Many lessons learned...the hard way

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by Precision Lawns, Apr 28, 2005.

  1. Precision Lawns

    Precision Lawns LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 283

    Several of you replied to my post below about tree installation. Well, I appreciate the advice and we will DEFINITELY keep it in mind for the future, but here are the many ways we were screwed (and the several ways we screwed ourselves) for this job. This was our first "big" landscaping job, and it has NOT gone our way. Oh, we're doing the job, but we really should have turned it down. We didn't, because we're new and need money and stupidly let ourselves get walked on, but we should have and we know it. So here's what happened:

    Customer calls originally about 2 weeks ago. Says he wants to put in some trees, could we do that? We say sure, and set up a meeting to go out and look at the property. He's a regular mowing customer, by the way. He says he has a pretty good idea of what he wants, like "Crepe Murples." This was our first clue that the guy was going to be a pain, seeing as he made up a tree thinking he sounded knowledgeable. So we go out, bring a bunch of pictures of trees we think will work in his yard. He doesn't like any of them and wants to go pick them out himself at a garden center. He doesn't want our help picking them out. We tell him the name of the garden center we like to use and ask him to call us when he has more of an idea what he wants.

    Calls yesterday and says he's bought 7 trees, and he needs us to install them over the weekend. We ask how much he paid for the trees, he says $1000. "7 trees for $1000?" we ask? Yes - he got the wholesale price because he told them his landscaper would come pick them up and pay for them. Well, thanks for running that by us first, buddy. We already HAD a small landscaping job lined up for over the weekend, but no problem, we can move that up and squeeze him in. He says he doesn't care about the price, just do the work. Judging by the types of trees we know that nursery has, we tell him installation will be $100 per tree, plus $100 for delivery. He says that seems high, he has to talk to his wife. We tell him it's fair, but go ahead and talk to his wife.

    He calls back and says he called a couple other landscaping places and they told him their formula for calculating tree installs (?????) and that they would all charge 1.5x the cost of the materials. Therefore our $1800 total bid is high, he wants to pay $1500. We tell him there's no way we can do it for that, and that the landscaping places we called (who were dumb enough to give out their formula) were probably going off of retail price. Retail for his plants was more like $1300, which means the job should be $1950. He says that's stupid, since he knows how much the plants cost, and he's not paying 1.5x retail price when he knows the wholesale price. He says he will compromise at $1700 (which basically means we're knocking off the delivery charge). We STUPIDLY agreed to this, since we need to buy some equipment and this job will let us do it earlier. We SHOULD have increased the price because of delivery, because of the rush on the job, and because he's a pain. But we didn't.

    I then go to the nursery to arrange the pick up of the trees (and to double check and make sure they are what we thought they were, which they were), and while I'm there I talk to the owner. I want to know how a customer of mine found out the contractor price for the plants. Turns out it was a new guy working who showed him the list. The owner got on the speaker for the entire store (that's right, no private meeting, customers and cashiers and passers-by all heard it) and yells at the employee for giving a contractor's customer the contractor price. That had to teach him a lesson. But it still didn't help us.

    Anyway, we get the trees squared away and I call the guy to ask when I can come out and get him to sign a contract. He LAUGHS at me (guy's a lawyer) and says "oh, you need a contract to do landscaping?" I tell him we're not picking up any plants or doing any work until we've got his signature agreeing to pay us. He says he's going out of town, but he'll sign it the DAY OF the work. I tell him that there's other things in the contract that are his responsibility, like marking the utility lines, and if they're not taken care of, we can't do the work. He says he'll call the utility company and ask them to get it done before the weekend. Apparently he thinks he can get anyone to do anything on a moment's notice.

    So we're going on Sunday, contract in hand, to get this jerk to sign it and hopefully do work that is only partially worth our while.

    Lessons learned from this:
    1. NEVER let a customer talk us down based on what someone "else" does. If they want someone else's price, hire them.
    2. Put in place a Rush Fee on jobs that customers schedule at the last minute.
    3. Never back down on a delivery charge. I bet that wasn't included in the "formula."
    4. Never let a customer know what we pay for materials (granted, it wasn't our fault this time, and now it never will be!)
    5. Sometimes, a job just isn't worth it.
    6. We need to adopt a "my way or the highway" attitude when dealing with customers like this. Not one aspect of this job is going the way we want it to. If a customer wants to be such a control freak, they either need to pay more or take a hike.

    I'm sure there were more lessons learned, but those are off the top of my head. I look forward to the future when it's not our first season and we don't need to keep every customer. Trust me, we don't need to be told we were stupid for letting this guy walk all over us - we know that. Let this more be a lesson learned the hard way by us so that anyone new to this profession doesn't have to go through the same thing.
  2. pjslawncare/landscap

    pjslawncare/landscap LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,410

    Man guy, sorry for all the aggrevation and hard time this PITA put u thru. So did u finally get the job done and payment in hand? After a time or two, youll be able to identify the "red flags" that people try to get by with before it goes past your initial visit. Good luck in the future
  3. pjslawncare/landscap

    pjslawncare/landscap LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,410

    Oh, I see u stated that u will be doing this on Sunday. I would e-mail him your copy of the contract and let him know that u will only do this "rush" job upon signed & returned contract. If not u should go ahead with the regular schedule as originally planned and push him up on the schedule. Thats what I would do
  4. Precision Lawns

    Precision Lawns LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 283

    He says he and his wife will be home Sunday and I have made it very clear (at least, I think I have!) that there will be no work done, trees delivered, etc. until we have a signed contract in our hands.

    If this comes back to bite us, I guess I'll be adding another item to my list... :rolleyes:
  5. snap12.5

    snap12.5 LawnSite Senior Member
    from Ohio
    Messages: 288

    ive been in that situation. customer calls other landscapers for prices and gets quotes that are higher and lower than urs (of course the customer wont tell u about the higher ones).

    why would any landscaper quote anything over the phone - formula or prices.
  6. hole in one lco

    hole in one lco LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,793

    Get a nursery license and buy wholesale not from the garden stores. Iv never gotten more then 20% at the garden stores now i pay a third or less.
  7. Precision Lawns

    Precision Lawns LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 283

    I also can't imagine why any landscaper would give away how they come up with pricing over the phone. Even if they were trying to steal our customer, he would have pulled the same stunt with them, since he knew how much his plants were. He said he called "several landscapers" and wasn't interested in price, just the formula. Either he didn't call several, or he managed to find the stupid ones that were willing to give out that information.
  8. grassmanvt

    grassmanvt LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 906

    Jumping through hoops sucks but if it makes you feel anybetter most everyone has done it. Especially starting out. I know I did and still get roped in to doing things I don't want to do on occaision. It's tough sticking to your guns some times but if you show any weakness or doubt about yourself you become a doormat. One thing that ticks me off is the"you have to do it this weekend" thing. I usually do work weekends, often both days but that should be my option, I find it very arrogant of people to expect that. Let us know how the job goes. Maybe things will go well and you"ll come out on top.
  9. Precision Lawns

    Precision Lawns LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 283

    Thanks for the encouragement grassman. It helps to hear others have been here before. We're already looking at a pretty big sod job for another person and are totally prepared to walk away if they don't like our price. This job's worth more than the tree install anyway, so better to learn the lesson on the smaller job than the big one!

    By the way, drove by the house today and as of 2:00, there's no lines marked. Looks like we may be moving the job back to when it's convenient for us anyway!

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