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enough mowing, I want to Design!

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by Phishook, Apr 26, 2002.

  1. Phishook

    Phishook LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,143

    ok, I've got the Hort. degree. Started out mowing and doing light maintenance. Now we're ready to do some real work.

    Should I charge $$per hour for the design, or a percentage of the project. I've heard both but not sure witch has more positives.

    Also, what is the best way to get plants. Would a retail nursery give a discount to a private landscaper?
  2. kris

    kris LawnSite Bronze Member
    from nowhere
    Messages: 1,578

    Our designers have a consultation fee if that's all they want, or set prices for front yard, back yard, full or commercial. You will find that everyone does it differant ...some giving rebates if they go with the install etc.

    We will give discounts to other Landscapers at our nursery but you would be better off going to a wholesaler.
  3. Planter

    Planter LawnSite Member
    from Utah
    Messages: 214

    I'm in the same boat as you. I did design for a bit, but it was the least money I made per hour. I guess I was too slow. I liked design, and really like the design/build projects I have done, but putting it all on vellum took a lot of time and brought in very little money.

    Hope things go better for you.

  4. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,776

    It is very difficult to establish yourself as a designer that makes his living solely by design work. The fact of the matter is that most landscape contractors will discuss what a client wants and will give a proposal to do the work for free or for very little money. They get their return by selling materials and services.
    Few homeowners are ready to shell out $800 - $2,500 for a plan. Those that can will only do so if the designer is known to be routinely producing excellent built work. A good plan can not be produced at a profit for less than that (my opinion, but I strongly believe it from experience).
    The only way to get consistent, good, and profitable design work is to be associated with an exclusive market. That is very difficult to attain because most landscapers use the full service business model. The person that is willing to invest in a landscape plan has got to feel (rightly or wrongly) like he is getting something far better than what he feels the average landscaper is going to design and draw. You have got to be with a company that does only very high end design and construction and being a registered landscape architect goes a long way. Basically, they want to buy a brand name. A good designer on his own (LA or not) will struggle without a strong association with a long list of recognized built landscapes.
    The best way to get there is to do design work for a company that has acheived that reputation already. Then, all you have to worry about is doing the design work rather than being distracted by having to do other things to keep food on the table.
  5. steveair

    steveair LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,073

    Well said AGLA,

  6. Phishook

    Phishook LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,143

    That's what I thought AGLA. THanks.

    I'll probably end up doing my drawings for next to nothing to get some instillation jobs.:( :(
  7. LawnLad

    LawnLad LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 738

    There are a number of designers in our area that sell design for the sake of design. Many will work as project managers for the customer.

    We are primarily a maintenance company. However, in my attempt to grow our design/build, my sales pitch to my customers is that I don't sell designs for the sake of design. If we can do an onsite consulation and sketches, this may be all that is required if they are good at visuallizing - this works well for jobs under $10 K. And it will save "you" money! If we have to draw to scale, we will do this (though I try to shy away since I'm not as fast at creating a base plan, etc as I'd like). However, I tell them that I don't design right down to the last detail - since they pay me by the hour, why do they want every little detail on paper anyways.

    I tell them I'll draw 80% of the landscape, or broad brush strokes, and we'll let the details sort themselves out as we go. After all, I have yet to see many residential landscapes go in just as drawn - revisions during the job are always made. Let the perennials and annuals be figured out once the broad brush strokes are completed. We have a concept for them, just not detailed.

    Point of this is to say that you have to choose your market - just like AGLA said. Do you want to design only? If so, then are you going to just draw, or will you assist in the time intensive relationship and project management to see the job through to completion? Perhaps you could sell your services to other landscape contractors - sub contract for them. If you're anywhere near Cleveland - I'm looking for someone. There are plenty of companies that are not large enough to hire a full time designer, or need someone else to back them up when they're slammed. This might then reduce the amount of time you have to meet with customers, and you could simply draw. So many options - you can do whatever you want. Just figure out which market you want to serve so that it meets your personal goals as well.
  8. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,776

    Lawnlad has an excellent approach. To draw to scale is usually unnecessary on smaller jobs. The experience of the installer/designer allows him to visualize the numbers of and types of plants he uses on-site. A quick sketch and a well designed plan is born.
    Carry graph paper with 4 or 8 grids per inch, a scale and tape measure, a circle template, a few felt tip pens of different thicknesses, and some colored pencils and you can really wow a client by whipping out a plan in your pick up. This can easily be done close to scale with the grid paper.
    Don't leave the plan for them to shop or do themselves. Tell them that you need it to price out the job...and that you do not give out free plans.
    This is a great selling tool because it shows them what you discussed and makes sure that you are on the same page. They get a lot of confidence in you. Once they are sold on you, any other 'scapers that were being considered for the job are now at a disadvantage.
  9. steveair

    steveair LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,073


    Deciding how much detail to put into a plan is always a dilemna.

    Being relatively new to design work, I find this to be one of the harder things to figure. I do work for many contractors, all of which are at various skill levels.

    Some contractors are completely happy with a 'concept' plan, and don't need things to be scaled exactly, because they have the know how and experience to interpret the plan. Others, well, they take a plan and look at as a engineered drawing and take everything word for word. If the plant on the plan is 3 feet off the house, then they put it 3 feet off the house.

    This is where problems arise. In order to produce a plan that can be read 'word for word', immense amounts of time need to be spent. The amount of time that no one wants to pay for.

    The idea of just drawing a plan for someone often becomes a matter of drawing the plan and then going out to the job to lay the plan out. I have found this to be a huge problem.

    It is quite easy to produce x amount of plans a week. However, as the plans become more complex, you are then required to spend more time with contractors laying the plans out, and therefor begin to lose valuable office time producing plans.

    Because of this, I have taking the approach of a 'landscape draftsperson' rather than a landscape designer. If you want a plan, fine, here it is. If you want someone to lay it out , then find someone else.

    Countless hours are wasted meeting with contractors, meeting with homeowners, driving all over, etc. etc. Hours that become very hard to bill out, especially on small projects.

    In the end, as projects become larger, the time required becomes larger, leaving you less time to do other work. I find it difficult to handle some of the smaller contractors needs as the larger ones are requiring more and more time......however, on a money basis, it is easier and more profitable to bill out money for small plans and collect it than it is to bill out countless hours associated with one large plan.

    For example you can do 4 small sketches for 200-300 ea in one day, but could also spend all day walking around a property with a contractor laying out plant material....but to tell him he owes you $1200 for that time is just not going to happen.

    A decison has to be made on what direction you want to head in.

  10. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,776


    Very well described. I think that so many of us want to have fun designing and creating, but find that it is difficult to get the fun work.
    I figured that out about 10 years ago when I was taking on anything and everything to keep the wolf from the door. My plan was to build up to higher and higher end clientel. I can tell you that it does not work that way. The high end client wants the high end 'scaper that never goes near those "other jobs". The only time they call on a landscaper that is not on the top is when they want something for nothing.
    I went back to school. got an BSLA degree, worked as a cad drafter for an engineer, took my skills to an LA office, got licensed, went back to the engineers office and did side work as an LA for a high end only landscape design/build that was already established as such. Now I am a full time LA doing nothing but high end with pools, stonework, big plants, and big budgets. It was a long row to hoe, but now I am having a blast and getting paid well.

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