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DFW Area Landscaper
04-09-2005, 10:56 PM
Home owners expect us to come out and give them a FREE on sight estimate.

I can understand a free estimate on something like auto repair, where the customer takes time out of his day to drive his car to the shop. The shop charges 80 bucks an hour, so taking 10 minutes out of their day to stop and look at a car makes sense as long as they win half the estimates. They win enough business from the free estimates to cover the costs.

And I can almost understand a carpet contractor or roofing contractor coming out to provide a free estimate, though some, like Lowe's, charge for this. At least if they win the business half the time, they can justify paying an estimator/sales person to do this work. Each job they win is probably worth several thousand in gross margin. Of the jobs that they do win, once they win them, they've got them. It's not like lawn mowing where there is still a strong likelihood that the customer will cancel service after only a few mows.

But is there another industry where a customer can promise so little and get a contractor out to their home for a FREE estimate with such a small potential payoff? Most residential lawn mowing clients expect to pay about 25 bucks a cut, they expect the right to cancel at any time for any reason, and they expect a professional, knowledgeable sales person to drive to their home and give them a free estimate. Many expect that person to meet them on their property at a time that's convenient for them too. Many lawns in my area being mowed for twenty bucks. The gross margin, after labor, from even a full year's worth of cuts, simply doesn't justify the cost of driving out for a free estimate that you're only going to win half the time (at least in my opinion).

My question is this: Is there another industry where a customer expects so much in terms of a FREE estimate and yet, even if the contractor wins the business, the payoff is this low?

How can we possibly look strong, professionally, in the customer's eyes when they know we've invested so much in terms of time and fuel for such a low potential payoff? Isn't the free on sight estimate for lawn mowing, in and of itself, a major sign of weakness?

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

thill
04-09-2005, 11:15 PM
DFW

WE have prefer meeting with the potential client on his or her terms. It gives us a chance to demonstrate our professionalism AND often to "up sale" additional services.

It all starts with selling ourselves in person. That helps since we are rarely the lowest bid.

Every proposal is emailed with our standard propaganda blurps. If we don't hear from them within 24 hours, we do a telephone follow up.

Updog
04-09-2005, 11:19 PM
Itotally agree with what your saying but getting the rest of the world to follow is another story. I got screwed on a few landscape jobs spent an hour or two on a plan and no job or I have even seen my plan done by other landscapers.

Envy Lawn Service
04-10-2005, 02:11 AM
DFW,

Boy, your state of mind seems very familiar.... oh yeah....

It gets to you after a while. Gets old quick. I average going out on in excess of 100 "estimates" that are a total waste, just in the spring of each year. But they are not after a free estimate. What they really want is a competition bid, and hopefully one they can used to pry someone else to beat.

They never get what they want from me.

I show up looking professional, measure the property, ask about the services they want and sell-sell-sell. Then I go figure it all up and return with some numbers for this whole list of services they requested. Of course, they always have to "think about it" or "get one more estimate" ect.

So you go through all that and they never even as much as give you a call to say they hired someone else. You always have to call back to find out the hired some guy to just cut the grass for $20 every two weeks.

bicmudpuppy
04-10-2005, 02:26 AM
Ok, this sounds like the reason we don't mow grass, BUT one question here that I have to ask....Are you killing yourself even trying to compete with that $20 cut? Why? Do the "free" estimate, but bid your work so that you make a profit. That profit margin needs to be significant enough to YOU that you like having that customer. Then SELL it. Be the best service you can possibly provide and enjoy every "NO" you get. Run your buisness by the numbers. Be competitive enough to land the jobs you need (if you can't get them maybe your in the wrong buisness), and trust the percentages. It takes x number of those who say "NO" to get a yes. (I've never had the privledge of working an industry where the ratio was even close to 1:1) For myself in this area, I need atleast 3 if not 4 qualified No's to get that magical yes for an install. For maintenance, if they call me, it is because I'm the service guy they want and it really doesn't matter what I charge because quality saves them money in the end.

DFW Area Landscaper
04-10-2005, 09:51 AM
My question is this: Is there another industry where a customer expects so much in terms of a FREE estimate and yet, even if the contractor wins the business, the payoff is this low?

Is there another industry? Do maid services drive out for a free esimate too?

I honestly can't think of another industry with such intensive front end investment with no commitment from the customer and such a low payoff. Is there one?

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

Gene $immons
04-10-2005, 10:12 AM
Probably not many businesses offer a free estimate.

How much do you charge for an estimate though? How do you get them to pay it?

If they sign up, do they still pay for the estimate?

DFW Area Landscaper
04-10-2005, 10:34 AM
I don't charge for estimates. I did get a guy earlier this spring to pay ten bucks for an estimate on a clean-up. Got told to f-off on the next two, so I quit asking for an estimate fee.

As for lawn mowing, I don't have any problems with it. I quote all the mowing and chemical stuff over the phone sight unseen. My problems are coming from shrubs and clean-up estimates.

I think my new shpiel for shrubs & cleanups will be this: If our shrub crew has a paying customer, we will not put that work off while we drive out for a free estimate. Once our shrub crew is caught up and has no work to do, at that time, we will start working our free estimate list. As you can see, if you require a free estimate before we do the work, it could take a while. If you'd like us to come out and do the work without an estimate, I'd be glad to put you on the schedule and we could probably get the work done within a week to ten days. If you want an estimate before we do any work, I don't have any idea how long it will take. Could be a few days, could be a few months. I make no promises on free estimates.


Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

Mo Green
04-10-2005, 10:41 AM
We had a new roof put on this year, and I had 3 different companies give us free estimates. We didn't necessarily pick the cheapest one, but we picked the one we felt would give the best service at the best price. I did heating and air conditioning work for 8 years, and we used to give free estimates on new install work, but not on repairs. Painters will drive to your house and give free estimates also. Concrete companies will come to your house and give free estimates for walkways or driveways....etc,etc.

DFW Area Landscaper
04-10-2005, 10:44 AM
So on large dollar jobs for AC/Heating, free estimates are done. But for small dollar jobs, like AC/Hating repair. Roofing is a large dollar job too.

