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StBalor
01-28-2009, 12:02 PM
I have been in in lawn maintenance for quite a few years. I tend to shy away from larger landscaping jobs for the simple reason i am not very artistic.
I can do the work but on the design side i am not very imaginative.
My question is do any of you hire a designer just to layout your job and you do the work?
If so, how do you go about it? How do you know the designer will not just take the job?
Other then asking the customer what type of plants, mulch, ect.. they prefer, what else do you need to take to a designer?
Finally, what if the home owner decides not to go through with the job, how do you not get stuck with the design bill?

PaperCutter
01-28-2009, 01:27 PM
Starting with your last question first- you charge the homeowner for the design. You can either pass on the cost of the designer, or mark it up and make a few bucks. I've had a few guys ask me to do designs for their clients on spec, with a "great payout" if they get the job- not interested. Whether you get the job or not, we've already put in the hours- and it IS hours- creating a great design. No good designer is going to wager their time on someone else's sales ability.

There are two ways you can work with a designer to get your clients what they need: you can refer the designer to the homeowner and then the design process (and contract) is between the two of them, at the end of which the designer gives you a copy of the design to bid. Or, the designer works directly for you as a subcontractor, at which point you decide whether they get in front of the client or not. If you're trying to work with the designer without them being in the loop with the homeowner, he or she will tell you what info they need. In fact, when I do a design for a contractor this way, I usually send them a list of info I need right away. Once they get me this and photos of the site, I'll sometimes send them back out for more. Obviously, I get what I need the first time on site (mostly), but I know my process.

As for how you know the designer won't just take the job- I guess if you were hiring a design/build contractor who's a direct competitor, that may be a worry. But if you're hiring someone who's an independent designer or design-only company, I don't see why that's a concern. Speaking for myself, if I wanted to be a design/build company, I'd be a design/build. I'd rather design and consult, so that's what I focus on. If a contractor comes to me to do his design work, I have every reason NOT to screw him. If I give him a great design and the client loves it and it sells, he'll get more call for that type of work... and come back to me again. And again. And again. See where I'm going with this? Hosing the contractor is killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

There are contractual documents you can have drawn up and all kinds of stuff, but your biggest protection is going to be finding the right designer- one who understands you and your business, the level of work you're capable of doing, and who your clients are- and building a relationship with him or her. I have contractors and nurseries who I love working with, because we've reached a level of understanding and can work together seamlessly. Find yourself the right designer, and you'll be golden.

Mimowerman
01-28-2009, 01:56 PM
I work with a designer, he takes the larger jobs and I do the smaller ones.... hes happy and I'm happy! I do simple mulch jobs, shrub trimming calls he gets, and I sent hardscape /new bed designs to him. he designs for free smaller stuff for me , and even cuts a check for larger jobs I give him

White Gardens
01-28-2009, 04:32 PM
I do all my own designs. It's too good of money to pass up, and I'd rather sit in my office sometimes doing designs, rather than be outside busting my hump.

AGLA
01-28-2009, 08:40 PM
If you hire the designer, he's obligated to work for your interests. The hassle is that you have to deal with paying the designer and collecting the money from the client

If you have him work for the client, you keep yourself out of the hassle of dealing with the collection and dispersal of money. But, he's obligated to work in the client's interest even if he does not want to screw you. If the client wants to put the job out to bid to others, they have every right to unless it is clearly written into the contract otherwise. That is a very difficult contract to write, to enforce, and even harder to get signed.

It is really hard for a designer to work with a contractor who is not very well refined at facilitating design with a client and communicating it to the designer. You almost need a contractor who is a decent designer to work in this way.

JimLewis
01-29-2009, 05:01 AM
Some good advice here so far. But I'll tell you what I've found to work best.

I've had FT designers on staff here and I found out fairly quickly that we couldn't really afford that. So if you're considering hiring one FT, I'd recommend you back away from that idea. Only really HUGE firms have any business hiring designers to work on staff FT.

So for many years now I've just had good relationships with several freelance landscape designers in my area. I have gravitated toward one who I use 95% of the time nowadays. Only time I don't use her is if she's too busy then I'll call one of the other ones who I used to work with more. Many freelance landscape designers are hungry for work. So they are always happy to hear from you.

So first thing is make a few connections. Find out where the local chapter of APLD is and attend one of their meetings. There you will find a dozen or more great designers who are just WAITING for a landscaper like you to show up. They'd be happy you stopped by and you'd make some really good connections. Meanwhile, always keep your eyes and ears open for local designers. A great place to find them is your local community college. Contact the professor who teaches landscape design and ask him who some recent grads or soon to be grads are. They will always be cheap and hungry for work!!!

Once you find one or a few, you need to get a good feel for what they charge. Then as you're out giving bids you need to always be thinking to yourself, "Is this a project where I really need to see a design first? Or is this something I can do without a design?" If it's something you really feel you need a design for, then you stop the customer and say something like this, "Ok. Well, everything you're describing sounds great. We'd be excited to work with you on this project. So the first step is the landscape design. And you're in luck. We have a great landscape designer who works closely with our company. She's really affordable and does fantastic design work. She's very creative. You'll probably spend $500.00 (or whatever it is) on a design. And I know you'd probably rather avoid that expense. But it's really necessary on a nice project like this. Every great landscape starts with a great landscape design. So if it's okay with you, I'll arrange to have her call you and set up an initial consultation. It's free. And if you like what she has to say, you can hire her to do the design. Once she's done, she'll give you and me a copy and within a few days, I'll have a bid ready for you. Sound good?"

And that's how you handle it.

I know it seems a little risky to do this. But if you and your designer work together (you sell the customer on her and then later she really sells the customer on how great you are) this process works EXTREMELY well. When I can get someone to hire our designer and actually do a design, my chances of landing the job go up to around 80%. Designs sell jobs - period! They get people excited!

Fiano Landscapes
01-29-2009, 02:45 PM
I'm very happy to see the information that everyone has shared so far. It's good to see people really networking together for the greater cause. Alot of these threads get sidetracked really quickly. I have always done our landscape designs for our company. Obviously as times go we get so busy that I sometimes get preoccupied slowing down the designing process. I looked into finding a designer to help me create what i have envisioned for the project. Because the success of our company to this point is not because of a designer I have hired. It's because of the designs I have created. I was not very satisfied with the results in our area. I talked with a couple prospective designers, and came to find out that they also work with some of my direct competition. I just have a hard time trusting this situation since the designers would have easy access to my customers. I for one thought don't want to put someone elses stamp on my work, but also don't want to be in a sticky situation with the whole competition thing. I have basically decided invest a few thousand dollars into a computer based design program to boost our efficiency for our designs. We typically get between 250-1,500 for our designs. Most of the time the design falls between 250-750 though. I never like to be unprepared for a project, so it would have to be a very small project to not have a design. We also weeded through alot of time wasting people. That would otherwise be wasting my time. When we meet with someone we have an extensive project portfolio, and designs for them to see our overall capabilities. If they want to think about it I let them interview other people. If they decide to use us I then collect a design fee to get things started. You would be extremely surprised at how high our close rate for projects is. Our customers really embrace how our well oiled process works. And they have comfort in our company fitting their needs. People have been so abused by idiot contractors, when they get one to their house that has their stuff together they really like don't mind spending the extra money. I know this doesn't answer everything, but i just felt that i should share anyways.

