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Screening for Estimates

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by BOG Lawncare, Dec 28, 2002.

  1. BOG Lawncare

    BOG Lawncare LawnSite Member
    Posts: 20

    Okay. Know that people are gonna begin calling me for their free estimates what kinda questions should I be asking to weedout those who have no intention of doing anything......they just want a free estimate. I know there are no sure fire ways or questions, but wanna here some lines from you guys that have been doing this a while.

  2. 1MajorTom

    1MajorTom Senior Moderator
    Posts: 6,074

    Are you talking about for lawn maintenance?

    I handle all the calls that come in, and qualify them.

    If they leave a message on our answsering machine with their phone number, before I call them back, I take their phone number and do a reverse search on it.
    That way before I call them back, I know exactly where they live.

    If they call and I answer, I greet them, then ask where they are located. Where they live is a big criteria for us at this point. Going on five years in business, we are only looking to pick up customers that are conveniently located within our route.

    Once that is determined, I ask them what type of service they are looking for.
    If they say, "I'm looking to get my grass cut this year", I proceed to tell them a little about us and how we handle our maintenance accounts.
    They must be willing to take a weekly cut until the weather really dries out. If they are only looking for a bi-weekly cut, or someone to come in and hack their grass down, then I politely decline the work.

    I ask them if they ever water their lawn or if they fertilize their lawn. If they say no to the fertilizer, I use our sales pitch on how we are licensed to apply fertilizer/pesticides , and tell them we would be more than happy to provide them with a brochure telling them more on our fertilizing program.
    (By me saying this, I'm trying to find out how important it is to them to have a nice looking lawn.)

    Somewhere in the midst of the conversation, I ask them if they have had lawn service before. If they say yes, more times than not they will willingly offer the reason why they no longer use the service. (Sometimes their answer will be a good indicator as to what type of customer they will be.)

    I'm sure I'm forgetting a few other small things, but I'm being rushed out the front door.
  3. Alan Bechard

    Alan Bechard LawnSite Member
    Posts: 175

    Very nice answer 1 Major Tom. We do not do the reverse search thing but if we were in a big city that would be important.

    My wife does it mostly by feel anymore. Probably not what you want to hear, but pretty much she weeds out shoppers by experience. When she goes out to look at a job, she usually knows pretty well if she will get it.

    One thing that we repeatedly burn ourselves on, is that we do up a detailed landscaping plan, then get talking and hand it to the client. My advice is never, ever, ever, ever do that until you have $50 or whatever you feel appropriate in your hand to compensate you for your work. More than once we have drove by a house that we gave a bid on, to see the homeowner, maybe with some neighborhood kids, installing what my wife planned.

    Sad to admit but we have done that to ourselves on several occasions.

    Al Bechard
  4. DLCS

    DLCS LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,378

    Major Tom,

    I do the same thing with the reverse lookup. I sometimes even go as far as driving by the property before I even return their call.

  5. AztlanLC

    AztlanLC LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,045

    Ask the customers how they got your number, if was from referral the chances for you to get the job are higher, how important is the apperance of their lawn for them, What kind of service they're expecting, Did they call anybody else? Is anybody doing it at the moment? What would be the reason for them to switch?

    What would be the point for that?
    Wouldn't it be better to stop by?

    Always and I mean always return the calls as soon as posible, if you can setup your phone to forward your calls to your cell phone that would be even better, even if you're not interted in the job always return the call and let'em know.
  6. xpnd

    xpnd LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 378

    I work in two cities and one itty bitty village between the two of them. Basically it is a 15 mile long stretch by about 8 miles deep. Very dense residential subdivisions. I've been working these same areas for about ten years so I know the real estate value. A sub with houses < $150K typically will not be a high profit area. Generally the homeowners in this area will be very young, just married with one carpet crawler and one toddler, one car family, wife is a stay at home Mom. The backyard is generally full of toys and a neglected dog. Or, it's retirees on a fixed income downsizing and they have way more time on their hands then they know what to do with. Both are problem customers and time wasters. Both want the lowest price possible. They are what I term wannabe lawn care customers but can can not afford my minimum. The $20.00 LCWs (lawn care whores) can have them. My target market are the tract mansions between $200K-$450K. Husband and wife are college educated and both have a white collar professional job, 2 to 3 kids ages between 6-16, 2 cars but not current year model but less than 5 years old, wife drives newer model, possibly a boat on the higher end and the house has furniture in it and no bed sheets serving for curtains. This group is not living above their means, they are too busy with their jobs and want to spend the weekend doing things with their kids not maintaining the property. This group generally has the most disposbale cash. Houses >$500K are less profitable than then the ones in the <$150K group. House rich and money poor. Telltale signs are that I have more furniture in my house than theirs and there are bed sheets on the back windows. Yes I have my Mapsco "redlined" for areas I will not service. We only do maintenance but I imagine it would equally apply to landscape jobs
  7. BOG Lawncare