I wish our industry had just the slightest of a barrier to entry. If we had that, reasonable people would understand why we charge for an estimate.

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

CamLand
04-10-2005, 10:51 AM
I have a buddy in the Tress indusrty that got tired of giving free estimates so he started charging 10.00 for each time he bids a job.He says it's worked out well and it weeds out the shoppers and gets striaght to the paying customer...

Mo Green
04-10-2005, 10:56 AM
I think charging an estimate fee is okay. I would probably tell the potential customer that the estimate cost will be deducted from the first cut if they sign a year contract.

EC-Rider
04-10-2005, 10:56 AM
Home owners expect us to come out and give them a FREE on sight estimate.



My question is this: Is there another industry where a customer expects so much in terms of a FREE estimate and yet, even if the contractor wins the business, the payoff is this low?

How can we possibly look strong, professionally, in the customer's eyes when they know we've invested so much in terms of time and fuel for such a low potential payoff? Isn't the free on sight estimate for lawn mowing, in and of itself, a major sign of weakness?

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

So unless you own a utility company or a toll bridge…it’s dog eats dog! LOL! :realmad:

The smart money just takes every advantage in the tax law and business connections to come out ahead, and you COULD TOO! :p

The “free estimate” it’s NOT free but it’s an investment expense on your part, and you ought to put a price on it, and deduct it as a business expense. payup

Don’t be discouraged, you just need to figure out is a little competitive edge.

Let me explain, a vendor trying to sell pluming supplies might take the hardware store owner out for lunch on him…that’s a tax-deductible business expense.
The hardware store owner might in turn have a special arrangement with the professional plumber, such as a thirty day interest free credit, free on sight delivery, and so on.

You COULD also do something similar… If you happen to have a commercial account with a food chain or restaurant, with whom you might partner up with to see if they might be interested in the extra traffic and offer you a special discount, which you could in turn offer a free lunch, car wash or whatever, for the first ten customers in the neighborhood.

That’s a business expense... and one up on the competition! :D

Hope that helps! :drinkup:

It’s all good! Enjoy! Peace! :angel:

Oldtimer
04-10-2005, 11:13 AM
I have always felt that this industry is too easy to get into. Until there are specific requirements to get into the lawn care industry you can expect to be treated like a yard boy by many prospective customers. I have been there, done that, bought the tee shirt and things aren't likely to change soon. The average customer knows the price of a mower at Wally World and thinks you have no other expenses. Once I had a College Professor tell me that he was "a man of letters", whatever that means. During the conversation the Prof. was continually trying to act like he was better than me because I worked with my hands. He and his wife got into an argument about the yard so I told them that when they decided who wore the pants in the family to call me or, since he was, "a man of letters", to send me one. I left in the middle of the first visit and never heard from them again.

I still get a** h**** who bring equipment in for service and down to the last one, they bought at a box store and expect us to jump thru our a** to make them happy. We quickly educate these customers about how much verbal abuse we won't take and give the the choice of acting right or leaving. It's suprising how few will leave and those who do go out shaking their heads about our shop labor charge of $64.00 per hour. These are the same people who want our mechanics to give them a free estimate. Our estimates are free, not, our estimates are .5 hour of labor. Quite often these customers will start telling us what is wrong with their equipment so we offer to sell them the parts and let them do their own repairs. This usually shuts them up or they leave and take up someone elses time.

We are committed to the LCOs first and then the homeowners who purchased from us and repair the box store junk when we have time.

Oldtimer
Ya Gotta Go With The Flow!

greywynd
04-10-2005, 11:49 AM
I know that with my mini-ex I always try to make a site visit before going to do the actual work. I generally charge by the hour, with a fee for floating, I reduce that as the hours on the job go up. I really don't estimate the jobs that I do, because it's a small machine, and sometimes there are big rocks in this area. As some of you landscapers/hardscapers know, you don't have x-ray vision to see what's under the ground. My site visit is to go over what the customer wants, gives me a chance to see about access to the site, utilities, etc. As far as pricing(estimating). I tell them my rates, and, depending on the job, if it's a bigger job and they are trying to budget, I will try to give them a range of time, but stress (and it's in the paperwork) that we cannot forsee problems that occur from time to time.
I have had one job that I ended up getting in bigger equipment after I started, there were just way too many boulders there, but we still needed the small machine, so I ended up having it there as well. I tend to get a lot of half day to one day jobs, not huge projects that take several days or weeks.
Fortunately for me, almost every visit I make is because the customer wants me to dig, and I can usually schedule a stop while I'm doing something else, my 'area' isn't that big, but, having a chance to familiarize myself with the site is worth the time/trip. Sometimes it gives me a chance to avoid big/costly problems. I've refused to do a couple jobs, there was just no way to use a machine and do it safely, and I think both times they followed my advice and hired some labourers to do the digging by hand. (I think both times it was post holes for decks, and it was a contractor wanting the holes dug.)
Other times I have pointed out that they needed locates done, usually phone lines, but sometimes gas, and it gives them a chance to get that done before the machine shows up. (I refuse to work on a job unless the locates have been done, only once have I had a customer not get one done when I requested it, he was doing a patio (pavers, I think) and had a bunch of 'friends' lined up for the weekend, this was Friday afternoon, the gas line was right at the end of where he wanted me to dig, but he hadn't located it. I always let the machine warm up a few minutes while I do another walk around , I could see the locates weren't done. I asked why they weren't done, he says "you're not digging that close to it"
I replied "how do you know where it goes?" to which he says " I think it goes this way...."
I said that "your think" could be our a***s if we hit it....said to call me when he had it located, and I'd come back, and then went to the passenger side of the truck (where I keep my billing stuff) and started writing a bill for float charges. Of course he protested, saying that it was too much for me not doing anything and then to charge him.....I said it was a lot cheaper than blowing up his house, or us....he shut up, and took the cash out of his wallet and paid me. I ended up going back the middle of the next week, and, like I suspected, the line had curved under the area he wanted dug. He redesigned the patio to avoid it all together.