StBalor
01-29-2009, 04:27 PM
Great advise guys. Thanks for all the responses. I partically liked the idea of hiring someone in college or recently finished. These people will have good ideas and maybe at a cheaper fee. This would also give them a bit more experience.
I was already thinking about posting at the local college for help this summer anyway. I do not foresee any very large landscaping jobs so this may work out best. But you never know what may happen.

JimLewis
01-29-2009, 07:29 PM
I have always done our landscape designs for our company. Obviously as times go we get so busy that I sometimes get preoccupied slowing down the designing process.

That's exactly why I hire out for design work. I just get way too busy to work on designs. I've got another 60 hours of work each week to do without having to also worry about doing all the designs for our company.

The other reason I hire out for it is because designers have an actual degree and have studied landscape design professionally for at LEAST 2 years. And I have not. My designs are pretty decent. But I can't compete with someone who specializes in it and is well trained in design.

I think there are some landscape contractors who are probably as good of a designer as a professional is. But IME, most of the ones who say they can design as good as a professional designer are being more arrogant than honest.

I was not very satisfied with the results in our area. I talked with a couple prospective designers, and came to find out that they also work with some of my direct competition. I just have a hard time trusting this situation since the designers would have easy access to my customers. I for one thought don't want to put someone elses stamp on my work, but also don't want to be in a sticky situation with the whole competition thing.

I share your concern there. My main designer doesn't work for other designers. And the others I use occasionally mostly just do freelance design on their own, not for other contractors. If I was looking at a designer who had a strong relationship with one of my competitors, I wouldn't probably use that designer much. But most of the time, that's not the case.

I have basically decided invest a few thousand dollars into a computer based design program to boost our efficiency for our designs. .

I have tried a few of those out. But I have two problems with these programs. 1) It still requires my time. And I am trying to avoid that. Much smarter for me to keep doing sales, which I am good at, than to take 5 or 10 hours out of my week to do a design. 2) The ones I tried didn't seem to save me any time. It would still take me 5-10 hours to pound out a full property design, which was about the same time it would take to freehand one. And I am partial to the look of a freehand design anyway.

Just my 2 cents.....

vtscaper
02-07-2009, 10:16 PM
This is a great topic. I had spent a few years cranking out designs on sunday nights or getting up early the morning of a sales meeting to finish drafting a design. More and more I felt I couldn't really put in enough time to the process. No mater the size of the job, dollar amount or enthusiasm I had for it I simply wasn't giving the proper time. This became a big problem and the only remedy was to either just cherry pick jobs I wanted ( creative high dollar jobs) or delegate.

I also went through the same thought processes that others have mentioned. Do I really want someone else "stamp" on my work? Will I lose my creative input? How will I find the right designer whom will be open to my ideas and understanding of my sales strategies? Am I losing touch with the personalized service that we have become known for?

The large majority of any job is physically creating it, and its outcome depends on the skill of the one implementing it. If working with a designer allows you to build your business, makes you better and frees up more time for you to create then go for it.

Finding a quality designer that is a good fit will be your biggest challenge. How much attention can they give you? What other contractors do they work for. Will they really listen to you and you clients input? Something you will notice after a while is that some designers work will start looking very similar project after project.

Good luck

Stillwater
02-07-2009, 11:21 PM
in my opinion no designer ever has a stamp on a install.....

JimLewis
02-08-2009, 01:04 AM
Here's the deal with designers; If they're any good at what they do then they will know how to design landscapes better than we do. These guys went to college for at least 2 years and studied landscape design full time. How many LCOs or Landscape company owners can say that? A few. But most of us are not as great of landscape design experts are we think we are.

We, as landscapers in general, are a little cocky. We think because we've been doing landscaping for a while and calling all the shots ourselves and even coming up with the most of the ideas ourselves that we have SOOO much real world experience that it outweighs anything that a landscape designer knows. But the truth is most trained landscape designers know a lot more than we do about structure, creativity, horticulture, and other design aspects. Plus, you gotta admit that a business like this stresses you out on a regular basis. How can you're creative juices be flowing when you're stressed out just running the day to day operations of a landscaping business?

If you're honest, and willing to give it a shot, I think most landscapers would find that a good designer can actually COMPLIMENT your company - not detract from it. They will actually bring you MORE credibility, lead you to even MORE impressive work, and put an even BETTER stamp on your company than you would ever be able to do yourself.

As a group, we're a pretty arrogant bunch. We think we know better how to design than professional designers do; we think we can manager our finances without need of a professional accountant; we think we can market better than if we hired a marketing consultant or firm; and we think we can plan our future better than a financial planner or business consultant can. But the truth is that those business owners who are honest and focus on what they know they excel at while leaving the things that they don't quite excel at to others who do are usually the most successful ones in our industry. Then we sit back and wonder with envy, "How the heck did that company grow to be so successful?"

Stillwater
02-08-2009, 04:12 AM
Jim I agree, But to bad for the designer, they very rarely receive the core overall credit for any landscape project, oh they do in their limited circle. But the installer receives the public exposure and going forward into the future when word of mouth inquires are made about the landscape it is the landscape installer that more often than not gets identified and connected to the project not the designer. A proper design is also mandated in some cases by law when you are doing anything near protected land, wet land or federal or government property.

JimLewis
02-08-2009, 05:27 AM
Yah, well that's their fault. They should go take photos of every landscape they designed after everything is completed. Then they should use those photos to demonstrate how their designs can come to life.

I know they usually don't. My designers don't usually ever do that. But they could. In fact, I'd encourage them to take as much credit as they'd like. I think most designers aren't very good business people.

ford550
02-08-2009, 11:29 AM
I think hiring a designer should be done with great caution. I graduated with a BS in Landscape Design from PSU. I have been in business for 15 years. I had always done designs myself. As we got bigger I tried hiring designers right out of school. The problem with that is most of them are good at designing in studio and theory, but real world application is sometimes lacking if you know what I mean. Book smart, not street smart so to speak. With the new programs out there it has drastically reduced my time on the drawing board and actually led me to let the designers go and I took that part over. No one is going to sell your company like yourself, nobody. I found it cheaper and more efficient if I hired Managers and Foreman to take care of the overseeing of projects and I would do the sales and designs. For a few thousand dollars I bought Dynascape and Color and I can usually crank out a $50K design in about 3 hours rendered, instead of 12 hours by hand. This is just what works well for me. Keep in mind that a hired designer on full salary should be selling $1 million in designs/projects to make a full time designer worth your time and money. If not, you should just outsource if you don't have the skills or degree to do the designs.

White Gardens
02-08-2009, 12:55 PM
You got me thinking about subbing out any higher end design work Jim.

I remember the pics of the large job you finished last season and was curious if you had someone else design it. If that's the case then it makes me feel better to trust someone to do a design for me.

What the hay you doing at 4:30a.m. :drinkup:

JimLewis
02-08-2009, 07:53 PM
I think hiring a designer should be done with great caution. I graduated with a BS in Landscape Design from PSU. I have been in business for 15 years. I had always done designs myself. As we got bigger I tried hiring designers right out of school. The problem with that is most of them are good at designing in studio and theory, but real world application is sometimes lacking if you know what I mean. Book smart, not street smart so to speak.

Well, that's true to a certain degree. I do have issues with designers occasionally where what they designed isn't really possible, with the layout of the land and the way elevations are. But that's okay. There are very simple solutions to that.

