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Old 01-31-2014, 05:49 PM
rbljack rbljack is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: Texas
Posts: 673
Originally Posted by GreenI.A. View Post
The best way to further your hands on knowledge is to do a number of smaller jobs until you are more comfortable then start moving up to do larger and larger. Don't bit off more than you can chew. I know you have experience with your old boss, but I'm going to guess that he did the designs, built the proposal and price up, worked up the material list, ordered materials, and most importantly he was there to lead you on those installs. Start slow and small and get used to the different materials and building the proposal and pricing. It's a lot better to learn from a mistake and have to eat 10% on a $3,000 job than it is to on a $50,000

When I first started I took on a big install, $120,000, it was way to early. I told the clients they would be cooking on their new outdoor kitchen by July 4th, they didn't get to use it until late September. Everything was under bid. At the end I ended up working for just about free. I paid for materials, rentals, labor, I did out the math and with what was left and the time I put in, I basically paid myself $1.76 an hour. $1.76. Above my desk were I do all my designs and build proposals I have a dollar bill, three quarters and a penny taped to the wall as a constant reminder.

The issue I have with new guys is that often they under price the job so much to often. Usually we can land the contract by explaining why we are more, this is were you're portfolio comes in. But sometimes the customer goes with the new guy because his price is 60% of ours or he promised to provide 40% more patio/wall than we proposed, and he talks them into giving him the chance because he's a h*** of a sales guy and they fall for his pitch. Then when he doesn't complete the job as promised, or goes 2 months longer than promised, or comes back needing 20k more than quoted it often reflects poorly as a whole on the industry. It makes the neighbor think a little bit harder about weather they really want to spend all that money on their landscape after what their friend next door went through. But then again, those stories just as often steer the prospective clients towards the larger more experienced contractors.
Gotta love those jobs when (after reviewing all the costs and expenses that we didn't think of) we end up working for free or pennies on the dollar. UGGGGG
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Old 01-31-2014, 07:39 PM
PLLandscape PLLandscape is online now
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Join Date: Aug 2013
Location: Western New York
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Originally Posted by STL Ponds and Waterfalls View Post
My advice is in the beginning use machinery and don't try to do the small installs by hand. I've done a ton of small installs by hand and now my body is paying for it in a bad way. It will save time, money, and more importantly your back.
Absolutely agree. Hardscape or landscape. The cost of the machine rental will make up for it in time and maybe doing multiple small jobs. And will definitely save your back. Just ask my two lumbar disks about that. They're mad at me.
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Old 02-01-2014, 11:18 AM
woodwardschris's Avatar
woodwardschris woodwardschris is offline
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Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Phoenixville PA
Posts: 42

I am a former installer and now currently on the distribution side, I could offer you this advice:

1. Start small. Don't try to tackle the big jobs yet. If you know someone else in the business, you could try to partner with them and learn what they do right...but be careful...make sure they are doing it properly.

2. Start with family or friends, just make sure they understand you are learning and the project might not be perfect.

3. Make a contact at your local distributor. I teach new contractors proper techniques all the time. I will always visit them at a job site if they need help (as time allows) and will put them in contact with a local rep who would be more than willing to help out and educate. Distributors will also hold installation seminars from time to time, attend them whenever possible.

4. Most of the bigger companies (Techo and EP around here) will offer seminars/trades shows over the winter. Attend them. The classes are valuable, but so is the time talking to the vendors and the contacts you can make with your peers. Ask questions.

5. You will need to buy some equipment, renting OK for others. You need a good compactor...don't skimp. Base prep is most important. A cut off saw is probably more important than a table top saw. A laser level is very important for proper layout. A skid steer or mini excavator would be nice...I would rent over buying in the beginning...I wish I would have bought a Dingo...would have made moving stone and material much easier.

6. Know the material in your area. If your distributor offers three lines, know all three. This will allow you to have a wide range of material to offer...but be careful. Each company has it's own quirks (i.e. Techo Bloc does not have independent corner block for it's wall units). Ask your distributor about new material when you are ordering. They should be able to explain the differences in the product lines.

7. Make your customer see LIVE product. Do not let them pick it out of a book. I tell all my contractors, if you can not bring your customer to my store, send them in...I will show them around and let you know what they have picked. There's nothing worse then finishing a project with a material your customer picked from a book and they say they don't like it. What do you do? If they can't see material live, you need to be very clear in writing that you can not be responsible if they do not like the product.

8. You need a contract. There are many threads on here about contracts.

9. Be mindful of customer changes...changes possibly mean more time/labor. You need to have a change work order as part of your contract.

10. "While your here, could you please do this...". Extra work means extra labor. Be careful you customer does not take advantage. You need to find the line of being service/customer oriented and making money. In the beginning, you'll do anything to get work and a reputation, but you still need to be profitable.

Good luck.
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Old 02-01-2014, 11:23 AM
GravelyWalker GravelyWalker is offline
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Join Date: Sep 2012
Location: Indianapolis Indiana
Posts: 86
Thanks for all the advise guys. Most of this I had planned but alot to think about too. Im not going to advertise for it until i get more comfortable. Going to try to get as much practice as possible before hand.
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