Mark

dkeisala
04-10-2005, 12:23 PM
First of all, just because a job like roofing, window replacement, siding, etc., costs thousands more than lawn maintenance doesn't necessarily mean that the profit margins are any higher. You'd be comparing apples and oranges and I'd have to imagine that the actual difference in profit margins would depend on the businesses you are comparing.

I just had 2 new garage doors w/ openers, purchased through Home Depot, installed on my home. Yes, they make you pay for the job up front then send out the contractor to do final measurments and make sure nothing extra will need to be done. You can cancel the order up to the point of what they call "pre-installation inspection" after which the doors were ordered. Now, there may be a charge for this buried in the total purchase price but it isn't a line item which leads me to my final point.

There is no such thing as "free". You're not going to get every job you bid on but what you can do is factor in the cost of providing these estimates and build them into EVERY job that actually provides your revenue. Just like any of the other tasks that require a self-employed person to drive around town burning time and gas (office supplies, tools, equipment, shop supplies) your time is your time and these should all be factored into your cost of doing business and then these costs spread out and recouped.

If you're complaining about providing "free" estimates then your probably doing one or more things wrong in the first place. You're in the wrong business. You're in the wrong market. You don't charge enough to recover costs. You're not properly pre-qualifying potential customers over the phone.

As you've realized, you'll never re-condition people away from the free estimate mentality. Besides, it's service-oriented businesses that coined the phrase so if you look at it that way, it's not the customers fault, it's business' fault. That said, rather than trying to trying to change the customers context of free estimate, perhaps your should try changing your context of free estimate. Rather than calling it a free estimate your could call it an "opportunity" instead.

bobbygedd
04-10-2005, 03:23 PM
lawnboys made thier bed a long time ago. now, every lawnboy on the planet must sleep in it. other business don't give free estimates for penny services like lawnboys do. the lawnboy can't wait to drive all over town burning his fuel, then in fact he offers "first and last cut free." lawnboys, as a whole, are suckers. sure, you can charge for your estimates, you'll be out of business by july.

Fantasy Lawns
04-10-2005, 03:27 PM
The Food Service Industry has a "Free Estimate" .... it's called a "Menu"

Go to Wendy n get a Value Meal Item it's only $.99

bobbygedd
04-10-2005, 03:33 PM
The Food Service Industry has a "Free Estimate" .... it's called a "Menu"

Go to Wendy n get a Value Meal Item it's only $.99
yea, but dave DOES NOT take the time to call you, drive to your house, speak with you, walk around your property, and then bump into another hamburger salesman as he's leaving your property, and the other guy is just getting there

Fantasy Lawns
04-10-2005, 03:46 PM
He was just asking if it's done in other industries & quite frankly you can give an estimate over the phone

It's only an estimate ....estimate means just that ...an estimate ...it's not a lock in the price .... if you have jobs in the person's area or are familiar with your pricing & time ....do homes in the area you know the lots size ask about gate issues & hills, pools what ever you can give a price over the phone ....n if you don't like to do that ....than take the time to drive over & look at it

Me it's not n issue ... I service a 5 Mile radius .... have +250 accounts ....& don't mind giving a "free estimate" ....if it's a big job I want a "one on one" with the customer too go over the expectations .... but outside of that 75% of my estimates are left at the door as the customers is not home .... they are at work ... I don't do em over the weekends & don't do em after 6pm

I enjoy owning a business .... it's part of it .... just like low pricing .... fuel increases .... pita's n all the other ^&%$ .... dealing with issues & creating a niche to be successful

1MajorTom
04-10-2005, 03:53 PM
If you're complaining about providing "free" estimates then your probably doing one or more things wrong in the first place. You're in the wrong business. You're in the wrong market. You don't charge enough to recover costs. You're not properly pre-qualifying potential customers over the phone.




dkeisala's post is a good one, and he's absolutely correct about using the telephone to our advantage. It's up to us to get as much information as we can, so we can weed out the timewasters while we have them on the phone.

Kate Butler
04-10-2005, 04:06 PM
I stopped doing free estimates 2 seasons ago. We don't do lawns, but pretty much everything else in landscaping. It's a $50.00 fee; refundable with the first bill (if we do the job). Some estimates go quickly - others take 2-3 hours - depending on the complexity of the clients wishes. I've never had anyone have us estimate and not have us follow through with the work. I've turned down a few jobs, though, where I could tell from the first client meeting that it wasn't going to work out.

DLS1
04-10-2005, 04:43 PM
There are free estimates in lots of service industries as already has been said.

With an ad like this one "$20.00 MOW’S most lawns. First mowing half price. Free estimates. Need college money" that I saw on the internet I can see why customers would think it is a joke to pay for an estimate.

If you don't give a free estimate then their are 10 more ads in the newspaper advertising their mowing services who will gladly give a free estimate.

I hate to say this but mowing is right above ditch digging, the garbage man and cleaning toilets in customers eyes. The more society views something as "anyone can do it" the less value it has. In general terms thats why people go to college, tech schools,etc. so they can earn more money per hour since less people have a certain skill.

yrdandgardenhandyman
04-10-2005, 04:48 PM
I think charging an estimate fee is okay. I would probably tell the potential customer that the estimate cost will be deducted from the first cut if they sign a year contract.


Why give it back to the customer? The fee is for the estimate. Did it cost you any less to give the estimate if they accept than it does if they blow you off?

Mo Green
04-10-2005, 05:23 PM
Why give it back to the customer? The fee is for the estimate. Did it cost you any less to give the estimate if they accept than it does if they blow you off?
I'm not saying I do this. Merely a suggestion.

PMLAWN
04-10-2005, 06:03 PM
DFW you need some happy pills.
The best part of this work is the customer interaction.
Learn the selling game and it will open a whole new outlook at what it is you are doing.
You must network your business. Network yourself.
I think you are way to tied up in negative stuff to make a real run at a successful business.
First thing you need to forget is price. Never talk about it and do not tell how much it will cost people to use your company
Just sell yourself and your company. By the time you are done talking about what you are going to do for this client and how you will make his life easier and how you will add value to his biggest investment there is no way he would think about using any body else to work at his property. But to walk in and do this you need to have a great attitude about your work and yourself.
You need to explain how using your service will save the client money over the long haul. How his pride will get stroked each day when he drives up the drive.
THAN DELIVER!! By this time next year you will never be asked to give a "bid" or estimate again. Your calls will be referrals just asking you to come out and work.
Look at the "sales" call as the best opportunity you have to build your business and to grow into a great company.
You have to be the sales man in your company and not the worker.
Pay yourself to do that job and get good at it.