First thing is you should be working WITH your designer, not just letting them do everything. I always ask to see the rough draft before the design ever gets shown to the customer. Then I talk it through with the designer. I say, "That's nice! But over here, the retaining wall wouldn't really be straight, like you've drawn. It would have to taper in on each side. And don't you think we should add some steps maybe in the middle so they don't have to walk all the way around the wall to get to the lower area?" So I add my 'real world experience' to their design and together we come up with a very nice design that is both practical and looks good.

No one is going to sell your company like yourself, nobody.

Hold on. I have heard that a few times in this thread. Who is talking about the designer selling anything???? I don't let the designer sell anything except the design concept. And I oversee that part. I make sure the designer is listening to what the customer wants. I make sure the design they create is impressive and accomplishes what the customer is after. And probably most important of all; I make sure the design they are coming up with is reasonably within the customer's budget. Designers don't usually have a good understanding of what stuff costs. So you have to make sure they don't create a design that could cost $50,000 when the customer specifically said they only want to throw $20,000 at the project.

Then when it comes time to selling the actual job, that's MY part. The designer's job is to sell them on the concept and make sure they're happy with it. And I also use the designer to edify my company too.

Then once the design is finished and the customer is happy with it, it's MY job to get them a good, detailed bid and sell them on how nice it would look, how well it would turn out, how it would enhance the look of their property, and why I am the best one to make all that happen.

Keep in mind that a hired designer on full salary should be selling $1 million in designs/projects to make a full time designer worth your time and money. If not, you should just outsource if you don't have the skills or degree to do the designs.

That I agree with.

ford550
02-08-2009, 08:46 PM
Hey Jim,
I hear you, I was kinda paraphrasing myself. I agree with what you say. But, if you are going to hire a designer, IMO they should be able to sell it too. This may take a year of tutoring (sp?) so they understand how your company works, prices etc. Thats all I'm saying. Most of the designers coming out of college have had business and estimating at some point in their schooling, I know I did back when I took it anyway. Maybe, I am expecting too much, but for the salaries these guys/gals get they should be able to design and sell, that's all I'm saying.

JimLewis
02-08-2009, 09:00 PM
Yah, I think we're basically on the same page. I hired a full time designer once too. He had experience both designing AND selling jobs from working for the largest landscape firm in our state. So I got all google-eyed thinking how great it would be to have such experience here at our company. But what I found was he was decent at selling jobs, but not good at all at bidding them. I also quickly found that we weren't a large enough company to afford a FT designer. So that's when I went back to just using freelance designers and overseeing their work. I like it that way.

But the way you describe about the employee both doing the designs and the selling is how the really huge firms in our city do it. But I don't think there's really anyone on lawnsite that fits that profile. The companies around here who employ FT designers who design and sell gross in the range of $30Mil / year.

PaperCutter
02-09-2009, 05:32 PM
You know, I don't think you can hire a designer right out of college and complain about their lack of real-world experience...

I've worked as the house designer for companies of different sizes. One place, I was one of 28 designers for a place doing $19 million a year; my last job before going out on my own, I was it for a company doing $2.5 million in sales. I'll agree with Jim that a staff designer can be a lot of overhead for a smaller outfit, but if you want complete control over the whole process, that's your surest bet. If you want to bring in a local designer on certain projects, you should still do like you would if you were hiring an employee- bring them in, talk to them, look at their portfolio, and get a sense for whether they design for the real world or not.

I guess I'm a little baffled by some of the sentiments on this thread. Why wouldn't a good designer know what things cost? If you're sharing ballpark figures of your pricing ($xx per sf, etc) they should be able to get close. Also, Jim- is your designer meeting with the homeowner, or are you relaying info to them? It sounds like you have to do a lot of unnecessary hand-holding in the design process. I'm not nitpicking, it's just... if that's what passes for good, I may be working too damn hard!:rolleyes:

JimLewis
02-09-2009, 07:52 PM
I guess I'm a little baffled by some of the sentiments on this thread. Why wouldn't a good designer know what things cost? If you're sharing ballpark figures of your pricing ($xx per sf, etc) they should be able to get close. Also, Jim- is your designer meeting with the homeowner, or are you relaying info to them? It sounds like you have to do a lot of unnecessary hand-holding in the design process. I'm not nitpicking, it's just... if that's what passes for good, I may be working too damn hard!:rolleyes:

Well, maybe your designers are better than mine. But mine never seem to have much grasp on what anything will cost. So I always have to fill them in. There are a few things where I can give ball park prices. But that's all so relative that it's not really very accurate. I don't bid anything by the sq. ft, by the zone (irrigation), or by the yard (barkmulch). That's just bad practice, IMO. Every job is different. But I do share some ball park figures with them once I see the design concept they've come up with. And if what they've come up with is outside the customer's budget, I have them re-work it a little and we come up with some more affordable options before it gets presented to the customer.

Over time, the hand-holding goes down as the designer gets more familiar with how I price jobs.

And to answer your other question; I usually meet with the homeowner first. Then, if I determine they need a design and make sure they're willing to pay for it - then I set them up with an appt. with my designer. She takes it from there and works with them until the rough draft stage then I usually see it once before she presents it to them. Nowadays, me and my main designer have worked so long together that we always think alike. So there's rarely any re-working of the design. But it used to happen a lot more.

PaperCutter
02-09-2009, 08:14 PM
I would never advocate bidding by the sf. But knowing an average sf cost at least gives me parameters to design within, you know?

A couple other questions. First, more specifically- do you present the designer as working for you, or as an independent contractor working with you?

On a more general note (and I'd welcome other peoples' responses)- what knowledge does your ideal designer have?

JimLewis
02-09-2009, 09:30 PM
I would never advocate bidding by the sf. But knowing an average sf cost at least gives me parameters to design within, you know?

Yah, kind of. But not really. For instance, paver work will generally end up around $10-$18 per sq. ft. for us, depending on how large the job is. On a large job, it's closer to $10. But the smaller the patios can run up to $18 per sq. ft. or even more sometimes. I mean, I am not going to go do a 10'x8' paver patio down at the bottom of a 50' hillside where we have to haul away all the soil we excavate for the base, and then haul in all the gravel and sand for the base for a measly $1600.00. So even though that's $20 per sq. ft. it's just not worth our time. It's too much labor for that situation to be worth it. But I can't explain every little situation like that to my designer. And giving her general "cost per sq. ft." prices would likely just get me in trouble later with the customer complaining, "What??? $1800.00 for that small patio? But Susie told us it would be around $1200! Why is it all of a sudden 50% more?!?" All sorts of other things come into play too. Do they want a hot tub on top of the patio? That means deeper foundation, more excavating, etc. So that changes the price too. Are there huge Fir Tree roots to worry about or work around? That changes the deal too. And then there's the issue of drainage, which is critically important here in the Northwest with all the rain we get. So every job is different. Some jobs are quick and simple while other jobs the exact same size could end up costing twice as much.

So that's the kind of stuff I like to avoid. Every job is totally different. Maybe in other states where the ground is perfectly flat and you don't have much different from one property to the next. But here there can be a lot of variation from one property to the next. No two jobs the same. No one formula really even comes close to being realistic.

