Times sure have changed, compared to 3 years ago, even 8 years ago. The slow economy is certainly taking it's toll on the hardscape industry. In all seriousness, I don't even know who my local competitors are. Because many of the local hardscape contractors have folded up. They're dropping like flies. It's times like these where strategic money management is crucial. Now, for the record - I'm NOT perfect. But with the folding of many contractors - the writing has been on the wall for years. When it comes to financial management - many contractors are clueless. they think they have everything under control - but really they don't. MANAGE YOUR PAYROLL This means watching your workers hrs. When they hit 40 hrs, send them home. Paying overtime will kill you. The best thing to do is use a payroll service to handle your payroll taxes. trust me......I KNOW. MANAGE YOUR EQUIPMENT PURCHASES If your work load is light - then don't be buying new trucks and equipment. With the soft economy, you're only working for the banks when you finance and lease everything you have. I only finance ONE truck at a time. And I only finance 1 piece of equipment at a time (ie: skid steer, tractor, excavator). The equipment distribution industry has perfected the art of making us contractors THINK we NEED to buy that beefy looking CTL. Buy wisely. PAY FOR YOUR MATERIALS UPON DELIVERY I've been a full fledged hardsape contractor for 12 years. In the beginning, I used to put all materials on charge accounts. There is nothing worse than owing a vendor money. For the last 5 years I have been paying for ALL materials upon delivery. And I LOVE it! This business is economy driven. One thing I do NOT lay in bed worring about is how on earth will I ever pay our vendors. Its a great feeling to drive away from a freshly completed job knowing that all expenses for that job are paid for free and clear. If you have been struggeling this year, do yourself a favor and STOP putting materials on charge accounts. OTHER TIPS We typically park our work trucks at our shop / yard each night. Well, to reduce fuel costs I have been letting the guys take the trucks home. In all reality, the workers houses are usually closer to the job sites than our shop is. This is cutting out about 30 miles (both ways) of driving, saving both fuel and employee windshield time. Were a SMALL company. We do not rent a fancy shop. Nor do we rent a shop with road frontage. Fancy shops and shops with road frontage cost big bucks. For 12 years we rented a large dairy barn. It had cold water and electric, along with plenty of space for storing materials and dumping spoils. All that for $110.00 / month. The dairy barn was torn down for development, so we now rent a 40x60 pole building. It has cold water and even 220 electric. We have plenty of space for dumping spoils and plenty of space for storing materials. We pay $475 / month, and being we're 60 miles north of DC - thats a BARGIN! Many here are in markets that are untapped with competition. Those of you that have a steady flow of work need to be very thankfull. Or....if you have plenty of work.....are you charging enough??? Over the next 8 months we're going to see more contractors fold up. Some of the guys running bankrupt will surprise you. Be proactive and MANAGE YOUR MONEY. .