View Full Version : question on landscape installs and plant guarantees

05-06-2002, 03:51 PM
Only been in this biz for less than a year but have been 'digging in the dirt' for 20 years. I rarely have lost a tree, perennial, whatever. For some reason I'm getting alot of calls on doing small to moderate sized installs. Good money but hard work for a 40 something. I usually try to estimate the install time by how long each tree/shrub will take me plus materials. For ex: i have about 10, 6 ft white pines to put in. I'm guesstimating about 8 to 10 hours after they are delivered. Then I apply my profit, hourly rate and other costs. Do you many of you use the old formula whereby you figure the install cost relative to how much the plant costs? THat might be ok for more expenisve plants, but I can buy some inexpensive plants that might have big root balls so the 'cost' I paid the nursery is not necessarily related to the work effort to install it if you follow me. How do some of you estimate install costs??

Also, since I am buying these plants at a 'contractor ' price, one nursery wont give me any guarantee if the plant dies in the next 6 months....how do your suppliers work with you on plants that die(and not because you installed them improperly)....thanks much

05-06-2002, 04:42 PM
I use 2.5 times my cost as a general rule of thumb and keep my fingers crossed that it survives a year.

05-06-2002, 08:24 PM
if you plant them right, and the customers water them when they're suppose to, and you dig the planting holes big enough, you shouldn't have to guarantee the plants.

John Allin
05-06-2002, 09:39 PM
90 seconds or 90 feet... which ever comes first (unless we plant it wrong, which does happen on occassion.... fact of life with employees doing the work)

05-06-2002, 09:46 PM
IMO you are on the right track as far as your estimating ... you should not use any kind of % ...like you wrote... there are allot of cases when it won't work . You may want to allow a % ( say 20% ) for shrubs that won't make it.

Generally you won't get a guarantee from a wholesaler but we have had the odd case of a bad bunch of shrubs ... The dealer has come good for them... It probably depends how good and long your relationship has been with them.

05-07-2002, 07:35 PM
Whatever your warranty policy is, it has to be figured into your price. You have to think like an insurance company. Plants that rarely die, you don't have to add much. Plants that often fail 30 40 % of the time or are larger than should be used, or are marginal varieties have to have a larger markup for warranty. A lot of that depends on you knowing the plants for your area.

As for labor, it should be based on time. per centage of cost is unfair to the customer. It takes just as long to plant a #10 pot willow as it does a #10 oak. Why should the customer that already shelled many times more money for the oak be penalized for their good taste.

We have worked out a cost system based on plant sizes, so all #2 pots carry the same planting cost, we also of course have a mobilization charge and will mark up the job based on site conditions that might raise our costs. of course we don't let the customer see all of this breakdownl, but it has to be in there or you will lose.

Doug Austreim
Austreim Landscaping

05-07-2002, 10:52 PM
Doug is right on the money with everything he wrote...differant warranty % for differant plants and the cost system for pot size.

05-08-2002, 03:27 PM
It sounds like everyone is pointing you in the right direction. I usually use a 2.7 times the cost of materials. And put my labor in another formula to see where I am. I ALWAYS go for the highest and if it's too high I can go down to the lower. I also make sure that I NET $350/ day. Yes this is after everything is paid for.

On your guarrantee!!! I don't guar. a cash job, NEVER, most is 90 days, and some a year depending on the customer.

05-08-2002, 04:22 PM
thanks guys...think I'll give them 90 days...then its their problem...by the way I just got a kick in the gut....I have 2 autumn blaze maples in my yard...leaves were slow in coming this year...scratched the bark a month ago and it was green...scratched the bark today and both trees are deader than Hillarys sex life. Have any of you seen more of a problem with maples dying this year after the heat stress of the past 2 years?? This makes me sick...they were very nice trees and 10 years old....what do you recommend to replace them with?? they were rather slow growers and cant wait another 10 years for 30 ft...thanks

05-09-2002, 08:39 AM
dougaustreim has the best way of pricing. A 2" cal. Japanese maple costs a whole bunch more than a 2" cal. Crimson King Maple, but if they are both in a 36" root ball....
Customers that pay contractors that just multiply cost times X.X are really getting bent over on the Japanese maple. And you may be getting burned on the less expensive plants that have large rootballs (as Kitzy mentioned).

05-09-2002, 10:35 PM
Plant guarantees are a huge money maker. We usually charge around 35% of wholesale cost and guarantee everything except painfully obvious neglect. Typically the length is one year, and if something is struggling We say "Lets see if it comes thru-we'll extend the guarantee to two years". We end up replacing less than 5% of all plants planted.
There are too many variables for a simple mathematical pricing formula. We do plant by plant-job by job.