A couple other questions. First, more specifically- do you present the designer as working for you, or as an independent contractor working with you?Here's exactly what I tell our customers, pretty much verbatim; "So I'll put you in touch with our designer, Susie. She'll contact you within a day to set up a meeting to get started on this design. Let me explain that when I say she's 'our designer' I say that in the sense that almost all of her design work comes from us and we install most of her designs. But as far as payment, you'll pay her independently. I do it that way just so I don't have to be involved and therefore mark it up. If you just pay her directly, I don't have to worry about the cash trail and accounting of it all. And that just saves you money. I'd rather you spend as little money as possible on the design and save your money for the landscaping work!"

Stillwater
02-10-2009, 02:36 AM
For larger projects more often than not, I am contacted for an install after conception, My experience is that higher end clients with large budgets will contact a landscape design firm far before who will do the work is discussed.

Jim in your first post you heap a ton of praise upon designers over landscape contractors and your subsequent posts you appear to have changed your mind about them, could you clarify

PaperCutter
02-10-2009, 08:05 AM
Jim- maybe I come at things a little differently since I was building before I was designing. Everything you said is perfectly common sense... to anyone who has built landscapes. I guess I'm seeing the negative stereotype of "the paper cut crew" (that's where my screen name comes from) come through here. Shoot, I had an installer flake on me a few weeks ago so I was laying block just to move things along. Not the first time, probably won't be the last.

If I'm meeting with a homeowner and talking about budgets and what is and isn't feasible, I think of it in terms of how it's going to go in. A perfectly flat patio would start at $x, but we need to come up out of grade so you're looking at walls and base material starting at $y, and we only have one access in and out, so figure new sod... The biggest variable I've found is plant material, because everyone sources and marks up their plants differently.

I guess I can see where you're coming from, if to you a designer is someone who comes from- and may even stay in- the realm of "it works on paper." But it's a stereotype that really gripes me since I'm the one taking 3-4 hours to measure a site, spending several days designing it, and then I'm out there laying out the whole job, setting grade stakes, making field adjustments- and answering for why something isn't working. When it's 1 AM and a complex design is kicking my butt, I'd love for a contractor-daddy to make it work for me- but that's not the kind of practice I run.

I can really appreciate the way you present your designer to the client. I totally get the desire some guys have to present the designer as an employee, but it just feels dishonest. As a designer, I have no problem letting the client know that I work with said contractor because I respect their business and like the quality of work. I like to lay it all out there for the client. If nothing else, it's 2009- if they did a quick Google search to make sure I'm not an axe murderer or something and found my company's website, how weird would that look?

Anyhow, I'm not trying to be argumentative. I just know too many guys around here who are brilliant designers- Dreams to Designs, AGLA- and I hate for people to think that a designer is necessarily a flaky artist that needs a babysitter until they've worked with you for months.

StoneFaced
02-10-2009, 03:14 PM
Really interesting thread. I don't get a lot of opportunities to talk shop w/ other designers, but I enjoy reading the concerns/frustrations that others have, as I can relate to most of them.

I am a designer/contractor/GC, it's been that way for me for 19 years now, not counting the 7 years prior in learning my trade, and working elsewhere. One of the reasons I finally came on this site was to hopefully do a little more networking. I consider myself fortunate that I haven't run an ad since 1994, but nobody needs for me to explain to them anything about how the housing market and this economy have taken it's toll on those things that could be considered "luxury"...which is mostly what I sell.
I would like to make a quick point not directed to anyone specifically, but just maybe a general observation that frustrates me to no end. I'm sure the point has been raised before, and I'm going to try not to sound too arrogant as I lay this out. I really try to take a humble approach in my work and just let the finished product speak for itself. I'm very passionate about what I do from the initial contact w/ a new client, through the design process, and all the way to washing off the drive when the project has been completed. I don't cut lawns, I don't do clean ups, and usually refer that type of work to someone else, if they are good...meaning if they can be trusted and can please my clients, so as to compliment and preserve the integrity of the projects that I design/build. It's a long process, and for me, I'm not interested in letting someone else build my ideas. I've spent my life committed to developing my concepts, learning what works and what doesn't from both ends of designing and working in the field building those ideas, covering all areas of construction and plant care, selection and development...knowing what to expect long term if managed properly, so the landscape will also appreciate in value over the long term instead of needing to be replaced after 3-10 years, because the other guy didn't know his job well enough or didn't even consider the long term effects.
Why is it then, that so many people can jump into a business, w/ little or no prior experience beyond cutting grass, blowing leaves and spreading mulch...and think they are qualified to design/build? As i stated, I have spent my life doing this, working sick hours, pulling the all nighters to squeeze out a revised plan for a 9:00 AM presentation, so I don't stop the progress of everyone else. One good slip and other trades have to stop working...or can cost a business such as a hotel, lots of embarrassment or even worse their income.
If a company is a one crew operation that cuts lawns 3-7 days a week...How can they possibly think they can use the same people to build full installs? Many of those jobs look marginal at best, also... people don't want to hear why you weren't on the job for three or four days because you had to cut your lawns.
I do a lot of networking, and I have a handful of trades and contacts that I have been working w/ for many years...excavators, concrete, irrigation, carpenters, builders, developers, suppliers, etc. I only work w/ the best that I know. I have yet to find a good maintenance company that will just do their job, do it well enough so I don't hear about what they screwed up or have to worry about them trying to do my job.
If more people would learn to accept their limitations, focus on what they are good at and what makes them money and learn to build relationships by "referring" more than trying to "wing it"...there would be a more consistent flow of work for everyone, and the industry as a whole might actually develop a better image of itself, God forbid that should ever happen. Fliers and door hangers could actually become obsolete...what a concept. Do people actually still respond to those things? If they do...how many other contractors did they call? I take care of the people that take care of me, in business and life in general, because that's how I roll...

Hope I didn't get too far off topic and sorry for the long post. :drinkup:

JimLewis
02-10-2009, 05:19 PM
Jim in your first post you heap a ton of praise upon designers over landscape contractors and your subsequent posts you appear to have changed your mind about them, could you clarify

Sure. I definitely believe in having a professional designer do your designs unless you are one of the few who really is a trained, professional designer. I do good designs. But I am not a trained, professional designer, and I can admit that. I know a lot of landscapers who try to justify not wanting to spend the money on a designer or having to work with a designer by just saying they are plenty good at designing themselves. I know some landscape company owners who are great designers (like MD Vaden, here on Lawnsite) but most others are not. And if you own a landscape design/build firm you really need to eventually accept your limitations and consider the possibility that a well trained landscape designer is probably better at landscape design than you are. I know there are exceptions to that. But I think in most cases, that's true.

So in that sense, yes, I am all for using a well trained designer to do the design work for your company rather than trying to do it all yourself. Even if you are a great designer, I find there just isn't enough time. I barely have enough time just to manage my workers, work up bid proposals, and run the company. We have anywhere from 1-3 designs going on most weeks. NO WAY I could ever have enough time for all that. So just from a time standpoint I am all for using a designer. Just not in-house unless you own a really large firm.

But having said that, as good as designers are at coming up with really creative ideas and concepts (which is their strength) they do come with their challenges. You do have to sort of train them on what your firm likes to do, how much certain hardscapes or landscapes cost, review their designs before they go to the customer, things like that. You have to give them latitude to come up with their own ideas, but it also has to be something you can install and something the customer can afford. So that's where a little working together comes in. I wouldn't even call it hand holding. It's just a matter of working together.