Yes, cutting grass is a low paying job and people expect little from the person doing it and to find out "how much" is to be free.
That is why we don't "cut grass". We improve and than maintain your property and increase it's value and your happiness. All while giving you more free time to spend with your family.

lear35
04-10-2005, 07:25 PM
Save yourself some time. I try to pre-qualify people over the phone. Sometimes you can just tell if you want to do business with a person by asking questions. Ask some specific questions in a conversational manner. Have you ever used a lawn service before? How long did you use their services? What part of town are you in? Do you have any pets? What kind of grass? How often do you cut it? etc, etc.
In a sense you are kind of stereotyping people, but you are saving yourself time. For instance, I know I don't want to cut someones lawn who has been through 3 lawn services in the past year with fescue that gets cut once or twice a month and has two dobermans in the backyard on the south side of town.
Move to a new market if people only want to pay $20 a cut. Just kidding! I know thats not an option. I feel very fortunate to live in the Atlanta market. I don't cut anything for less than $40. There is a lot of competition in Atlanta, but people take their yards seriously down here and there are 4 million people here. If you have been to Atlanta you know most people live in the suburbs.

Woody82986
04-10-2005, 07:26 PM
I agree with pretty much everything PMlawn just said. You have to stop looking at it as giving someone a price and look at it as selling yourself and what you do.

DFW Area Landscaper
04-10-2005, 07:35 PM
I think you are way to tied up in negative stuff to make a real run at a successful business.

---PMLawn, 04/10/05

You have 0 business skills and less marketing skills. You also lack management skills. The flaw with your plan is you.

---PMLawn, 03/17/05

Thank you sir. May I have another?

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

DLS1
04-10-2005, 07:57 PM
Just sell yourself and your company. By the time you are done talking about what you are going to do for this client and how you will make his life easier and how you will add value to his biggest investment there is no way he would think about using any body else to work at his property. But to walk in and do this you need to have a great attitude about your work and yourself.
You need to explain how using your service will save the client money over the long haul. How his pride will get stroked each day when he drives up the drive.
THAN DELIVER!! By this time next year you will never be asked to give a "bid" or estimate again. Your calls will be referrals just asking you to come out and work.
Look at the "sales" call as the best opportunity you have to build your business and to grow into a great company.
You have to be the sales man in your company and not the worker.
Pay yourself to do that job and get good at it.

Yes, cutting grass is a low paying job and people expect little from the person doing it and to find out "how much" is to be free.
That is why we don't "cut grass". We improve and than maintain your property and increase it's value and your happiness. All while giving you more free time to spend with your family.

Good speech but this is a simple service industry that anyone can do. You can't razzle dazzle someone with a fancy "I got the best company out their to take care of your yard" when they know how easy it is to cut a yard. The customer is assuming all LCO are the same quality wise since how hard it is to mess up a yard when a 12 year can cut a yard. Not saying it is true but I think that is the general perception.

Your speech reminds me of people selling Amway products. Amway pressures you to go to local rah rah meetings to boost up your emotions to keep selling their products but only problem is the rah rah speeches can only last so long if you can't sell the product. Reason people can't sell Amway is you can get it as cheep or cheaper at Wal_mart,Cosco.

DFW Area Landscaper has at a disadvantage since he is the same area as JustMowit where they sell their services cheap. I am glad I am not in Dallas area.

I only mow part time and I really feel sorry for you guys doing it full time. it is so cut throat low price. Your competing against high schoolers, part-timers, college guys making a few bucks to survive in college,etc.. Mowing will always be cheap.

If you get your pesticide license to much up the money food chain then your competing with the Wal-Mart cheapo type TruGreen,etc. who pay their people very little to apply dangerous to your health chemicals.

nobagger
04-10-2005, 08:01 PM
DFW I whole heartedly agree, yeah some industries will give out free estimates but They seem to be getting thousands for the job where are's typically total in a good season, $1500.00 per account. I belive there should be a standard in our industry. Even a type of local with very simple and minor universal regulations. I would be glad to spend $500.00 to join something that levels the playing field. In fact I'm going to start a new thread, stand by. :waving:

DLS1
04-10-2005, 08:02 PM
Hey PMLAWN I just noticed you only have 2 years experience. Is this part-time or full time for you? Do you work for a LCO company or do you own your own business?

Jeff@SGLC.ca
04-10-2005, 08:54 PM
Good speech but this is a simple service industry that anyone can do.


This may be true but the fact that anyone else doing what we do (homeowner) will take a whole day where we come in with the right equiptment and do it in an hour or less. Besides, most homeowners aren't up on the ins and outs of proper care for their lawn, shrubs etc.

I know most landscape companies will now charge for estimates and will not release their designs unless the job is booked. Lawn Maintenance, different story. I just try and group quotes together if I can vs driving to one town for a quote then back to the other knowing I needed to go to the first town the day after again. That way you cut down on travel, time, fuel.

Besides show up and sell yourself and your company like it's been said before. Nice truck, clean (your-self also) and go from there. I came from selling jobs valued at $4000 and up so selling a summer lawn maintenance program isnt that hard.

GrassBustersLawn
04-10-2005, 09:12 PM
To reply to the ORIGINAL QUESTION...Do other industries give FREE ESTIMATES at CUSTOMER's home???

YES. I was in INSURANCE business for 17 years. I spent MANY nights & weekends going to customer's house to give them FREE QUOTE for auto/home/life & health insurance. Alot of TIME & MONEY spent on the front end with hopes of selling a product and then keeping them for a client for many years to make the profit.

Mike

DFW Area Landscaper
04-10-2005, 09:16 PM
Just curious, how does Chemlawn do an estimate? When I worked for them back in '89, customers would call for an estimate and we'd drive a truck out, get out the measuring wheel and check off all the weeds they had on the estimate form.

Something tells me they're not doing it this way anymore.

