels they pick up at the hardware store or the wood privacy fences, but the quality is way less than what we install,” Morton says. “We use a true 1-inch x 6-inch dog-eared board vs. hardware stores with thinner ?-inch x 5½-inch boards. We push people on ‘you get what you pay for.’”

That includes the nails – something most homeowners never ask about. “If they don’t use the proper nails, they’ll start rusting and will pop right out,” he says.

Of course, the timeline aspect of installing a fence is also a selling point. A complete fence project is done in four days: one day for setting posts, two days for allowing concrete to set and one day for completing the panels.

Morton also focuses on explaining that a fence is an investment. “You’re paying for the labor to install a fence, but it’s worth it,” he says to homeowners.

Prepare for a sale.

It’s not unusual for Grundeen to meet with a homeowner who wants to share a Pinterest page of saved pictures – ideas for what an outdoor space could become. This is all well and good, but she digs deeper. “Did you tag why you like that picture?” she asks. “You need to have that conversation with those clients who have a huge book of materials to really find out what it was from each of those pictures that they were desiring.”

Grundeen brings her own portfolio of work, but first she asks the homeowner some questions. How do you want to use the outdoor space? Will you entertain and how many people might you invite? Do you sit at a formal table or prefer a more casual seating area?

“Then, you have to be the psychologist and watch their facial expressions – what clicks,” Grundeen says. “You can’t ask them upfront, ‘OK, how big do you want the patio and where do you want to build it?’ Get a feel for them and their space.”

When homeowners share saved pictures from Pinterest, Diane Grundeen of Trio Landscaping says to ask them why they liked those saved pictures.
Photo courtesy of Trio Landscaping

This is the value of a professional. In many ways, clients are wooed by the process. Then, Grundeen will get out her portfolio. She’ll show examples of spaces she has completed that align with the feedback the homeowner provided about using the outdoor space. She supplies some estimated price tags, too.

When a homeowner mentions doing parts of the project him or herself to save on the budget, Grundeen doesn’t shut down the opportunity. But she walks them through what the project entails.

“Millennials almost feel a disconnect with being outside, so to them, it seems kind of cool to be able to play out in the dirt,” Grundeen says. “If there is a certain part of the project they want to connect with, they should be able to do that and I guide them.”

She asks those clients: Do you have a skid-steer and know how to drive it? Do you want to spend the next month doing that job? (The answers are usually no.) Grundeen then says, “How about we have our crews come in, set up the patio and bed lines, and we can figure out what plant material you want to put in and what material you want the crew to put in.”

Let avid DIYers ‘own’ A piece.

Expertise and experience are two selling points that professionals bring to a project that the DIY enthusiast can’t replicate. “Landscape design has a certain amount of science, common sense and a lot of intuition and artistry,” Grundeen says.

Helping homeowners understand this process underscores the value of hiring a pro. When she markets her work, she is clear about the fact that there is a design fee. This sets the tone for professionalism.

“By the end of the first meeting, we’ll understand where we want to go with each other and the opportunities that are there for a property – and at that point, we decide how to move forward,” Grundeen says. Most of the time, people are ready to take the next steps with a pro. It goes back to that open conversation, understanding homeowner’s goals and translating that into a realistic picture.

And, for those DIY die-hards who hire you but still want to have a hand in the results, Grundeen encourages them to go ahead, tell their friends that they put in the landscaping (even if it was only installing a few plants). Sometimes, the permission to hire a pro and still have a project “belong” to the homeowner is what’s really desired.