For instance, I really prefer to do pavers over flagstone or concrete. We sub out our concrete work and I just like the perfection involved in pavers vs. flagstone. Also, I prefer not to do decks or wood work. We have carpenters available to us on a sub-contractor or consultant basis. But it's just not something we specialize in. So when our designer is looking at designing a patio, and knowing that we prefer pavers, she'll often accentuate the benefits of paver patios and stress the disadvantages of wood decks or flagstone or concrete. Now, if the customer is REALLY sold on concrete or a deck, fine. We're going to do what they want. But typically, the homeowner just wants something nice to go enjoy their back yard in and they will defer to our designer's judgement as to what she thinks is best. So she will lean toward designing things she knows our company does in-house and does really well vs. things that I prefer not to do. That's just an example of what I mean by working WITH your designer.

The best result is when it is good for the designer (e.g. they get to use a lot of their creativity without you micromanaging every aspect of the design), it works for the homeowner (e.g. the landscape that is designed accomplishes their goals of having more seating area, being able to listen to the sound of flowing water, enhancing the look of their yard, etc.) and it works for the contractor (e.g. it is work your firm is really good at and can make a profit).

To make all that work, it has to be a balance. If the homeowner is really picky and has to have everything their way and insists on not letting the designer have any creativity or suggestions, then it's good for the homeowner but everyone else is frustrated. On the other hand, if the designer doesn't listen to what the homeowner wants or what the contractor is saying is possible for them to do, then you end up with a design that isn't good for those other two parties. And likewise, if the contractor exerts his influence too much (e.g. 'It has to be done my way or the highway...') then, again, the other two aren't going to be happy. So it has to be a balance between the 3 otherwise the system doesn't work.

Back to your question; yes, I love having landscape designers. But even if they are independent from your company, you still have to be able to have a little bit of control over them or else it's not benefiting you at all as a contractor.

ford550
02-10-2009, 08:43 PM
You know, I don't think you can hire a designer right out of college and complain about their lack of real-world experience...


I agree. It would not be fair to assume that someone coming right out of school would be able to jump right in.

The problem I have is I love to design and I love to install that design and see my vision become a reality. But, unfortunately I can't do both and run a business. So, going through some designers, I felt it better and easier if I took that part over and hired other qualified people to run the show. I still over see everything, that is my job as owner, but I don't have to hold their hands.

I did not mean to offend anyone, if I did I am sorry. But, sometimes having a degree in design and horticulture myself, I have high expectations to a fault of what I expect from a designer (if that makes any sense). Like it was stated before, it has taken many years to perfect my craft of designing and yes I have been up to 1am doing design revisions myself for a 8am meeting, so I know where you are coming from.

Fliers and door hangers could actually become obsolete...what a concept. Do people actually still respond to those things? If they do...how many other contractors did they call?

Yes they do actually respond to those things and why is it so bad? You should not be so prideful to do the things that work and work well. When we are in an area doing an install, we put them out b/c unfortunately in our area, alot of these new neighborhoods have deed restrictions that don't allow our yard sign to be placed in the yard. We do have full lettered trucks and uniformed crews, but most people come home after we are gone for the day and how else are they going to know who was there installing the project. That's why we do it and like I said, it works, there is no shame in that. (sorry I didn't mean to go off on that tangent :)

StoneFaced
02-11-2009, 01:36 AM
I'm not trying to belittle anyone. If it sounds that way, then I apologize. I can understand wanting to let the neighborhood know that it's your work. Most places where I work have ordinances that prohibit the distribution of fliers, unless by US mail or newspaper. These folks get pounded by these solicitations and are often blowing all over the neighborhood. Their sometimes stopped by the security or the police, but it never really stops. I've seen them stick them in the mailbox right in front of myself and the homeowner, on the job that I'm building. We usually just laugh about it, but sometimes they get pretty upset.
Everybody needs to start somewhere, but I guess I was referring more to those that canvas every neighborhood every year just because they have a mailbox w/ a flag on it to shove a piece of paper in it, that often gets rained on or is blowing all over the streets and tree lawns. I don't think that's the best way to impress people whose home you would like to work on.
I tend to work late hours, part of that reason is that I know I'm drawing in an audience. Even though mothers are often home all day and like to congregate w/ other local mothers, it's not unusual for a few baby carriages to stop and pause in front of the house, because their bored, tired of the kids, so they and the kids can get acquainted or just want to get out for an afternoon walk. I'll help them break the ice or use me and my work to strike a conversation w/ each other. Some work from home and take a walk around the block for a break. Most come home from work between 4-7PM, and often inquire or comment on the project when their getting the mail or walking the dog after dinner. My point is, I don't miss an opportunity to say hello or talk to them if they look interested. I realize the discomfort that it is for many people to cold call a contractor, the news reminds them every day why that is sometimes not a great idea. When I meet someone in that scenario for the first time, and they already compliment my work and I can see in their eyes how interested they are, I'm sorry but at that point most guys won't stand a chance because I'm already ahead of anyone they don't know. If they like my work and if they like me (much easier breaking the ice when it's still neutral) and they can afford to do what they want to do...it's not hard to do the math. People usually conduct business with people they like and feel comfortable with...but you still have to do good work.
I'm sure some will appreciate this...By the time the project is already completed, you may have already spent more time w/ them than the builder who built the house. When they like what you've done, they do like to talk about it at the local "get acquainted w/ the neighbors block parties"...what else are they going to talk about besides the weather and the builder that they liked or didn't like? The builders like to refer us because I will fix minor PITA problems, that could stall an occupancy permit and I make their homes stand out a bit (in a good way, so they say).
I guess everyone must do what suites them...I do what works for me. My first few years I did fliers and ran ads...it was like a wild goose chase and sometimes another scaper would be leaving as I was pulling in...too hard to compete that way and I don't even want to talk about how many hours I wasted designing, consulting and estimating...I had to find a better way and I did, very hard to make it as a designer or a contractor when you have to sift and qualify all that and try to correct the miss info that someone else pumped into their head, not to mention the numbers game...ouch!

BTW...I know some of you are damn good at what you do and I look forward to talking shop. Thanks for acknowledging my post!

ford550
02-11-2009, 03:15 PM
We don't waste time with tire kickers either. We pre-qualify on the phone. We also charge for all designs. If they don't want to pay, then we don't waste the time. I have better things to do than run around for free. I wish all LCO's would charge for designs, the guys that don't, just don't understand that it actually costs money to put a design and estimate together, instead of saying "uh, I charge $15/sf and uh I will make a kidney shaped patio and uh plant a couple arbs around it". I don't mean to belittle anyone, but it just brings the whole industry down.

Do architects design houses for free? NO. Do Engineers do designs and stamps for free? NO. Then why is it acceptable to do "true" landscape designs for free? IT ISN'T.

JimLewis
02-11-2009, 04:01 PM
Ditto all that. Designs should never be free.

AGLA
02-11-2009, 07:15 PM
I'm definitely not an advocate of free designs, BUT there is a really good reason that a lot of guys do free designs. It is that when you get a design job, it cuts out the other guys (at least temporarily) and gets you deeply involved with the client. When that happens and you build a raport, they stick with you unless you give thenm reason to go somewhere else.

The problem with this is that there is zero prequalification of the customer since you are not giving them the chance to prove commitment to the project. Often the "reason to go somewhere else" is that you want to charge them any money at all.

A second reason to do free design is that the type of project is so generic and the concept is fairly worthless and takes only minutes to throw together, but it gets their attention and gives you a competitive advantage.

