Try 3D landscape design

Features - Design/Build

3D landscape design can sell more projects and put more money into your pocket.

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March 28, 2018
Lori Hawkins
Using 3-D landscape design software allows contractors to help clients visualize projects before installation to help them make decisions.
Photos/images courtesy of Lori Hawkins

When landscape contractors aim to have a profitable year, they develop strategies to capture new customers and step up their game against competitors. Using 3-D landscape design software for design and estimating can be one tool in your arsenal to achieve both of those goals.

I am the principal of a landscape architecture firm in the Greensboro, North Carolina, area. During the recession, I started my company and began using 3-D landscape design software after a layoff. Differentiating myself and my skills from my competition was imperative to get my company on its feet. I never realized what a huge impact that one decision would make on both my company, my designs and the way I work with my customers.

One of the software's greatest assets was the ability to create a more visual experience for the customer. Today's customers are more tech-savvy than in the past. They expect more technical information in the design process. The information provided to them can make the difference between who does and who doesn’t get their business. 3-D landscape design software will allow them to truly visualize a project before installation and help them make that critical decision.

Here are benefits of using this type of technology:

  1. Presentations provide the ‘WOW' factor to the customer and create excitement for the project. 3-D design truly brings the vision of the design into reality. When a customer “sees” the finished project and realizes it exceeds the objectives of what they are looking for, the emotional response is fantastic. This response is intensified by some program features. You could use a “fly-by” video of the project uploaded to YouTube for future viewing by family and friends. Low-voltage lighting and “night scenes” can also be added, showing the customer how the lighting will appear. Further, 3-D images of options or material choices can be viewed later by the customer as they absorb the design intent. This user-friendly environment allows the customer to experience the design from an emotional level, also aiding the sales process.
  2. More precise measuring and obtaining quantities for estimating and proposal writing. A contractor no longer needs to scale an object in 2-D or trace in AutoCAD to obtain material quantities. Most objects in 3-D programs allow the object properties to be displayed for calculations. Programs can also create plant lists or download online information from a geographic information system or even a drone for efficient measuring.
  3. More freedom in exploring material and hardscape selections. Materials and other details of the project can be fully explored in 3-D. This ability increases upselling opportunities and exploration of other materials.
  4. Revisions to the design are simpler in the design process. Revising digital plans is a much easier process. 3-D design creates more buy-in from the customer and allows them to feel more a part of the design process. Changes can be discussed in client meetings and then implemented in real time along with the customer's input. For the typical landscape contractor, this will ultimately save time and money.
  5. Propels contractors ahead of their competitors. Staying ahead of your competitors is a major draw of this technology. In one example, the 3-D design sold the project to the customer before the proposal was submitted. The customer was so enthralled with this design, that they had to have it.
Challenges to 3-D design programs.

Objections to using 3-D landscape design technology can arise from various mindsets. Here are a few that may be inhibiting business owners:

  1. Steep learning curve. Adopting new technology for your business can involve additional time and money, but the final result will make it invaluable. For landscape contractors, the winter is an excellent time to explore new technology. I finally settled on software that had excellent customer training, but it took me seven months to become proficient in it. I also chose software used by other pool and building contractors for ease of collaboration. Another solution would be to outsource your design work. Landscape architects and designers charge by the hour for their design work, which can be added to the customer's proposal for payment.
  2. Resistance to change. The "we've always done it this way" mentality can impede some business owners. Some are reluctant to change, even when it would be beneficial for their business or their customers. This objection is harder to reconcile since it involves personal life views. This mindset will hinder businesses on many different levels, not just in implementing new technology.
  3. Too expensive. Typically, 3-D technology runs the gamut as far as cost. 3-D landscape design software can run $100 per month to thousands of dollars, depending on the complexity of the program. Just because a program is expensive does not necessarily mean it is the best. The middle-of-the-road programs will offer just as many options at a much lower cost. After hearing about the program I am using from another designer, I began my research with Google searches and reading reviews online.
Implement the technology.

When contractors are ready and comfortable enough to implement 3-D landscape design technology to their business, here are the basics of how the process works:

Initial consultation.

As with traditional landscape design, the initial consultation with the customer is the first step. If you are using an outside design source, this meeting can be attended with or without the landscape contractor. At this meeting, the general goals of the project will be discussed. Elevations, pictures and measurements will also be taken that will be used in the 3-D design. This meeting also allows the contractor and designer to discuss details for the proposal preparation.

I have found that since instituting this design technology, my business has been revolutionized. Lori Hawkins, landscape architect
Design.

Generally, the preparation of the design takes place in the studio. The turn-around time for design preparation is one to two weeks before a presentation with the customer is scheduled. The software can also be used on site if a quicker turn-around is needed. Many times after the design is complete, the landscape contractor can be sent the design for preliminary budget numbers.

Presentation.

The presentation to the customer can be made with or without the landscape contractor present. The design is explored in 3-D, and any changes the customer wants to make are discussed. Often the changes are implemented immediately and sent to the contractor for estimating.

I have found that since instituting this design technology, my business has been revolutionized. The ease of revisions, take-offs and 3-D visualization for the customer has made this technology immeasurably valuable. So, consider investing in 3-D landscape design technology to see how it can assist your business this year.

The author is the owner of Hawkins Landscape Architecture in North Carolina.