Anyone know how they're quoting prices today?

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

dkeisala
04-10-2005, 09:26 PM
I just got a flyer from TruGreen - buy their spring treatment for $29.95 OR they will beat any other offer from their competitors. I assume at the time of the spring treatment they make the pitch for the coming seasonal applications.

paponte
04-10-2005, 09:55 PM
Sounds like you guys need to screen your estimate calls better. Get more, and give more information out over the phone. Example, if a customer calls for a fall cleanup and wants an estimate... tell them how much you charge per hour, and explain why you charge that price. A truly interested customer will bite and ask more questions. A customer that is price shopping or just tire kicking will respond most likely with "wow, thats alot" or some other BS.

I have guys always ask me why I only do a couple of estimates per week, when they are doing about 20 per week. I always turn around and ask what their closing ratio is. When someone tells me that for every 10 they go on, they get 1... something is wrong. If you don't screen people, you WILL waste your time. Next time your out, see how long it takes to do estimates. Then take that time and multiply it by your hourly rates, and see what you really lost that day. :)

DFW Area Landscaper
04-10-2005, 11:04 PM
My average cleanup is around $450. Some are more, some are less.

What other industry is known to roll a truck and send a qualified professional out on a free estimate for a $450 opportunity?

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

HOOLIE
04-10-2005, 11:15 PM
I just try to do my estimates whenever I'm in that area working. You'll probably land more jobs, and make more money, with a fixed-price than you would by just quoting an hourly rate over the phone.

Jeff@SGLC.ca
04-10-2005, 11:20 PM
[QUOTE=paponte]Sounds like you guys need to screen your estimate calls better. Get more, and give more information out over the phone. Example, if a customer calls for a fall cleanup and wants an estimate... tell them how much you charge per hour, and explain why you charge that price. A truly interested customer will bite and ask more questions. A customer that is price shopping or just tire kicking will respond most likely with "wow, thats alot" or some other BS.

QUOTE]


You are better of coming up with a ficticious amount based on a certain size property, even though you know each job is different. That way someone calls for a clean up, you state I will have to look at the property but our spring/fall clean ups start at $250.00. Right there you'll know if they want you out.

DFW Area Landscaper
04-10-2005, 11:44 PM
Yup. Been telling customers our hourly rates and what our average clean-up has been costing...$300 to $500. The price isn't scaring people. But they still require the free estimate before they'll allow us to do the work most of the time.

My shrub crew is busy working, generating income with paying clients. I can't see prioritizing a free estimate over a customer who's already agreed to pay. And that's the only area of customer service where I'm letting people down. I keep telling people I can get their free estimate within a week or two, and the next thing I know, its been several weeks and I still haven't done it. I've just got to start explaining to customers that we prioritize paying clients over free estimates. Reasonable people will understand this.

I have no problem sending my shrub crew out on a free estimate if they have no work to do or if it's raining. But if I have a choice of sending them out to gross $36/man-hour vs a free estimate, I think this falls into the category of "no-brainer".

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

dkeisala
04-11-2005, 12:07 AM
My average cleanup is around $450. Some are more, some are less.

What other industry is known to roll a truck and send a qualified professional out on a free estimate for a $450 opportunity?

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

I recently received a free estimate for roofing. Total estimate is $3800 +/- and includes tear-off, new felt, 40-year dimensional roofing, clean-up, disposal (including old gutters), new flashing, vents and installation of look-outs to prop up the gables. This guy will have a crew of 4 out here for a day and a half putting on this roof. With materials, disposal, labor and all business related costs, what do you think this guys profit margin is? How many roof installations do you think he can install in a year? You do one clean-up job for $450 then your off, the same day, to do the next clean-up or whatever else it is on your schedule that makes you money. So how is this any different than the roofing guy?

bicmudpuppy
04-11-2005, 12:35 AM
My average cleanup is around $450. Some are more, some are less.

What other industry is known to roll a truck and send a qualified professional out on a free estimate for a $450 opportunity?

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

OK, I thought we were ranting about mowing or something way less than $100. A clean up by definition means pure labor...and I will also assume by your name your in Dallas which means your paying around $10 wages so $18 cost for that $36 man hour....Your getting a 50% gross margin and your still complaining about doing a free estimate? Hire a sales guy and pay him 10% for each account you collect on and get over it. Your gross margin on two of these clean ups is better than my gross margin on one lawn sprinkler install, and I give free estimates as fast as I can.....I average one in four. If I don't do the other three, I don't sell the one that feeds my kids. That roofing guy or HVAC guy your saying is way to high priced to compare to isn't clearing that kind of overhead. Your "opportunity" is $250 gross profit. Most industries have to retail $1250-$2500 to see that kind of return opportunity.

PMLAWN
04-11-2005, 05:31 AM
Hey PMLAWN I just noticed you only have 2 years experience. Is this part-time or full time for you? Do you work for a LCO company or do you own your own business?

I own the business with my wife. Started grass cutting as a kid. Stopped after highschool. Have worked in home improvement / real estate / construction for over 25 years. Moved from Chicago to NC in 97 and Incorporated in NC. We do property maintenance. Drove around the country in our motorhome for a year or so in 01 and 02 and when we returned In the spring of 02 we started to add Lawn maintenance to our list of services. My wife works full time outside the house but the business is full time for me.


""Good speech but this is a simple service industry that anyone can do. You can't razzle dazzle someone with a fancy "I got the best company out their to take care of your yard" when they know how easy it is to cut a yard. The customer is assuming all LCO are the same quality wise since how hard it is to mess up a yard when a 12 year can cut a yard. Not saying it is true but I think that is the general perception.

Your speech reminds me of people selling Amway products. Amway pressures you to go to local rah rah meetings to boost up your emotions to keep selling their products but only problem is the rah rah speeches can only last so long if you can't sell the product. Reason people can't sell Amway is you can get it as cheep or cheaper at Wal_mart,Cosco. ""

If this is how you feel about yourself and your industry than you are selling yourself short. This statement just reinforces what I said. If you walk into a proposal with this attitude and I also walk into the same one with my attitude, 90% of the time I will get the job even with a higher price.
As far as it being easy to cut a yard, lets restate that. It's easy to push a mower across a yard. It is not easy to create the manicured look that makes the customer go WOW.
Funny that you mention Amway. I looked into it a few years back as something to sell as we traveled. I did not do it because of delivery problems and yes the prices were off. BUT, selling is selling and yes you have to believe in your product with your whole heart before you can sell to others

I think you are way to tied up in negative stuff to make a real run at a successful business.