    BOG Lawncare LawnSite Member
    Posts: 20

    Have determined this setup a while ago also. I will not even put door hangers on communities under $250,000. I am looking for the higher end res. where the male predominantly works long hours and the wife stays at home......so they need someone to take care of their lawn. When doing mass mailings in like a penny-saver or whatever you can't weed them out like that.

    thanks everyone for the advice so far. To make this clear......this is for lawn maintenance and not landscaping.......that is why it is under this forum instead of the landscaping forum.
  8. goose

    goose LawnSite Member
    Posts: 177

    I do the same thing . I directly market the houses that start between 350 and 400,000. Now if someone calls me I will go meet with them if they are close to any of our other properties regardless the size of there home.
    I have 3 separate divisions Maint , Chemicals and Landscape. They might not pay $200 a month for grass cutting , but even a $70,000 house will pay for a chemical program and sometimes a little landscape .
  9. brucec32

    brucec32 LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,403

    Sounds like you've done your demographic research! I agree the homes on the real low end aren't good prospects, and that the really high end ones aren't my cup o' tea, either. But on the high end, I pass on them because many of them DO have a lot of money and are used to having the money to pay for every little thing to be done just right. (They'll rip out a wall just to save a few steps in the basement!) They can be more demanding and generally expect that you handle all aspects of the yard for them. This is great if you have employees to keep busy year-round, not so hot if you're a small operator and don't want to be picking weeds, replacing flowers, and generally being more of a gardener than a lawn maintenance guy.

    And though I do good work I prefer handling low-medium quality lawns since there are not really any worries about pleasing the customer. They just want a decent cut, and I usually overdeliver on their expectations. Some of my best paying and longest lasting customers are retired widows who are still active enough to get out and do their own flower bed stuff, or who are so old they don't get out much and just want the basics done. Yes, it takes a lot more of these $32/mow lawns, but I can zip in and out in half an hour and barely break a sweat before I'm done and it's time to move on. The idea of spending 2 or 3 hours on a huge estate doing various tasks doesn't interest me, and past a certain point I can't compete with guys hiring lots of labor who can undercut me on non-mowing items. (I can't spread pinestraw much faster than a $6/hour guy, but I can mow a lot faster)

    My way isn't as creative or pride-inducing, but its' proved lower hassle for my temperament. I worked on Mansions before I was self-employed, and my boss was stressed out and run ragged keeping the ladies of the house happy. We actually made less money too, when you factored in the time required. Past a certain point even rich people balk at paying $600/month for the lawn.

    I say medium range homes are my sweet spot. People who have a little money, but who aren't either too rich or too poor. And my experience with mid-upper income high acheiver households with a man in it has been relatively poor, too. I suspect they have "issues" with another man doing their chores for them. They certainly tended to have chips on their shoulders. They tend to let the wife handle it, but ***** about little stuff, I guess just to show they're paying attention. They also seem to have ego problems with the idea of "a lawn guy" making more per hour than they do. ( "You're charging me $72 but you were only here an hour and fifteen minutes! Even I don't make that much! " ) I make even more per hour on a little old lady's mow-blow-go but they never seem to complain.

    Single working women are great customers. Too busy to do it themselves, and very greatfull for the help and glad they don't have to do the work.

    Self employed men can be good customers, though, since they realize you have costs and know how businesses work, and also the value of their time you're saving them.

    The worst customers have been younger corporate transfer type couples who really can't afford your service but are too busy with kids/work. They have paid slower and tend to see people who don't work in offices as less than worthy of decent earnings. They also tend to treat me (college grad, articulate, Mensa member even!) as if I was wearing overalls on the Hee Haw set. They can't seem to understand that anyone with a brain would do this. They also seem unhappy to even be in the city they're stuck in and they tend to find more to be unhappy about. It's just human nature. When you're unhappy you tend to find things to complain about.

    I also have redlined a couple of neighborhoods that for whatever reason, the people were never good customers. One golf club neighborhood in particular never had anyone who lasted more than a season, and most of my customers are long termers. So rather than try to figure out why, I eventually just decided to stop working there.
  10. Tony Harrell

    Tony Harrell LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 739

    Bruce, I can tell you're for real with that last post. I've noticed the same issues with people on my former pest control job. The difference between me and my former employer is, he's a lowballer and tries to make everyone happy therefore he needs every account he has. I, on the other hand realize that I can't make everyone happy and am willing to hear a few "NOs" to get the prices I want. Doing it my way, I can make about twice per account that he was and work less accounts. By the way, I lived in Tampa several years ago (not as LCO) and the best recollection I have is the winter months at worst were every 2-3 weeks. I grew up in St. Pete in the 70's and moved away for several years. They were talking then about water restrictions. During 1990 the restrictions were very real. Bahia grass is what I had and it would go dormant during drought but green up as soon as it rained. You could almost watch it green up. I didn't want to get caught up in that other thread. Tony

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