Read the recent Landscape Management Magazine article which features how J.Barker Landscaping Company began our demolition services, how much demolition work we complete every year, and how we have honed our skills over the years…
More to offer through add-on services
To Rick Baird, it just makes sense for contractors to always try to maximize their on-site returns.
“I think a lot of contractors get wrapped up in day-to-day business, and they end up leaving opportunities on the table, which equates to leaving money on the table,” says Baird, national sales manager at Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting. “When contractors are on a property, they should always stop and think of all the other things they could do for that customer from a service standpoint.”
Offering one or more add-on services is a way for contractors to do just that. Three contractors discuss different service opportunities, the challenges they presented and how they helped generate more revenue for their businesses.
Jerry McKay ran a mowing and maintenance service company when he decided to explore the business of landscape lighting. He used his existing customer base to get started and operated McKay Lawn Service and McKay Lighting in Omaha, Neb., simultaneously for five years. After realizing how much more profitable lighting could be, he sold the mowing portion of his business and focused on providing one service to the best of his ability.
“I was looking for a higher-priced ticket to sell,” McKay says. “I had a backstop in the lawn business, and I had the customers to get started but found that sticking with one thing and finding that focus was important for us.”
McKay says many contractors tend to underestimate the amount of time needed to run a successful lighting business, and he stresses the importance of designating a person or team to focus on that area. He adds that landscape lighting is a specialized skill that requires not only the knowledge of working with electricity but also an eye for design to create attractive displays.
“We see a lot of companies with add-on services that do a lot of different things but aren’t really good at them,” McKay says. “If you’re going to do it, find the best product with the best support and training, price it right and follow through.”
Baird agrees that proper training is crucial when it comes to lighting.
“There’s training in the science of it, learning about electricity and how to work with it,” Baird says. “But there’s also training in the art of it, developing an eye for design, which many landscape contractors already have.”
Aside from a trained technician and a truck or van, Baird says, the investment needed to get a lighting department off the ground is minimal. A trencher or shovel to bury wire, wire cutters and strippers, a volt meter and ladders and harnesses for installing down lighting should be enough to get started.
“It’s a very light tool requirement,” Baird says. “Nine out of 10 landscape, irrigation or hardscape contractors have the majority of this equipment already.”
With residential demo work, other houses can be located nearby so it’s key that the operator is skilled.
When the delayed demolition of a residential home was holding up an urban garden project that J. Barker Landscaping Co. was set to begin, Brandon Barker realized this was work he and his crews could do themselves.
“We had purchased a few residential homes on our street when we expanded our facility and had helped with the minor demolition of them,” says Barker, owner of the Bedford, Ohio-based company. “That is how we got in the mindset that we could take on work like this.”
Barker was able to start out using equipment he already had, including a bulldozer and a dump truck. He chose one of his experienced landscape construction operators to manage the demolition projects and selected one of his salespeople to bid on the demolition jobs. He then hired two Class-A CDL-licensed drivers to operate the trucks required to do the work and purchased a large tandem-axel dump truck and an excavator for an overall investment of about $50,000.
Barker had to register his company as a demolition contractor with the city of Cleveland. Every few months, a group of 10 homes go up for bid through the city or the Cuyahoga Land Bank. Barker’s sales representative then bids on each job. If the job is won, Barker’s crews are responsible for tearing down the home, removing the debris, filling in the hole left behind and installing a new lawn. Demolition jobs take two to four days to complete depending on how big the home is. The company demos between 30 and 40 homes per year, and the work makes up 5 to 7 percent of the company’s annual revenue.
“It is another avenue to generate more business for the company,” Barker says. “It is steady, consistent work, and we can do it year-round, which is great when landscape work slows down in the winter and early spring.”
Barker says doing this type of work in residential neighborhoods can be risky. It takes skilled operators and the right kind of equipment to make sure it’s done safely and efficiently. Particularly with government contracts, there is also a lot of paperwork and permits required before each job can begin.
“A lot of times we may have a house on the right side and one on the left side of the home we’re taking down, so you have to know what you’re doing,” Barker says. “Don’t jump into it until you’re ready to make the investment and make sure you have the right people to be able to perform the work.”
After nine years of running a full-service landscaping company, Rob Reindl decided to shift gears to focus solely on lawn and tree care services. To do so, the owner of Oasis Turf & Tree in Loveland, Ohio, invested about $30,000 in equipment, software and other supplies. Because lawn care was part of his original menu of services, Reindl already had the necessary licenses and certifications in place. But he says the level of training and education involved is a challenge for contractors interested in lawn care as an add-on service will face.
“It’s the difference between a generalist and a specialist,” Reindl says. “It can be pretty easy to train someone to mow a lawn, but to diagnose and identify grassy weeds and diseases involves a whole other level of training.”
In addition to proper training and education, Reindl says landscape contractors entering lawn care will need to adjust their day-to-day business operations. He says marketing became much more important when he focused in on lawn care, and he had to approach sales differently, as well.
“It’s a completely different business model,” Reindl says. “A maintenance company is a mass production machine, and the lawn care side of things is a mass-marketing machine.
“Learn how to do it, learn how to sell it and then train the people to do the work you sell,” he adds. “There really is a lot to it, but if you can add it in to your service mix, it’s a nice additional revenue generator.”