By Katie Navarra
Hardscape trends, demonstrations and expert tips will all be part of the 2011 Hardscape North America (HNA) expo, which is presented by the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI). For the second year in a row, the expo will be held in conjunction with the Green Industry and Equipment Expo (GIE+EXPO) in Louisville, Ky., Oct. r 27-29.
Contractors can choose between two educational tracks, one for business owners just starting out and the other for experienced hardscape installers. Both tracks will offer insider tips and strategies for maintaining a profitable installation business, developing customer relationships and using creative design strategies.
Profitability through customer relationship management
Whether you are building a new hardscapes business or managing a well-established one, profitability is critical, especially as the hardscape industry becomes more competitive. “Increased competition is challenging organizations to pay close attention to customer satisfaction,” said Ed Fiorni, Ph.D., vice president of distributor sales and marketing for Pavestone Company, and immediate past president of ICPI. “A company will spend six times more to sell a product to a new customer than to an existing one.”
It takes a customer relationship management (CRM) focus to keep customers satisfied. “Customer relationship is the cornerstone to any successful organization. CRM concentrates on acquiring and retaining the most profitable customers,” he added.
CRM can be difficult to implement successfully in the hardscape industry. “Approximately 70 percent of organizations attempting to adopt a CRM program failed to achieve the promised objectives, worsened relationships with customers, and lost the original investment and additional capital,” said Fiorni. The primary reason is because employees are unprepared.
Maintaining a Profitable Business Through Customer Relationships, an educational session led by Fiorni, will provide strategies for maintaining better customer relationships while also remaining profitable during tough economic times. He will share tactics hardscape contractors can use to understand what a customer’s needs are and how to satisfy them.
Profitability through new market opportunities
Expanding into new market segments is as important as maintaining healthy customer relationships. Learn how to Access, Bid and Build Commercial Hardscapes from Fred Adams, owner and founder of Fred Adams Paving in Morrisville, N.C.
Bidding on commercial work provides the opportunity for a hardscape business to do what they do best — install hardscapes — but it also provides an opportunity for businesses that are able to perform a mix of services. “Some general contractors offer opportunity for you to price just your section or give you the opportunity to work on several,” he added.
Winning a commercial project is attributed to one of three characteristics: lowest bidder, established relationships, or scope of work. Past experience factors into commercial work. “Develop credibility with the design community before bidding on commercial work,” he added. “Don’t try to develop your experience on a commercial project.”
Many landscape architects provide design services for residential homeowners and commercial projects. “A landscape architect you worked with on a residential home may be asked to do a school,” said Adams noted. “Ask the designer you work with if they are doing commercial work with hardscaping — ride their coat tails.” The same is true with general contractors and home builders.
“Instead of you being the designer someone else is the design professional,” said Adams. “Be familiar with how to read plans and prepare a bid. Some ask for unit pricing, others ask for lump sum.”
Contractors working on commercial projects must be prepared to handle project plans and take-offs electronically. “Have the computer power to be able to do the work online,” Adams suggested. “Use spreadsheets for estimating quantities and pricing, and consider estimating software that makes a good fit for your company.”
Stay on the cutting edge
Staying current with the latest hardscapes trends is crucial. HNA provides educational opportunities to help hardscape professionals access information on the latest trends. Key topics covered will include sustainability, storm water management and selling value. “Those are the top three trends this year,” said Jackie Conklin, manager of education for ICPI.
Storm water management: “(Installing) low-impact hardscape designs that use permeable interlocking concrete reduce storm water runoff rates and improve the quality of that runoff,” said Conklin. Low-Impact Landscape Design Using Permeable Interlocking Concrete Pavement will review the maintenance associated with permeable pavers, the guidelines for being ADA compliant, and incentives — such as LEED points — contractors can receive for using permeable pavers.
Sustainability: All construction related industries, hardscape professionals and their customers are concerned about sustainability. Hear from industry experts how the social, economic and environmental issues and sustainability during construction, the use of and eventual disposal of materials relates to hardscapes.
Selling the value: Property owners have several options when considering a patio, walkway or driveway, and hardscape professionals need to understand how to sell the value of interlocking concrete pavers. “Demonstrating the value of interlocking concrete pavements (to clients) with their higher durability and longer life spans, by considering the construction and maintenance cost compared to alternate materials, is important,” said Conklin.
HNA participants can also find information about other top trends including machine-assisted paver installation, enhancing hardscapes with water features, and selling and designing outdoor living spaces — all while interacting with exhibitors or watching product demonstrations.
HNA provides contractors with access to 12 hardscape-specific educational sessions, up to eight continuing education credits, outdoor product demonstrations, tradeshow exhibits, as well as all the additional exhibits, educational and networking opportunities that GIE+EXPO has to offer. For more information about HNA 2011, visit www.hardscapenorthamerica.com
Katie Navarra is a landscape industry professional based in New York. She is also an accomplished author and freelance correspondent with more than 200 articles to her credit. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com