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Old 02-22-2013, 05:39 PM
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JimLewis JimLewis is offline
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Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Beaverton, OR
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Ok. That's what I thought you meant by that term.

Well, I agree in general terms with a lot of what you said. But I disagree with some of your statements too....

Originally Posted by AGLA View Post
There are lots of different levels of design. There are a lot of differnt design media. There are lots of differences in scale of projects. There are lots of different geographic markets. There are lots of different demographic markets within them.
I agree with all of that.

Originally Posted by AGLA View Post
There are no standards, but most of us look at what we do as the standard.
I disagree here. I have read countless articles over the years in the trade journals and also attended a fair amount of industry seminars etc. that routinely teach that landscape contractors should charge for landscape designs. So I consider that a standard. May not be a standard everyone chooses to adhere to. But I think it's a standard. I think most professional companies around the US charge for designs. So again, that's a standard. Doesn't mean everyone does. But it sets the bar. I consider that a standard.

The more local you get, I think there are standards as well. I know it's pretty standard for most of the medium-large landscape companies in my area to charge for a detailed landscape design. Not every company around here does it. But most of us do. It's pretty standard. And the pricing is pretty standard too. Most professional landscape outfits these parts will charge anywhere from $700-$1500 for a design plan. That's also fairly standard. I'm not sure that all the smaller landscape firms around Portland (and there are hundreds of them) realize that we charge for designs. They may be under the impression that everyone gives designs away for free just because the guys that THEY talk to do it that way. But I know most all of the owners of the larger firms in my town and most all of us charge and charge within the rates I mentioned.

I also believe that not charging for designs is a trap. It severely limits you, devalues you, and sucks up a lot of your valuable time for something you may never get paid back for. More on this further down.....

Originally Posted by AGLA View Post
Some landscape companies use design as an investment to get work just the same as paying for an ad. You take on the expense (whether it is free design or discounted design) knowing that you'll get some work sometimes. Like all advertising, you constantly have to evaluate how much you are investing and what the return is. Then you adjust.
I fully understand that. There are guys in my town that do that too. I guess it's one way to compensate for a lack of advertising. But to me, that's a totally flawed way of getting jobs. I never believed in doing a loss-leader or giving away something valuable for free just in the HOPE that someone will buy from me. So although I totally understand that this occurs, I just think it's a really bad idea.

First problem with doing this is you're actually giving away a lot of your time, and therefor your money. Let's say it takes you just 10 hours to make a nice, full, complete landscape design. And let's just assume you're cheaper than most. Maybe you only charge $40 an hour for your time. These numbers are a lot lower than ours. We'd usually spend about 15 hours between time on site, travel time and time designing. And our designer is at $50 per hour. But let's just assume for argument sake that yours is lower. So now you're spending 10 hours on each design you do ($400 worth of your time) just in the HOPES of getting a job? Are you kidding me? Do you know that for that same amount of advertising, you could get way more clients? Especially if you did targeted advertising that really worked. Let's say you just gave away 6 of these designs a month. That's $2400, man! Holy cow! And some people wonder why business is slow. If you would have spent that same $2400 on some really good marketing/advertising you would have gotten a lot more calls and would probably be able to find a lot more customers who are willing to PAY for designs. So I just think giving them away or at a huge discount is a really poor way to spend your money/time.

My second problem is; Why give something away for free when there are plenty of people who would willingly pay for it? You say that you can't find any customers who are willing to pay for a design? I'd argue that you either live in a really economically depressed area or you just haven't figured out how to appeal to the people who ARE willing to pay for designs. There are plenty of people in this society who buy Mercedes, BMWs, Cadillacs, or Audis instead of Nissans or Chevys. There are plenty of people who eat out at nice steak houses rather than your local pizza joint. Plenty of people in today's society that have money and are willing to spend it. The trick is just tapping into that niche. Once you do, you'll find it's much easier to get people to pay for designs, because they want to use your company.

My third problem with this is it can be a huge waste of time. If you even did just 3 designs per week and they took you 10 hours each, that would be 30 hours you'd be spending that week, without getting paid! Just in the hopes that it would equate to some work. I don't have 30 extra hours in my week. I don't even have 10 hours extra time.