Design means different things to different people. A seven plant foundation planting layout is "design" to some. Siting buildings and cutting in roads is design to someone else. The first is no bid deal to whip off for free. The second is an entirely different story.

JimLewis
02-11-2009, 09:31 PM
AGLA is right. Designs in general typically lead to a deeper relationship and then the client usually sticks with the firm that impressed them with the design, rather than trying to get several bids.

You can use this truth to your advantage, however, even if you don't give free designs. Just make it your priority to get them to commit to a design.

For larger projects I always try to talk the customer into a design. I'll edify my designer like crazy, show them samples of previous designs that I keep in my truck, get them excited about a few design ideas I have, whatever it takes. Because AGLA is right. Once you get involved with them your chances of landing that job are WAAAAAY higher.

StoneFaced
02-11-2009, 11:18 PM
It can be a real challenge bringing in a third party, and all trying to stay on the same page. I do it sometimes, but the success only seems to lie w/ those that I have a long working relationship with. Newer contractors can be a real challenge, especially if they have little sales experience and are trying to relay the info to me as to what the client wants. I won't even consider designing, until I have met the homeowner and can get my own info. I also take all measurements, no matter how simple. There is a whole host of reasons for that.

I have to say, I don't always charge up front for design work. There are several reasons for that, but each project is handled w/ a case by case scenario. My close rate is pretty high on projects that I pursue. I've walked away from plenty also, I rely heavily on my instincts, however, no design work will begin until I have some type of commitment. I also give the folks a general range of what I think each project will cost. Their response is critical info, as far as where things will go from there. If the sale is not going as well as I hope for during the presentation, then I have to backtrack and find where the problem exists. At that point I will revise, adjust, do whatever it takes to make them see the value or get them to agree to the project, even if we do things in phases, cut back, change materials, etc. Most of the time it's just the money part, and that can usually be worked out. If they don't throw me out (hasn't happened yet), and as long as somebody didn't die or loose the money...we will be doing business.

ford550
02-12-2009, 09:12 AM
I have to agree and disagree. I would agree that a simple foundation type planting would not require a $300 design, however we don't do that kind of work (I used to when I started, but not anymore). Our average project size last year was $45K. We don't do anything less than $15K. I am not bragging and I don't want anyone to think that I am "tooting my own horn" because I am not. This is how I wanted to position and structure my company. With the type of overhead we have, we are set up to do large, residential type projects only. You don't need tri-axles to do foundation plantings.

When the office qualifies a potential client on the phone, they ask a bunch of questions, trying to find out if this client fits our profile. If they do, we then set up a first meeting, which is absolutely free. After spending no less than an hour with this client and I determine that they are what we want and we are what they want, I make a design cost presentation and why we do designs. Most people spending this kind of money do not want some fly by night trying to draw stick figures on a piece of construction paper. It is a mutual trust. Once I earn that trust from them we proceed to design phase, after they write a check for the design. Then I do measurements, site eval's, ect. That in itself can take a hour or more. The I go into design mode, then estimate, then presentation. I have a close rate of 1:2.5.

The reason I feel that designs should always be charged for is because it shows "COMMITMENT" (on both sides). I have done free designs in the past and it doesn't work for me. How many times, I spent hours on designs, hours presenting them and they loved it but they didn't want to pay for it (the project). I feel that happens because there was no commitment. If they are comfortable paying for the design, then they are all ready expecting a higher end product.

Guys, I am sorry to be so long winded on this. From the few of you that have entered into this thread, I can tell you guys are high end and educated about our business. Again, I don't want to sound arrogant, because I am the furthest thing from it. I have been very blessed to be in the position I am in. I will say this though, I think this year will be the toughest for the design/build industry in all the 15 years I have been doing this. I am enjoying the dialogue about this topic. It's always nice to have intelligible conversions with other professionals in the industry.

AGLA
02-12-2009, 01:01 PM
Chris,

We are on the same page. That is why I mentioned "design means different things to different people". A simple "design" of a group of shrubs is not any effort at all, for guys that do that type of work. Guys that work that market, which is a huge part of the landscape market in terms of numbers of jobs, won't sell any jobs if they pre-qualify prospects. They hit every prospects and do the best they can to net as many as possible.

StoneFaced
02-12-2009, 03:19 PM
I can truly appreciate all the points being raised, and it's interesting to see others prospectives as to how they manage their deals. When you have a full staff, and are managing full time, there isn't much time left in the day to do other things that you have to delegate to someone else, just to keep things moving along.

Myself, I love designing, building and selling almost equally. I made the decision to do what I do, when I was very young and started in home renovation, which led to going to school for landscape horticulture. I combined the 2 things that I love, and that has led me to where I am now, about 3 decades later.

I don't know anyone within my region that operates in the way that I do. I'm a small deal...meaning I keep my overhead way down. I'm not high volume, but my projects are generally large scale, which typically would otherwise be done by much larger companies.

I really don't like having full time year round employees. I've been down that road, and often times I felt like I was running a day care service. Also, the time that was required made me feel as though something was always lacking somewhere. Either in my designs or the work itself or even the amount of time that I needed to address my clients needs, when they need to talk. If this whole deal was only about making money, I can think of a lot of other ways to do it, and spending a fraction of my time and energy to earn an income. One of my best friends is a drywall finisher who up until recently earned a solid 6figure income...he measures the house, gives the price and then does the work, I'm envious of that sometimes...but I would go insane, because I'm an artist (I say that humbly, because that is for my critics to decide).

I also have a great deal of concern, for what is to come this season. I prefer residential, but more recently I feel that I can't be as selective as I once was. I'm now doing phases of hotel renovations, with a company that I have a long working history. It bothers me to have too many eggs in the same basket. The phase I'm starting on now is the courtyard inside the hotel w/ the indoor/outdoor pool. This is a bit outside of what I am used to, mainly because most everything going in and coming out will have to be w/ a crane over the roof of the building. So, I guess I'm hoping to be able to pick some of your brains, as some of my questions come up. If I can help anyone, I'll do my best to return the same...Sorry again for the long post, this whole form of communicating is a bit foreign to me, but I will try to improve...Thanks

Chrysalis
02-25-2009, 07:00 PM
I have been in in lawn maintenance for quite a few years. I tend to shy away from larger landscaping jobs for the simple reason i am not very artistic.
I can do the work but on the design side i am not very imaginative.
My question is do any of you hire a designer just to layout your job and you do the work?
If so, how do you go about it? How do you know the designer will not just take the job?
Other then asking the customer what type of plants, mulch, ect.. they prefer, what else do you need to take to a designer?
Finally, what if the home owner decides not to go through with the job, how do you not get stuck with the design bill?

Here is the thing. Make sure you use your knowledge of what plants you like, and are easier to maintain, friendly and non invasive. Make sure your designer understands what exactly you are looking for because if not you get bad design.

You can pay a good designer to come up with a design and expect to pay about $250.00. that would include front and back landscaping and some hardscapes. To get an architect is a different story. See if you can possibly watch the designer draw out the landscape plan. After about 5 sessions you will be on you way to the arts and crafts store to buy your own art board and do it on your own. As long as you understand color theory and layering, placement, growth habit, maintenance/fertilization/pest requirements.

The designer's interest is to work for you since you are income for them but, you could always have a contract if you saw necessary. In that contract you might add that the design fee is contingent on securing the job. That could either be a way to get better design, or designers disinterested.