---PMLawn, 04/10/05

You have 0 business skills and less marketing skills. You also lack management skills. The flaw with your plan is you.

---PMLawn, 03/17/05

Thank you sir. May I have another?

DFW- Look at your posts of the last year. Look at the problems you run across and many different directions that you have tried.
Yes I wrote those posts and I still stand behind them.
BUT,, I also gave (in the same post) advice on ways to improve your knowledge and to work out the problems.
Somewhere else in this thread someone wrote "how can he do it in an area with Justmowit." That is just the point. Justmowit did it in that area and so can he. Justmowit only has 3000 customers and there are over 3 million in the area. There is room for many.

Nothing happens in any business without sales. Even the oldest business did not start doing business till the sale was made.
Knowing how to sell will improve you life in all areas and in any business that you go into.

DLS1
04-11-2005, 10:58 AM
I own the business with my wife. Started grass cutting as a kid. Stopped after highschool. Have worked in home improvement / real estate / construction for over 25 years. Moved from Chicago to NC in 97 and Incorporated in NC. We do property maintenance. Drove around the country in our motorhome for a year or so in 01 and 02 and when we returned In the spring of 02 we started to add Lawn maintenance to our list of services. My wife works full time outside the house but the business is full time for me.


""Good speech but this is a simple service industry that anyone can do. You can't razzle dazzle someone with a fancy "I got the best company out their to take care of your yard" when they know how easy it is to cut a yard. The customer is assuming all LCO are the same quality wise since how hard it is to mess up a yard when a 12 year can cut a yard. Not saying it is true but I think that is the general perception.

Your speech reminds me of people selling Amway products. Amway pressures you to go to local rah rah meetings to boost up your emotions to keep selling their products but only problem is the rah rah speeches can only last so long if you can't sell the product. Reason people can't sell Amway is you can get it as cheep or cheaper at Wal_mart,Cosco. ""

If this is how you feel about yourself and your industry than you are selling yourself short. This statement just reinforces what I said. If you walk into a proposal with this attitude and I also walk into the same one with my attitude, 90% of the time I will get the job even with a higher price.
As far as it being easy to cut a yard, lets restate that. It's easy to push a mower across a yard. It is not easy to create the manicured look that makes the customer go WOW.
Funny that you mention Amway. I looked into it a few years back as something to sell as we traveled. I did not do it because of delivery problems and yes the prices were off. BUT, selling is selling and yes you have to believe in your product with your whole heart before you can sell to others

I think you are way to tied up in negative stuff to make a real run at a successful business.

---PMLawn, 04/10/05

You have 0 business skills and less marketing skills. You also lack management skills. The flaw with your plan is you.

---PMLawn, 03/17/05

Thank you sir. May I have another?

DFW- Look at your posts of the last year. Look at the problems you run across and many different directions that you have tried.
Yes I wrote those posts and I still stand behind them.
BUT,, I also gave (in the same post) advice on ways to improve your knowledge and to work out the problems.
Somewhere else in this thread someone wrote "how can he do it in an area with Justmowit." That is just the point. Justmowit did it in that area and so can he. Justmowit only has 3000 customers and there are over 3 million in the area. There is room for many.

Nothing happens in any business without sales. Even the oldest business did not start doing business till the sale was made.
Knowing how to sell will improve you life in all areas and in any business that you go into.


Good post. You must belong to the Optimist club. I belong to the realist club but my glass is half full.

There is a big difference trying to make it in your situation (wife works fulltime for more money,medical benefits and you have another job in home improvement) and a LCO that is all they do and their wife doesn't work so they have to pay higher price medical benefits.

How many lawns do you have and what is the average charge per lawn?

DFW Area Landscaper
04-11-2005, 12:37 PM
My average cleanup is $450. $150 of that, on average, is mulch. That leaves $300 to pay labor, drive time and fuel.

On average, I clear about $150 on a $450 clean up. That's the profit before I figure all my other costs (insurance, advertising, etc) and before I figure the cost of the two free estimates I have to do to get this work.

So to assume I make $450 on a cleanup would be way off.

Phrased another way, what other industries will roll a truck for a free on sight estimate for a profit potential of $150?

I'm assuming a roofer would have a little more profit in a $3,800 job than 150 bucks.

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

petekief
04-11-2005, 12:50 PM
why not say "how bout if come out and mow it once for twenty (or whatever) - no trim - no shrubs - just mow - and we can talk price after that?"

PMLAWN
04-11-2005, 02:09 PM
Good post. You must belong to the Optimist club. I belong to the realist club but my glass is half full.

There is a big difference trying to make it in your situation (wife works fulltime for more money,medical benefits and you have another job in home improvement) and a LCO that is all they do and their wife doesn't work so they have to pay higher price medical benefits.

How many lawns do you have and what is the average charge per lawn?

I understand what you are saying about not having to cover Ins or other bennies but I did not ever run the business without making sure that we were charging enough to cover everything. If I had to cover my household insurance it would only erode about 4 % of the income that I bring into the home. As my wife is an accountant, she makes sure that we cover all the bases and the profit margins are right.
Residential lots number right at 100 as of last week. Still looking for about 20 more this year to fill the truck. No single residential is worth over 5K for the year. Most have been sold around 37-38 with about 20 or so in the 50+ range. Just a few below 30.
We push hard to sell full service with a 12 month contract.
We have a few Condos and 2 HOA's along with a few industrial parks that fill a 3rd truck. Largest is right around 60K for the year. On the HOAs and condos we do most of the handyman work also.
The landscape truck is backed up about 2 months and the lawncare crew is going full time also. We do about 40 lawncare packages that we do not do anything else to throughout the year. I will say that lawncare carries the most profit. This will be the first year that the business will make a profit. (the landscape part) but I have always payed myself well and would have been able to cover any bills.
I guess that if you needed to support the family right from the start that you should really work at being good at business and sales.