05-11-2002, 05:33 PM
Well it all depends on where you can buy plants from, at what cost. etc. But here's how we do it;

We buy our plant materials wholesale at exactly 50% of what the local retail nurseries charge. So instantly, I mark the plant up 100%. For instance, if I purchase $500 worth of plant materials, I charge $1000 for those plant materials, BEFORE LABOR. This covers my butt in case any die. But also helps pad the rest of business expenses. And the customer doesn't lose because if they were to buy them themselves, they'd still be paying exactly what I am charging them.

THEN, we add on labor. We figure our labor rate x how many hours we estimate it will take. Then I pad that price a tad to make room for error.

We warranty all plant materials for the first growing season. But our contracts are very specific that the client has to water and care for the plant properly otherwise the warranty is voided. We get maybe 2% that die, if the client waters them properly. We install them correctly and install deep root slow release fertilizer in each plant or tree. So the only thing the client really has to do for that first year is just make sure it gets watered.

Works good for us.

05-14-2002, 09:48 PM
I don't know if they have locations near any of you, but we buy our plants at shemin nurseries. They are wholesale only and offer a 1 year guarantee on woody plants. Even though not warrantied, today they told me they would replace 170 liriope for me if the customer was making a big issue of it. I didn't even ask for this, they just offered, and the plants aren't even dead, just withering a little. Their prices on some things are less than half than at retail nurseries. You might want to check them out, they are on the web.

05-15-2002, 07:39 PM
I think Shemins' guarantee is 1 growing season, which is different than 1 year.

There is a Shemins right next door to the Silver Dome (where the Detroit Lions played) here in Michigan. Their plants are not exactly top notch. They use overhead watering (not the best method) and have a lot of iron in the water, so if the plant has been there for more than a couple weeks, it will have a rust color. :eek:

Also, if any landscapers are buying plants at retail prices, they need to find another nursery.

05-18-2002, 11:45 AM
Dave, I agree with you on the pricing formula, expenses plus profit, but I can understand the idea of the Japenese Maple being what might be considered overpriced, if the installer is providing a guarantee. Since he is assuming a much higher risk with that particular tree, he should be entitled to a higher profit. Japenese Maples don't seem to do well in my area either and would be a high risk planting.

I don't solicite plantings for this reason, Home Depot and Lowes offer the 1 year guarantee, so the public thinks everyone should. I try to do plantings for established customers only and guarantee only that the plantings have been done properly, they are responsible for watering. I've seen people hold a hose on a 6' spruce for 1 minute and call that tree watered. I don't like plantings because of the controversy they can cause.

05-18-2002, 01:25 PM
I've seen people hold a hose on a 6' spruce for 1 minute and call that tree watered. :)
When working at a landscape supply/nursery, I had a guy bring back an Alberta Spruce that died. I went out to his truck to take a look at it and could still see the shape of the pot it was sold in. It was obvious that he took it home and just put it on his patio (and never watered it, and then took it out of the pot just before bringing it back. :rolleyes:

And one time we even called the police because a woman was yelling and cussing (in front of other customers with children) because her hanging basket of annuals died. She insisted that she bought it there even though the pot was green and we never sold them in green pots. In the end, we gave her a another one just to shut her up and get her to leave.

05-23-2002, 03:02 AM
We only guarantee our plants for the current growing season if we also get the maintenance contract for the new installation. Our wholesale nursery does not offer a replacement guarantee perse, but are very willing to work with us in the event of the early demise of an installed product. As stated above, we also offer a "customer care" package if they want to take care of their own plants. We typically charge around 30-50% raw material cost , and work up a written guarantee for the client. On average , we lose less than 2-3% a year. On the average of $20,000 raw plant costs, the client care contracts can add up at the end of the summer. Also, we do not offer any guarantee on marginal plants for the area. If it is further than 1 USDA zone away, forget about it.If you have a customer whining about the guarantee at Home Depot or Lowe's, and insisting the plant s come from there, be sure to thank them for taking your valuable time, and tell them how to get there.Then find a client who appreciates locally field grown mature stock, and enjoy the smile on their faces when you are done with a quality job as you make your bank deposit...:D

05-23-2002, 09:39 AM
I charge 2x the plant material and figure my time to plant each one. I also offer a different price to warranty it for 12 months. Usually 3x plant cost. By offering a choice I leave the ball in the customers court. Never had a problem with any customers oferring this choice.
I do however, do favors for my large accounts and best customers. Even if they dont purchase the warranty package if a plant dies within 4 to 6 months after planting even if it was their fault I will replace it for free. This has earned me a reputation of being fair and honest and lots of repeat business and referrals.