Branching Into Hardscaping

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by mcw615, Mar 28, 2010.

  1. mcw615

    mcw615 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 473

    I own a landscape firm, the majority of our work is maintenance contracts, but we as well do landscape design/installs, irrigation, and lighting. I received my ICPI level 1 certification over the winter as well as my NCMA certification. A Allan Block and Belgard manufacturer invited me free of charge to attend their AB certified installer course to try and get me into their products. (I learned more in the AB class than I did in the NCMA, the guy that taught the NCMA was an engineer and admitted he never installed the first block, so it was just an akward class and he just assumed everyone knew all the material instead of actually teaching it.)

    I have never installed a wall or laid the first paver, I know when I start a few jobs it will be rough and will probably be constantly referring back to my literature from class to make sure everything is being done correct.

    My best friend who has been in the mowing only business for 15 years and does great work, he also was partnered with me in my current company when it was young, but only until he got his degree. He currently lives about 50ish miles away and is a high school algebra teacher. He loves mowing grass and is looking for some extra cash so he is starting a small mowing business in his town. He only wants to cut grass and doesn't want to do anything else, he starting passing out a lot of cards yesterday in his town in these mid-high end residentials and people have asked him about landscaping etc. he told them he is only cutting grass on the side but gives them the quick run down of my background and gives them a high recommendation to call me. He has given me 3 prospect good jobs in just one day of passing out cards for himself. 2 are landscape projects and 1 request for a wall.

    I am looking for advice on how to start/branch off into the hardscape industry without low-balling, I know the first few jobs the planned profit will get dried up from getting in the hang of things. I have been applauded by other guys for starting off right by getting the certification and correct education, I have just been nervous on marketing that we do walls and pavers and that I might miss something on a job for being new, screw it up, and our companies name and reputation for all of our services is screwed up for messing up a job.

    I don't know... just any advice for me on anything for starting or in the hardscape industry would be appreciated
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2010
  2. zedosix

    zedosix LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,665

    Looks like you're going to have to the guinea pig or a few close friends long before you start advertising "hardscapes". Once you get the hang of it maybe you could just start with real basic jobs first, take your time this isn't something you learn from a book. All the theory in the world won't do you a damn bit of good until you actually get your hands dirty first.
  3. Steiner

    Steiner LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 409

    1. My advice would be to start smaller jobs like walkways first (no vehicular traffic). Do not try a driveway, large patio, or raised patio. There is quite a learning curve to this type of work.

    2. Beware of critical walls that retain a huge mass of soil and have water issues. Garden walls under 4' are a great place to start.

    3. Be honest with people. Tell them you are certified but your experience is limited, and give them a 10% discount. Look for understanding customers who realize you might be slower but want to do a quality job. Some people are willing to wait for quality. These people turn into your favorite advertisers in my case, because "they were with you in the beginning."

    4. Get good compaction! Rent the recommended compactor for your soils and use it!

    5. Stay away from stairs for awhile. They are more complex and are basically mini, raised patios which bring up all kinds of new issues.

    6. Use the best materials at first that are easy to work with. Stay away from big box store brick or really complex designs like flagstone imitation products. I like belgard products like dublin cobble modular since the laying time, and bond lines are short, and they still have a desirable look.

    7. Use geotextile always and forever. Its cheap insurance.

    8. Focus on your staging, timing of materials, and site setup. More time is wasted early on from not thinking about where to place materials and how to efficiently move it to where its needed.

    9. Build a solid contract first. You will need clauses for overdig, hidden objects in the soil, acts of god, weather delays, efflorescence, etc.

    10. Price by the job only and realize you may miss your mark quite a few times the first year or two. Mowing is a far cry from landscape construction. Try to sit down and plan out every move or action: excavate, haul, compact, fabric, base, compact,screed, measure, install sand, screed, carry brick, lay brick, cut brick, sweep, compact, sand, wet, clean up, reseed, plantings, etc. Remember 1 hour of planning in the office chair saves 8 hours lost in the field.

  4. mcw615

    mcw615 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 473

    Thank you - Yes I was planning on starting very small, and letting those interested know I have the education and certification, however relatively new to the hardscape industry itself and may take a little longer then usual to have the job completed with quality. I have done a few mock bids, I can estimate materials and will get better at it as I go along and get more experience with jobs, but labor is a HUGE ? mark, and relatively 50% of the cost so I guess the first 3 or 4 simple jobs I do I will loose money or break even, until I get better at estimating, but guess that should be looked at as an investment and not discouragement. That is the other thing with the contract, I don't have the trial and error to save my butt with clauses for the unforseen occurrences that will require a change order for more materials, equipment, or labor that will need to then be dealt with before the project can move any further.

    And that is what ICPI couldn't emphasize enough, bid the project, not the sf.
  5. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,623

    Hardscaping also requires knowledge in general construction (carpentry, structural, etc). I was doing an estimate 2 weeks ago, the lady ywanted something done a certain way, I studied it and said "well it's doing this so we can do this and this". She replied "oh wow are you an engineer?" I replied "nope, I've been doing this a long time......."

    So keep in mind there is more to it than screeding sand, sawing pavers, and seeding :)

  6. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,623

    I'm not even so sure I would mention "certification". That certification isn't doing anything for the home owner, isn't not insuring that you won't grade the pavement the wrong way and flood their basement.

    14 years ago we got into paver installation. Didn't have a clue what we were doing. No ICPI, no this, no that. What made it a success is that I employed a friend that worked in the excavating field and had knowledge of grading and al that stuff. I also employed a guy that is very intelligent, organized, and loves a challange. So between the 3 of us we were able to build problem free pavements.


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