DLS1
04-11-2005, 02:20 PM
Hey PMLAWN looks like you got a good business going. Don't know what your average sq. ft. per lawn is but your prices seem good per yard.

Got to go do some estimates since it is raining and can't mow.

PMLAWN
04-11-2005, 02:23 PM
[QUOTE=DLS1]Good post. You must belong to the Optimist club. I belong to the realist club but my glass is half full.

QUOTE]
And yes I believe that you get out of life what you put in to it. I am a happy person and I do not get down very easy and I also like people and believe a lot in customer service and producing a perfect product for my customer. I want to make others happy.
As a Christian I guess I am an optimist, but why would you want to be anything else.
I do have concerns for our economy and for our industry. I may sound like I am getting down on some people (ask DFW) and I am sorry that it comes across that way but I hope that I can help some look at things just a little different. I also know that I have a lot to learn also and will study every day to increase my knowledge. That is one of the great things about this site. We can all keep learning.

dvmcmrhp52
04-11-2005, 02:29 PM
[QUOTE=DLS1

Got to go do some estimates since it is raining and can't mow.[/QUOTE]




Hmmm, so you are saying that you are doing estimates when it is convenient for YOU??????

What a concept.

Soupy
04-11-2005, 03:14 PM
Home owners expect us to come out and give them a FREE on sight estimate.

I can understand a free estimate on something like auto repair, where the customer takes time out of his day to drive his car to the shop. The shop charges 80 bucks an hour, so taking 10 minutes out of their day to stop and look at a car makes sense as long as they win half the estimates. They win enough business from the free estimates to cover the costs.

And I can almost understand a carpet contractor or roofing contractor coming out to provide a free estimate, though some, like Lowe's, charge for this. At least if they win the business half the time, they can justify paying an estimator/sales person to do this work. Each job they win is probably worth several thousand in gross margin. Of the jobs that they do win, once they win them, they've got them. It's not like lawn mowing where there is still a strong likelihood that the customer will cancel service after only a few mows.
But is there another industry where a customer can promise so little and get a contractor out to their home for a FREE estimate with such a small potential payoff? Most residential lawn mowing clients expect to pay about 25 bucks a cut, they expect the right to cancel at any time for any reason, and they expect a professional, knowledgeable sales person to drive to their home and give them a free estimate. Many expect that person to meet them on their property at a time that's convenient for them too. Many lawns in my area being mowed for twenty bucks. The gross margin, after labor, from even a full year's worth of cuts, simply doesn't justify the cost of driving out for a free estimate that you're only going to win half the time (at least in my opinion).

My question is this: Is there another industry where a customer expects so much in terms of a FREE estimate and yet, even if the contractor wins the business, the payoff is this low?

How can we possibly look strong, professionally, in the customer's eyes when they know we've invested so much in terms of time and fuel for such a low potential payoff? Isn't the free on sight estimate for lawn mowing, in and of itself, a major sign of weakness?

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

I didn't read past the first page, but this comment (in bold) struck me as odd. It is very rare that we lose a customer after a few cuts.

Maybe you have a problem keeping them, but the way I look at it is you make one free trip and after they hire you, you potentially have a customer for life. Unlike the roofer that has to constantly advertise and give estimates to keep the work coming in at all times. Also A roof job isn't as high dollar profit as you think. At least you get to come back every week (if you can keep them) and make money off them and the profit per hour should be just as great as the roof job. Add up all the hours over 1,2,3 5 years and that lawn customer is a whole lot more profitable then a roof job.

Also you shouldn't expect to land more then 25% of your estimates, so this time should be factored into your overhead and accounted far. Everything that cost your company money has to be factored into your price. It isn't any different then buying a piece of equipment, or a roll of stamps.

I think your concerns come from the statement I highlighted in bold. You need to figure out how to make the customers you do get happy and stop turning them over so easily.

By the way, Mechanics in my area charge $50 to check your car and give a quote. If you hire them then they apply that to the quoted price. I think this is only done because a l,ot of people would get them to find the problem and then fix it themselves. Finding the problem is the hardest part.

A lot of the other industries that you mentioned charge by the hour and that is why they don't give free estimates. You can ask them over the phone what their hourly charge is.

yrdandgardenhandyman
04-11-2005, 03:22 PM
why not say "how bout if come out and mow it once for twenty (or whatever) - no trim - no shrubs - just mow - and we can talk price after that?"


You'd have 500 people wanting that $20.00 mow. Then you'd probably never hear from them again. :)

DFW Area Landscaper
04-11-2005, 09:58 PM
Soupy,

You can't change the demographics of your market. Justmowit and I have both come to the assumption that if you sign 10 new customers in our market, half of them will be gone within 6 months. About 40% become part of your core customer base.

The demographics in our area are home owners in their late 20's, 30's and 40's. Primarily. These people sign up for service without considering their monthly bills. They sign up on a whim. First time they get the $400 electric bill in July or they get roped into a new car payment, you're fired. It's a discretionary way for them to spend their money.

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

Soupy
04-11-2005, 10:36 PM
Soupy,

You can't change the demographics of your market. Justmowit and I have both come to the assumption that if you sign 10 new customers in our market, half of them will be gone within 6 months. About 40% become part of your core customer base.

The demographics in our area are home owners in their late 20's, 30's and 40's. Primarily. These people sign up for service without considering their monthly bills. They sign up on a whim. First time they get the $400 electric bill in July or they get roped into a new car payment, you're fired. It's a discretionary way for them to spend their money.

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

Ok, then factor that into your operation. This is part of business and should have been factored into your price/profit. As someone already pointed out, the estimates are not necessarily free. Somebody ends up paying for them or you go broke. It's up to you to make sure the later doesn't happen. Just like first cuts free are not really free. They are just attention grabbers.

I don't know of an easy way to say this, so I will just say it. You are still a fairly new LCO, and shouldn't complain about the industry. You chose this profession and now you need to deal with it, or get out. It isn't like you have been at it for a decade and all of the sudden everything is changing.

