Is it this way in any other industry?

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by DFW Area Landscaper, Apr 9, 2005.

  1. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    Home owners expect us to come out and give them a FREE on sight estimate.

    I can understand a free estimate on something like auto repair, where the customer takes time out of his day to drive his car to the shop. The shop charges 80 bucks an hour, so taking 10 minutes out of their day to stop and look at a car makes sense as long as they win half the estimates. They win enough business from the free estimates to cover the costs.

    And I can almost understand a carpet contractor or roofing contractor coming out to provide a free estimate, though some, like Lowe's, charge for this. At least if they win the business half the time, they can justify paying an estimator/sales person to do this work. Each job they win is probably worth several thousand in gross margin. Of the jobs that they do win, once they win them, they've got them. It's not like lawn mowing where there is still a strong likelihood that the customer will cancel service after only a few mows.

    But is there another industry where a customer can promise so little and get a contractor out to their home for a FREE estimate with such a small potential payoff? Most residential lawn mowing clients expect to pay about 25 bucks a cut, they expect the right to cancel at any time for any reason, and they expect a professional, knowledgeable sales person to drive to their home and give them a free estimate. Many expect that person to meet them on their property at a time that's convenient for them too. Many lawns in my area being mowed for twenty bucks. The gross margin, after labor, from even a full year's worth of cuts, simply doesn't justify the cost of driving out for a free estimate that you're only going to win half the time (at least in my opinion).

    My question is this: Is there another industry where a customer expects so much in terms of a FREE estimate and yet, even if the contractor wins the business, the payoff is this low?

    How can we possibly look strong, professionally, in the customer's eyes when they know we've invested so much in terms of time and fuel for such a low potential payoff? Isn't the free on sight estimate for lawn mowing, in and of itself, a major sign of weakness?

    DFW Area Landscaper
  2. thill

    thill LawnSite Member
    Posts: 245


    WE have prefer meeting with the potential client on his or her terms. It gives us a chance to demonstrate our professionalism AND often to "up sale" additional services.

    It all starts with selling ourselves in person. That helps since we are rarely the lowest bid.

    Every proposal is emailed with our standard propaganda blurps. If we don't hear from them within 24 hours, we do a telephone follow up.
  3. Updog

    Updog LawnSite Member
    Posts: 80

    Itotally agree with what your saying but getting the rest of the world to follow is another story. I got screwed on a few landscape jobs spent an hour or two on a plan and no job or I have even seen my plan done by other landscapers.
  4. Envy Lawn Service

    Envy Lawn Service LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 11,062


    Boy, your state of mind seems very familiar.... oh yeah....

    It gets to you after a while. Gets old quick. I average going out on in excess of 100 "estimates" that are a total waste, just in the spring of each year. But they are not after a free estimate. What they really want is a competition bid, and hopefully one they can used to pry someone else to beat.

    They never get what they want from me.

    I show up looking professional, measure the property, ask about the services they want and sell-sell-sell. Then I go figure it all up and return with some numbers for this whole list of services they requested. Of course, they always have to "think about it" or "get one more estimate" ect.

    So you go through all that and they never even as much as give you a call to say they hired someone else. You always have to call back to find out the hired some guy to just cut the grass for $20 every two weeks.
  5. bicmudpuppy

    bicmudpuppy LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,781

    Ok, this sounds like the reason we don't mow grass, BUT one question here that I have to ask....Are you killing yourself even trying to compete with that $20 cut? Why? Do the "free" estimate, but bid your work so that you make a profit. That profit margin needs to be significant enough to YOU that you like having that customer. Then SELL it. Be the best service you can possibly provide and enjoy every "NO" you get. Run your buisness by the numbers. Be competitive enough to land the jobs you need (if you can't get them maybe your in the wrong buisness), and trust the percentages. It takes x number of those who say "NO" to get a yes. (I've never had the privledge of working an industry where the ratio was even close to 1:1) For myself in this area, I need atleast 3 if not 4 qualified No's to get that magical yes for an install. For maintenance, if they call me, it is because I'm the service guy they want and it really doesn't matter what I charge because quality saves them money in the end.
  6. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    My question is this: Is there another industry where a customer expects so much in terms of a FREE estimate and yet, even if the contractor wins the business, the payoff is this low?

    Is there another industry? Do maid services drive out for a free esimate too?

    I honestly can't think of another industry with such intensive front end investment with no commitment from the customer and such a low payoff. Is there one?

    DFW Area Landscaper
  7. Gene $immons

    Gene $immons LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,028

    Probably not many businesses offer a free estimate.

    How much do you charge for an estimate though? How do you get them to pay it?

    If they sign up, do they still pay for the estimate?
  8. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    I don't charge for estimates. I did get a guy earlier this spring to pay ten bucks for an estimate on a clean-up. Got told to f-off on the next two, so I quit asking for an estimate fee.

    As for lawn mowing, I don't have any problems with it. I quote all the mowing and chemical stuff over the phone sight unseen. My problems are coming from shrubs and clean-up estimates.

    I think my new shpiel for shrubs & cleanups will be this: If our shrub crew has a paying customer, we will not put that work off while we drive out for a free estimate. Once our shrub crew is caught up and has no work to do, at that time, we will start working our free estimate list. As you can see, if you require a free estimate before we do the work, it could take a while. If you'd like us to come out and do the work without an estimate, I'd be glad to put you on the schedule and we could probably get the work done within a week to ten days. If you want an estimate before we do any work, I don't have any idea how long it will take. Could be a few days, could be a few months. I make no promises on free estimates.

    DFW Area Landscaper
  9. Mo Green

    Mo Green LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,487

    We had a new roof put on this year, and I had 3 different companies give us free estimates. We didn't necessarily pick the cheapest one, but we picked the one we felt would give the best service at the best price. I did heating and air conditioning work for 8 years, and we used to give free estimates on new install work, but not on repairs. Painters will drive to your house and give free estimates also. Concrete companies will come to your house and give free estimates for walkways or driveways....etc,etc.
  10. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    So on large dollar jobs for AC/Heating, free estimates are done. But for small dollar jobs, like AC/Hating repair. Roofing is a large dollar job too.

    I wish our industry had just the slightest of a barrier to entry. If we had that, reasonable people would understand why we charge for an estimate.

    DFW Area Landscaper

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