JimLewis
02-26-2009, 03:46 AM
You can pay a good designer to come up with a design and expect to pay about $250.00.

<Jim chokes on food>
You can!!! Holy crap! I guess things really are bad down in FL. Around here you still can't get a decent design done for less than $550.00. I think the designer we use is probably the least expensive in town. I had a booth at the local Home & Garden show last week. I send one of my friends around to the other booths to see what landscape designs were going for. All of the companies he talked to gave figures from $800-$1500, which is about what I expected. That's for a front yard only or back yard only design.

that would include front and back landscaping and some hardscapes.
<Jim chokes on drink>
Oh, SNAP! You're talking about a front and back yard full landscape design by a professional designer? For $250.00????? How good of a design is that? How do these people live? Next thing you're going to tell me you guys are selling 2008 Cadillacs for $3,000 down there. WTF is going on when a professional designer can't get more than $250 for their work. What is that, $25 per hour? Holy canoli. That don't compute.

Well, I can tell you first hand those prices are not accurate elsewhere. I don't think there are too metropolitin cities in the nation where you can find prices that cheap for professional landscape designs.

StBalor
02-26-2009, 07:11 AM
Hey guys, just wanted to let you know i was still here reading all these posts.
They are all very informative, thanks for all the replies and information.
Here are a few more questions. This 1st 1 is one i always had somewhat a problem with.

1. When talking to a client about landscaping, do you let them tell you what sort of plants they want or do you just get the plants that will look and do best in certain conditions?

2. Are you guys always incorporating new plants into your landscapes or do you guys have certain plants you use all the time on different projects?

I was thinking for a newbie it might be best to have 15-20 different plant species that do best in your region that you always use. Not all on every yard of course. Hope you understand what i mean.

3. Do you tell the designer what plants you want to incorperate into the landscape or Just let the designer go with it?

Sorry for all the questions guys, but just trying to learn. Thanks again for all the great info.

AGLA
02-26-2009, 07:11 AM
Design means different things to different people.

PaperCutter
02-26-2009, 08:24 AM
(Crosses Florida off list of potential places to move to. Wow.)

StBalor- I always ask clients if they have particular plants they like/ don't like. 95% of the time, they have no idea what's what- that's why we're there. Still, it's polite to ask.

I have a plant palette of about 60-75 trees and shrubs that I know I can reliably get at any time, and that will perform well in our climate. I also get the current availabilities from my growers, and occasionally I'll be looking for new plants and get a wild hair. If I'm specifying a new plant, though, I always make sure I can get it before I finalize the plan. It really sucks to have everything done only to find out that the really cool plant I saw in Fine Gardening is available from one grower. In Nebraska. And they have a 1,200 plant order minimum. And this season's crop failed, so the liners won't be ready for eight months.

So to answer #3, if I'm doing a design for a contractor I ask them if the client has indicated a preference, and then if they have any plants in inventory they'd like me to at least try to use (no guarantees- if it won't look right, it doesn't go). After that, it's up to my discretion. I just try, again, to make sure that I'm specifying stuff we can get in,

Chrysalis
02-26-2009, 08:49 AM
well our average lot size is probably a lot smaller than what you have up in Oregon. Also, I am really not talking about elaborate state of the art hardscapes or location problem solving designs either.

All I know is my designers (and there is only 3 that I have ever dealt with) have told me that they are finding it hard to even sell designs these days. I simply call the one would suit the job at hand, show them the home, go over the client questionnaire, wait two days, and whala I have got a design in hand. I am really not talking about elaborate state of the art hardscapes or location problem solving designs either.

Chrysalis
02-26-2009, 08:53 AM
Just real quick stuff, bada boom bada bing, you know what I mean.

StoneFaced
02-26-2009, 01:35 PM
Hey guys, just wanted to let you know i was still here reading all these posts.
They are all very informative, thanks for all the replies and information.
Here are a few more questions. This 1st 1 is one i always had somewhat a problem with.

1. When talking to a client about landscaping, do you let them tell you what sort of plants they want or do you just get the plants that will look and do best in certain conditions?

2. Are you guys always incorporating new plants into your landscapes or do you guys have certain plants you use all the time on different projects?

I was thinking for a newbie it might be best to have 15-20 different plant species that do best in your region that you always use. Not all on every yard of course. Hope you understand what i mean.

3. Do you tell the designer what plants you want to incorperate into the landscape or Just let the designer go with it?

Sorry for all the questions guys, but just trying to learn. Thanks again for all the great info.

I'm just speaking from my prospective, which is that I design and build, therefore, I run my show from start to finish...most of the time.

1.) It's a very good question...At some point in the first consultation, that question will be answered, depending on who brings it up first. To me it's a timing thing. I may choose to come back to it later or a few more times...just depends. One of the benefits of addressing the question, is that it should answer several other questions and open the door to build trust, and shows them early on as to how much you care.
People are emotional buyers, and it's important to get a strong sense of what their yard will mean to them. Some folks, you will find out have great knowledge of some specific plants, or they have fond memories of certain plants that maybe they remember as a child, or reminds them of a loved one, etc.
When you hear any of this type of discussion, listen up & take good notes. Doesn't mean they will get everything on their wish list, but it's a great start to earning their business, trust, referrals, etc. I will always try to utilize any plants that they are persistent about, provided the conditions will allow it. One good rule to remember is...anytime a client mentions the same problem,concern,want, etc.... 3 or more times...it MUST be addressed. This is something that many people selling anything, often overlook and can potentially kill or weaken the deal.
On the other hand, some folks will have no clue as to what they want, or so they say. This person can be a bit more challenging sometimes, and getting answers can be like pulling teeth. It's not unusual to hear "That's why we called you"...just means they are nervous and you have to back it down a notch. So, then I might start w/ what they don't like...get ready for an ear full. I'l show lots of pics from several sources and from that I can usually gage how things are to go based on their attention and response. If there is still no pulse, move on to something else or begin to wrap it up, because now you might be pressing your luck.
Assuming things are moving forward w/ the design...I will consider the plants that they want and try to use at lease one, pending the level of importance. The design is ultimately going to be my choices, considering all criteria...and that is why I was hired. If i think they have bad ideas, I will gently offer better solutions.
As for the plants I choose...I like many have grown accustomed to using a broad range of plants that I like to use and favor. It's easy to recognize my style of design, I have my trademarks or features that I am know for using, that have proved to work and get attention.
I try to also introduce 2 or 3 new plants each year. One of my favorites is working w/ Espaliered Fruit trees and shrubs. I've been doing several experiments w/ these for about 7 years or so, always trying to do something that few others are doing...taking it to the next level, when the results have been achieved. Also, I put a lot more attention where others usually lack. I consider fragrance, textures, seasonal color, focal points, etc.
I have 3 specific nurseries that I like to do most of my business with, and I usually will work from their catalogs or inventory list, however, I deal w/ more than a dozen or so. One place is perennials only, another is a tree broker that has consistent quality, reliable inventory, and the sizes that most nurseries aren't interested in selling or producing. Some of the trees would require crane service or 90"+ tree spade. Not too many offer that.

3.) I would say your input should always be considered. Unless your knowledge and experience are on a similar level as the designers, he should be involved in the entire process. I strongly recommend finding someone that you like and feel you can work w/ and trust. It will take some practice, but you may find that your sales will improve greatly once you both know your place in the process. Some of my best sales have been when I have brought in another expert, that I have a solid proved history working with...then we "power-close"...gently.

