By Ken Hutcheson
As a landscaping professional, you understand that every landscape has a lifecycle. Whether the landscape is sophisticated or simple, there are components of the landscape that require a different amount of maintenance/budgetary investment. But when working with a commercial client who may not understand this concept, it can be difficult to carry out certain initiatives that the landscape needs.
By explaining how the lifecycle of their landscape works, and by creating a unique maintenance plan that’s tailored to their property’s elements, you can ensure that your client will see the added value to their property.
The Value of a Landscape
Before you start working with a new client, it’s important that they understand the value that their landscape can have on their business and on their brand. It’s only natural for people to want to invest in the interior of a building; however, a building’s landscape gives people their first impression of the company. The landscape is a very important natural resource that adds definition to your client’s brand, and in turn, increases the value of their property. In fact, when an owner chooses to make a significant investment in their landscape, if maintained correctly, it provides a great return on investment. For example, high-end retail plazas will make sure that all of the streets, sidewalks, benches, lighting and other exterior décor have a consistent look and feel. Likewise, the landscape contains vibrant flowerbeds, well-manicured hedges and ornamental trees to align with this particular brand image. The same holds true for business parks. If property managers and owners can work with their contractors to create a routine maintenance schedule that fosters a crisp, clean and safe environment, more businesses will be inclined to lease space in the building. And while the landscape can increase value in your brand, a healthy and attractive landscape also promotes an active and engaged community.
Just like any living organism, the landscape has a lifecycle. When working with your clients it is critical that they understand that concept as well. Whether you’re just starting out with a client or you’ve worked with them for several years, when a component of their landscape (bushes, grass, hedges, trees, etc.) starts to look dull, it can be easy to blame the landscaper without realizing that features of their property have reached the end of their cycle. To mitigate this risk, contractors should work with their clients to create a 30-, 60-, 90-, 120-day maintenance schedule that prioritizes certain projects and addresses immediate issues. This is also the time where you should confirm your client’s budget, so that you can propose realistic projects and expectations.
However, before you create a plan, you should perform a landscape audit so that you can make the most accurate recommendations. For example, as a landscaping professional you will want to take care of high-risk situations such as a pest problem or replacing a sick ornamental tree before tackling other projects like plant selection, replacing the mulch, etc. It’s important to point out that audits should be performed routinely to increase the livelihood of the landscape.
Once high-risk issues are addressed, you should meet with your client to discuss other maintenance actions that will be carried out during that 30-, 60-, 90-, 120-day period so they know what to expect. These services include irrigation, fertilization, pruning, trimming, the selection of plants, mulch replacement, etc.
Moreover, when helping your client select foliage for their property, you should let them know that the expected maintenance and overall lifecycle for different species of plants varies. Some plants will have to be replaced more often, which can be expensive. So if your client is working with a strict budget, you should advise them to choose foliage that’s native to their geographic location.
Through proper maintenance practices and plant selection, you can not only foster a healthy and attractive environment for your client, but also extend the life of the plants, grass, flowers and trees.
The impact of design
The design of the landscape directly correlates with the property’s maintenance requirements — an occurrence often referred to as “design/maintenance interference.” The extent and quality of this relationship and the benefits it produces are determined by the degree to which maintenance considerations are included in the design stage of a landscape project.
Design-wise, vegetation serves the landscape in three different ways: structural, utilitarian and aesthetic. For example, from an aesthetic perspective, plants create a visually attractive environment while structurally working to organize and define spaces. Because they have this utilitarian ability, plants are also able to transform the environment of the user by modifying light, temperature and humidity. And since they give off a pleasing scent, they also can work to control odor.
But as landscaping contractors, you’re often not included in the process, so it’s important to take a moment to understand how the design of the landscape influences the type of service and frequency of service it needs.
Key landscape features
Trees, shrubs and groundcovers and turf, are elements of your landscape that play an instrumental role on the design and value of your landscape. Trees in particular have an extremely long lifecycle — some living for over several hundred years, making them positive investments. When first planted, trees may not look like much, but as they grow, so does their value. If properly maintained by a professional, trees can be the cornerstones of a landscape. Willows, palms and oak trees are just a few examples of trees that have prolonged lifecycles and also contribute to the design of any landscape.
In addition to trees, shrubs and groundcovers live for several years and can quickly grow into a useful part of the landscape’s design. Turf is another feature that plays a crucial role in the design of the landscape. While turf may have a relatively short lifespan depending on your geographic location, it’s a dominant force on the property and enhances the overall design.
Managing the lifecycle of the landscape doesn’t just fall on the landscaping professional — it’s a collaborative effort involving many members. Owners, property managers, landscaping professionals, arborists and designers work together to maintain the health and beauty of the landscape and the overall value of the property.
During the first year of working with a client, it’s your job as the landscape contractor to inform your clients on the importance of the value or their landscape and what their particular landscape’s lifecycle looks like. For clients with a multi-year agreement, you should encourage a collaborative effort and set time aside to talk about long-term planning.
Ken Hutcheson is president of U.S. Lawns, a wholly owned subsidiary of the ValleyCrest Landscape Companies. Hutcheson joined U.S. Lawns in 1995 and has been instrumental in growing the landscape management franchise organization from a regional 18-franchise network to a national franchise industry leader with over 250 franchises. U.S. Lawns services customers in all 48 continuous states. Based in Orlando, Florida, U.S. Lawns is nourished by the values and passion of family-owned and operated franchise businesses and Hutcheson is a champion of the entrepreneurial spirit and teamwork that defines its culture. His focus on the company’s Franchise Development and Support teams are central reasons for the company’s steady national expansion and consistently high rankings on landscape and franchise industry lists, including Entrepreneur Magazine’s listing of best franchises in its annual Franchise 500 report. Hutcheson can be contacted at 407-246-1630 or firstname.lastname@example.org