Recently I moved. I moved out of a big, new house. My ‘new’ house is a bit different. Smaller, more conservative, and everything needs updating and fixing. It is a big change from where I was, but, I like it. We are ripping out carpet, installing hardwood floors, updating lighting & plumbing fixtures, and generally rolling up our sleeves to make this new house our home.
Change. Just like death and taxes it is an inevitable part of life. As a country, everyone has faced change in the last few years. More and more people are scaling back and rolling up their sleeves. They are driving their cars a bit longer before trading them in, taking fewer trips to the mall, choosing tents over hotels for family vacations, cooking family dinners instead of eating at fancy restaurants, and generally keeping a tighter hold on their wallets than they did in the previous decade. Indeed, most average American households have faced the current economy by changing their life style and how they spend their money.
The landscape industry has been hard hit by this change. While we try to sell maintenance, homeowners are pulling out their lawnmowers. While we try to sell landscape design, they are making trips to the nursery. While we are trying to sell patios, they are going to the local stone center to take a DIY class to install their own. This all means WE have to change, too.
This is the time of year when it is best to start planning for the new year ahead. Developing a marketing plan should be a large part of that. Your marketing and sales techniques may also need a change. A fresh approach to how you promote your business, the services you offer, and a new understanding of your customers will help.
Put yourself in their shoes. Think about what their needs are and how their lives have changed. Here is some food for thought in preparing your new marketing plan:
**1. DISCOUNT SHOP** – More and more people are hitting up the discount stores like Wal-Mart to save money where they can and to get greater value for their money. When it comes to choosing a contractor to complete a project, it is no surprise that homeowners are shopping the same way that they shop for food and household items. Coupons and money mailers are worth investigating. People are paying more attention to when they show up in their mailboxes. More importantly, once you are in front of them and have the opportunity to sell them on your services, it is a good idea to add value to your work. Free or upgraded plants, materials, or future services are often a good way to help close a deal. Remember though that the first impression matters. Make whatever marketing you produce professional and informative, both print and online.
**2. GO SMALLER** – It is part of human nature, and how we are socialized, to go bigger. That is why we can super-size our sodas & fries. It seems logical to concentrate on selling the products and services that will yield the biggest return in the shortest amount of time. On the other hand, we have seen the rise of the ‘Value Menu’ and the Dollar Menu. Sure it is less food (which is really a good thing), but it makes getting something we want, that we may not normally be able to afford, attainable. Now is the time to focus on smaller, entry level projects. You can develop your own ‘Dollar Menu’ that includes entry level or basic design, installation, or services with al a carte options.
**3. EAT AT HOME** – When you have a family, eating out can add up very quickly. For my family of five I can count on spending at least $25 dollars even for fast food. If you are selling the outdoor kitchen spaces, you can also sell the idea of eating OUT side. Grilling is often a fast and easy way to cook a tasty dinner that is often much healthier than eating out. To add value to those sales, you can throw in an outdoor party complete with burgers & hot dogs or just a gift card to a local grocery store for free groceries. You can even do a cost comparison: The average cost for a family of 4 to eat out is $x.xx and the average cost of a similar dinner is $x.xx. Think of how much you are saving!
**4. FAMILY TIME** – More and more, people are staying home and spending more time together. Netflix has become a consumer favorite because it is too expensive to go out. Playing games at home has once again become a great past-time for families. Designing areas that encourage entertaining at home or family time is also a great selling point. Many people are including outdoor televisions & movie screens to their living spaces. Think of packages that include a game area – seating and table space perfectly sized for board and card games. The important thing here is to get to know your customers, their interests, and understand how they will get the most use of their new outdoors.
**5. VACATION TIME** – Everyone needs a vacation, it’s just that not everyone can afford a vacation any more. For the couple or family that enjoys the beach, include a beach area in their water feature or in their landscape. If they enjoy sports, think of an area that has volleyball, bocce ball, or a putting green. If they like to camp, a great area for a tent and firepit may be in order. For those who enjoy world travel, more exotic areas may want to be explored. Want to add some value? For the beach, sand buckets with sunscreen, nice towels, and a beach umbrella are a nice touch. For camping, a campfire kit complete with hot dog sticks and s’more supplies are fun. Again, the important thing to keep in mind is taking the time to listen to your customers and find out what interests they have and how they will enjoy the great outdoors.