JimLewis
02-26-2009, 01:41 PM
1. When talking to a client about landscaping, do you let them tell you what sort of plants they want or do you just get the plants that will look and do best in certain conditions?

It's a balance, like I said before. It has to be a balance between getting the customer what they want and also giving the designer enough free reign to design what they know will look best. But ultimately, the homeowner has to love it. So if they don't you revise it until they do.

We start by asking our customers what their priorities are with the landscape; if there are any specific trees or plants they would love to have included; if there are any plants or trees they really dislike; and then we offer a few suggestions to get them excited about our ideas and see how open they are. Then we start the design process. But you definitely have to keep their priorities and plant ideas at the top of your mind. If you just ignore everything they want and install only things you know would be great, then you're not a very good designer. It's a balance. But it's more about the customer than anything.

2. Are you guys always incorporating new plants into your landscapes or do you guys have certain plants you use all the time on different projects?
Well, if you go to college and get a degree in landscape design, that's one of the things they teach you - don't get stuck using the same plants on every design. Vary it up a lot on every single design you do. Variety is the spice of life. Most design schools pound that into their designers' heads.

But in reality, we fall in love with certain plants because they work so well for our area. So the reality is everyone ends up using certain key plants in many of their landscape designs. In our climate there are certain key perennials that are just amazing. Some of them produce profuse blooms for 8 months straight every year and seem to live in any soil conditions. So these are popular for a reason. There aren't any other perennials that perform that well in our area. Some shrubs stay nice and tight and compact and never need pruning and still have amazing color, even in the winter. That's rare in our state where 90% of the shrubs are just plain green and grow pretty fast. So again, when you find one that outperforms most other shrubs and gives you better color than most other shrubs, you tend to use that one a lot.

Another example is arborvitaes (thuja occidentallis 'emerald green'). In our area, they are way overused. But the reason they're overused is there really isn't much else that does what they do. They only take up about 2-3' of room, have a good growth rate, and form a nice screen without taking up much of your yard. They are the perfect screen for this area. No other tree does what they do. You can't accomplish the same thing with italian cypress. And every other tree that's used for screening around here (Leylandii cypress, Incense Cedar, etc.) get WAY bigger than most of our small yards have room for. So if someone wants an evergreen screen around part of their back yard, we always go back to arbs. It's not like everyone loves them, but they're the only solution.

But again, it's a balance. You can't just use the same plants on every landscape. (Well, according to me, you can. If it were up to me, I'd design every landscape using the same 20-30 plants that I love every time. But every designer I work with says that's a huge no-no. So I relent.) You can use SOME of the same plants over and over. But balance them out with other plants and trees you haven't used for a long time. Make every landscape unique.

One other REALLY important thing I want to note here; Don't get soooo into variety that every design you do uses such obscure plants that the contractor or homeowner has to go to 20 different nurseries or has to special order them just to find them all.. I know designers who do that on every FRIGGIN' design they make. And that's exactly why I quit using those designers. There's nothing I hate more than getting a design and seeing that 80% of the plants on the design are plants I've never heard of or seen on any nursery list in 13 years. Because as a contractor, that means I'm going to have to go through HELL to find all those plants. I'll maybe find 3 at one nursery, be able to special-order 4 at another nursery, get 2 way across town at another nursery, 5 more at another nursery, etc. It's not that the designer is not using plants that work in our area. It's just that she was SO FRIGGIN intent on finding the most obscure plants that she had never used before. So don't go off the deep end with your designs. It's a balance. You have to educate your designer on what plants are found easily at nurseries and scold them when they create a design that has too many obscure crazy plants in them. One or two or three hard to find plants are okay. I will do a little running around. But keep the rest of the plants at least common enough that the largest nursery in your area has them, or has at least HEARD of them.

I was thinking for a newbie it might be best to have 15-20 different plant species that do best in your region that you always use. Not all on every yard of course. Hope you understand what i mean.
Yah, I think for a newbie that's not a bad place to start. It's better to use 15-20 plants you KNOW over and over than just throwing out all sorts of plants and trees you know nothing about. Otherwise, you're going to be planting things in the wrong areas where they won't do well or get too big or whatever. It's a very good idea to at least have a good 15-20 plants in your back pocket you can pull out whenever a customer says, "What do you think would be good here?" Even if it's the same thing you said last time you heard that question, if it's a good option that's at least better than just saying, "Ummmm. I don't know...."

But make it your goal to learn new plants every week. Broaden that base of 15-20 by 5 new plants or trees each week. I used to spend 2-3 hours every Saturday just walking around local nurseries taking notes by myself just to learn about them all. I did that for a long time. You start seeing things you recognize. Then you ask about them. Read up about them. Learn how they are used. Make it your goal to learn about new plants and trees every week or every month. Because in the long run, that's bad to just be using the same old stuff every time.

3. Do you tell the designer what plants you want to incorperate into the landscape or Just let the designer go with it? Sometimes I do, yah. I used to have this designer who told me when he looked at a landscape, visions just popped into his head. He could envision exactly what the landscape should look like just by taking a step back and thinking for a moment. I get that sometimes too. Not every time. But sometimes I just KNOW the best thing for this corner area is a Bloodgood Japanese Maple. Nothing else would look better. I get other impressions like that sometimes where I feel really strongly that a certain plant or tree really would be perfect for a certain area. When you get those, definitely share those thoughts with your designer before she starts the design process. Often times, she'll say, "You're right! That's perfect." or "I was thinking the same thing when I saw that area!"

But other times my creative juices just aren't flowing and I can't think of anything. On those days, I just let the customer and our designer talk and leave all the creativity to the designer. On those days, I am glad I am not the one doing the design, because nothing is coming to mind. I am glad SHE'S the creative one.

Hope all that helps.

AGLA
02-26-2009, 07:14 PM
I don't like to do anything that remotely resembles "questions and answers" or picking menu items. I spend the biggining of the time having them tell me what they think they would like to do. I try to work it from general toward specific and they usually explain it in a similar way.
They want to screen out the neighbors house with big evergreens, keep the view to the ocean opened up, have lots of summer color, ..... and they mention one or two plants that they must have and maybe a couple they don't want (baby boomers don't like rhododendrons and yews a lot of the time). I start to pick up on their tastes and lifestyles which you can often project onto expected likes and dislikes (earthy crunchy granola types have a different aesthetic than a yuppy egomaniac).
Its pretty easy to offer up certain plants as you describe what you might do. They either think it sounds nice or start to steer you to other plants. Its pretty easy to generate a plant list in your head while having converstation about the landscape.
You should be able to pretty well explain the basic design including plants in a general manner by the end of your first meeting. That gives them the confidence to sign a design contract and you a pretty good feel for the design.
The key is to be able to manuever the conversation so that you get the information that you need. If you can do that, you are all set. It is hard to get people confident that you are the answer to their design dilemmas if you keep asking them for answers.

Also, realize that plants are more important for what they do in a landscape rather than just what they are. They are a response rather than reason. You need screening and you respond with large narrow evergreens for example. You need a lot of summer color and you bring in hydrangeas and roses. You have snow getting piled up, so you use ornamental grasses that don't reak and regrow in the spring. A tall house might need some bigger trees to frame it in and make it "sit" better on the lot. Obviously, they have multiple functions, but you get the idea.