My fourth problem is this sets a bad precedent. Giving away stuff for free just goes against what we all know is right. Would you do this with anything else? Would you go do a free $400 or $600 clean-up for a client, just in the hopes that they'd hire you for their install job later? Heck no! Nobody would do that. Would you give away any other service you do that equated to that much value, just in the hopes of getting a job? What if everyone in town was giving away 4 or 6 months of free landscape maintenance, if the customer was interested in getting some larger landscape work done. Would you do that? No. So why would we do this with design?

Originally Posted by AGLA View Post
Some situations require adjusting how much time and effort you put in.
And that's my next problem with this. Free designs are usually cheap. And I don't mean price. I mean if someone is giving away a design for free, chances are they didn't spend 10-15 hours of really creative thought into designing it. They probably spent 2-3 hours just whipping something up. Maybe for a real basic landscape that could work. But for something custom and really nice, you can't just whip up a quick design and really get an amazing job out of it. It might look okay. But it's not going to be nearly as nice as if you had taken your time and really created a thorough, creative, well thought out design.

Originally Posted by AGLA View Post
Sometimes the market does not support what you are trying to do.
I agree with that. And that sucks. What can I say about that? I guess, just maybe move your business out of the back woods of Kentucky. Because that's true. Some areas just don't have many people who have money. Bad area to open up a landscape business, I guess.....

Originally Posted by AGLA View Post
$2,000 landscape projects will never support design fees.
That's not totally true. In general, that's accurate. But not 100% of the time. There are times when a customer just wants their front yard totally re-planted. And I'm not going to sit there looking through books with them and drafting a planting plan for them for 2-3 hours for free. So I'll refer them to our designer. She'll come over and do that with them for 2-3 hours and just whip up a quick sketch-design and just charge them $250.00. Then the planting installation may only be $1500-$3000. But they still paid for the design, because I'm too busy and not interested in doing that for free.

Originally Posted by AGLA View Post
Because of all the photo manipulation programs and design software out there, many small landscapers try to land simple jobs by out doing the competition on the design product only to find that the prospect just finds the next low baller to implement the design he likes best get next to nothing out of your investment.

If, or I should say when, I did this type of work ($2k scapes) I sold it by TELLING the prospect what I was going to do while explaining how it was going to affect his landscape. Most of the time a price was agreed upon with no plant list, just an understanding that I'd do what I said. Other times there would be a plant list and a brief description - I got most of the jobs because the job was not to re-create a picture. It was to give them the landscape and the experience that I described and that they liked. They felt like they needed me to do it. You don't make that connection when you are one of five 'scapers showing pretty pictures that anyone can follow. ... also, the investment is lower if you don't get the job. Dare to be different.
Exactly. We're on the same page on all of this.

Originally Posted by AGLA View Post
And you'll never sell a $200k job with a photoimage. You have to match what the market you work in supports.
That's not true either. We just did a job that was about $250K. We landed that job with just a basic $900 plan-view design. You can see the design and the after photos of the project in our photo gallery here. We didn't do anything different than we normally do in terms of design. The client just really liked our company and our work and was able to understand the concept of everything we were talking about through this design and through the discussions we had.

I think it HELPS to have perspective-view designs or the imaging software maybe. But it's not totally necessary. This is the second job we landed this size without doing anything fancy. Now, I prefer doing much smaller jobs. I'd rather be in the $10K-$35K range. And those jobs are pretty simple to get with a plan-view design. That's our niche and I like jobs like that. But I'll take a $200K+ job if it comes my way. Certainly is nice to know that you have one crew booked up for several months on end. No having to go out and be constantly landing jobs for that crew for a while. But they're always a PITA in terms of just so much stuff going. Those larger jobs are very demanding and challenging to manage. Regardless, my point is that you definitely CAN land bigger jobs like that without that imaging stuff you're referring to.

So that's my 2 cents, for what it's worth to anyone.
Jim Lewis
Lewis Landscape Services - Oregon - Portland Oregon Landscaping Company

landscape design Portland Oregon
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