**6. DO IT YOURSELF** – There is a reason why so many people are opting for this course of action. Simply put, it is cheaper. But we all know how valuable our time is, too. If you have a professional edge and approach to your design (artistic renderings that go beyond a computer program), then you may be able to implement that into your services. Giving people the option to use your services and install their landscape themselves is a great way to increase your service offerings and still gain new clients. Like a menu of options, you can offer certain services along the way such as assistance in choosing plant materials or stone and grading. The more options they have, the more likely they are to use you. Additionally, if you price your installation services reasonably and you have clearly defined the benefits of working with you, they may find it is well worth it to have a professional see the project through.
**7. OUT WITH THE OLD** – Many homeowners have opted for updating or renovating their current homes as opposed to buying a new home. The housing market is a large part of the reason why, as is the fact that it is a more economically beneficial option. It is easy to spot the homeowner is working with what they have: they are constantly on the way to a Home Depot or Lowes, their dumpster is always full, and they look exhausted. Without a doubt, it is a hard job to fix up a home but it does add long-term value. Being able to sell those updates to an outdoor area or landscape is also important. Recently while house hunting, and driving through more neighborhoods than I care to count, I was struck by how many homes I didn’t even want to go in because they lacked curb appeal. Additionally, I was left wondering how many homeowners were content with the boring landscape package the builder gave them that left them looking like every other cookie-cutter home on the block. Being able to show the benefits and differences between a well-landscaped yard and a non-descript yard or un-landscaped yard, is important in increasing your own value. Also, once homeowners have increased their curb appeal, it will make selling the home much easier once the market turns around.
**8. ADDING ON SPACE** – One thing many homeowners wish for is added functional space. Covered patios & screened-in porches with fireplaces and televisions are gaining popularity. For those who want to tackle an addition on their home or an extra living space, the process of designing, planning, and construction can be daunting. Then there is the extra hassle of obtaining permits and dealing with building supplies and deliveries. A great service to consider is Project Management. For example, when finishing an addition to my home I knew there were areas I wanted to tackle on my own to save money and that there were some areas where I would be over my head or I lacked experience and knowledge for the outcome I wanted. After a long search, I found someone who was willing to oversee the project, allow me to work on what I wanted to on my schedule, and brought in other professionals (or did the work himself) to finish the job. In the end, I estimate my savings at around $20,000. The other thing to consider is being able to design functional living space and storage space. An outdoor shed doesn’t have to look like a shed and can even have a small studio or office in front so that it looks like an extension of the home. Tying these elements together into a functional landscape design is important, too.
**9. TRENDY** – Often when a homeowner is ready to update or remodel they realize it is because their home is looking dated. When they begin their search for their new look, they browse through magazines and books and search online for current design trends. I’m often amazed at how little landscape designers discount interior design trends. It is important to be able to tie in the inside with the outside, and vice versa. Unless you are in a condo or townhouse with no property to maintain, landscape is an extension of the home. For example, sitting at a window in a particular room, you can extend the color scheme to the view taking that palate to the plantings outside. Additionally, if you are creating a patio or deck space, it can be valuable to offer furniture & accessory options (pots & planters included for seasonal color). Having a designer that you work with is helpful, but today there are many options in outdoor materials that can be used to create a living space that is current, comfortable, and consistent with the landscape you have designed.
**10. PHASES** – Recently while house hunting we had a real estate agent who continually went over the budget that was set. She did not last long. These days most people don’t have $30,000 or more to spend on their landscaping. Make sure you understand their budget going into the project and don’t exceed it. If their grand plans for their outdoors is more than their budget allows, instead of pushing to make that money right away, be honest with them and propose the work be done in stages and set up a realistic timeline. People don’t like pushy. They really don’t like being pushed to spend more money than they have. You can assume that it is a project they can easily afford because of the size of the home or the cars in the driveway (and I hear professionals say that ALL the time) and it is, I’m sorry to say, just plain stupid to assume that. Unless you have access to their bank accounts and credit card debt (one of which may be zero and the other astronomical, and most likely not in the way you think it is), you can’t assume what anyone can afford. Your best bet is to take the approach that you are working for this person, working within their parameters, and building a working relationship that will be beneficial to you in the long run. Pushing a project may just push you out the door and cost you a job that could have been beneficial to you in the long run both financially and in terms of referrals.
In planning for the next year, if there is one word that you should keep in mind when planning your marketing and sales techniques: it is VALUE. Whether it is your knowledge, your skills, or your services, showing your value to your customers and how you can add value to their own lives or homes is very important – it is what the average American is focused on in this economy. This may require changing how you’ve done business in the past, what services you offer, or how you approach sales, but as long as you take a hard look at your business and make changes that are in-line with what makes sense for you and the direction you would like to go, then you may find (as it often is) change is a very good thing.