This isn't meant as an attack on you. I am merely stating the facts. To many people jump into this line of work thinking it's all peaches and creme.

DFW Area Landscaper
04-11-2005, 11:59 PM
If you interpret this as whining, I guess that's your interpretation. My question was simply a question.

Is there another industry that's known to roll a truck out for a free estimate on such a low potential payoff?

It's just a question. I can't think of another industry that will drive out for a free estimate with a potential payoff as low ours.

Again, if the customer retention were high, and you could count on a 75%+ chance of having the customer for years, the payoff is much larger. I have a strong feeling that in some of the northern states, the payoff is much bigger. It takes a lot of skill and knowledge to grow a fescue lawn and make nice stripes. Also a lot of specialized equipment (dethatching equipment, aerators, striping kits, etc.) Homeowners can't do that themselves. There's a know how barrier, as well as an equipment barrier. Bermuda is another story. If you can pull a rope on a mower, you are qualified to maintain a bermuda lawn in the home owner's mind. Bermuda is idiot proof next to fescue and the other cool season lawns. Combined with the demographics in my area, that means customers will drop you in a second if they find a better use for the money and start doing it themselves. My number one competitor isn't justmowit or any other LCO in the area...it's "I'm gonna to start doing it myself."

But like I said earlier, I'm not having any problems with the free estimate for lawn care anymore. I refuse to drive out and meet a customer or even look at their property. I've signed 118 customers this season and I've only met one of them. My problems are with the shrub crew. The problems are being solved with the new pitch I started using today. Slowly the pressure of not making it out for free estimates is being lifted. Of course, if I continue to grow and expand my business, I'll have to get used to the fact that free estimates can't be done at all. Justmowit has conquered this obstacle. I'm still struggling with it.

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

Soupy
04-12-2005, 12:46 AM
If you interpret this as whining, I guess that's your interpretation. My question was simply a question.

Is there another industry that's known to roll a truck out for a free estimate on such a low potential payoff?

It's just a question. I can't think of another industry that will drive out for a free estimate with a potential payoff as low ours.

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

I guess it depends on what you make of it. I'm sure there have been failing painters, roofers etc. that continued to give free estimates although they were not making enough money to stay in business much longer. Your generalizing your business with the rest of us. I think the payoff is great, but I keep my customers and I price high enough to profit.

I am not comparing your business with any demographics etc. I am just saying that if the payoff is not worth it, then you are doing something wrong, or there is no market in your area.

The companies that don't give free estimates generally don't give estimates period. Some might come in and diagnose a problem and charge you for that even if you decide not to have them fix it. Like plumbers, mechanics do, but you don't generally call 5 of them up and say you have a specific problem and ask them to bid. But it isn't impossible to do. You can call every mechanic in the book and tell them you need a new clutch installed and each one will give you a free quote on how much it will cost. So I think you are confusing a working estimate with just a price quote.

A better question would be, What industry charges for an estimate that only requires them to come look at a job and doesn't require any work. I'm not talking about landscape designs, diagnostics of what is wrong with an air conditioner etc. I'm talking about which industry comes out, measures and charges you for that estimate. Painters, roofers, and any contractor work needed on your property will generally be free estimates.

You say their payoff is better, but I disagree.

By the way, you asked more then just a simple question. You stated facts after the question about how you don't like giving free estimates.

Gene $immons
04-12-2005, 07:56 AM
DFW

Maybe going off topic a bit here. But, are you going for quality customers, or quantity? I know that there are millions of very rich folk in Dallas. These are the type of customers who don't get upset over a few bucks and cause headaches. Do you go after these neighborhoods?

I know what you mean about PITA deadbeats, that is why we carefully select the neighborhoods we work in. Is more customers always better, if they have 3 kids and are strapped for cash?

Please respond.

Have a great day.

Norm Al
04-12-2005, 08:38 AM
this lady will give you free advertising! shes doin a great job for burger king!
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v489/690_Camera_Stalker_199/Lauries%20pictures/RedneckQueen.jpg

DFW Area Landscaper
04-12-2005, 02:04 PM
Gene,

I've tried selling both products...the $20 cut and the full service everything for $2,300 per year. You just can't market to the masses when you're talking about a car payment for the lawn. Most americans can't afford it. But most americans can afford a $20 cut.

For me, I want to be able to market to the masses. You can only put a door hanger on someone's door so many times before they view it as a nuisance. The number of prospects I would have for high end, do everything automatically, would probably be in the hundreds in my market. The number of prospects I have for $20 cuts is in the tens of thousands.

I've seen dramatic growth this spring with my business and forecasted recurring revenues. If no one cancels and nobody else signs up for service, I should make about $30 to $40K in '05. Not good for an $80K investment this winter, but I'm happy. I haven't done any labor. My employees are all making good money. I have the real potential to clear six figures next year ('06). There is no franchisor controlling anything I do. And most importantly, for me, I don't report to a rah rah, brown nosing, cheer leading corporate manager. And probably never will again.

The number one reason I can say this is because I am copy-catting justmowit by not doing in-person estimates. If I were, I'd still be chasing my own tail trying to figure out why I'm not making any money. I've learned a lot from justmowit and I am indebted to them for their help. Without a doubt, the most important thing they taught me is how to quote maintenance prices without wasting time or fuel.

Later,
DFW Area Landscaper

Gene $immons
04-12-2005, 02:25 PM
Sounds good. If it works DO IT.

I find that on our Monday and Tuesday routes (smaller yards) The crews make much more than on the Friday (rich folk) yards.

But... In the winter, the larger (rich folk) yards have much more leaf removal etc... whereas the smaller yards (tighter budget customers) are long finished for the season. So I guess it evens out in a way.

I don't blame you for not wanting to drive all over Dallas, what a headache.

I usually will quote a price over the phone, such as "Most of our lawns cost $34.00 Maam" and will sign up people this way. If there are surprises once we actually see the lawn, we will have another visit if necessary. I don't use any contracts on residential, has worked well so far. If they want alot of services, or insist on meeting me in person(rarely happens), I'll drive out to see them. I have a day of the week for each part of town, most customers are OK with waiting a day or so for their estimate.