Maybe A Stupid Question?

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by Chisolm Trail Landscape, Dec 7, 2004.

  1. Chisolm Trail Landscape

    Chisolm Trail Landscape LawnSite Member
    Messages: 38

    My wife and I are starting our first landscape business and want to have a nice menu of things to offer our clients! We will be starting with lawn maintenance, then getting our pestiside license. Our question is: Can you make decent money off doing computer aided designs and contracting the work out to people with a construction knowledge, or do we need to know how to design and build ourselves to really make any money off the lanscape part of the business?

    Any advise would be great!
  2. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,776

    By offering design services without construction services you are going to have a few problems. The first is that you have to compete for work with people that will carry the project to completion which is much better from the clients perspective. It is better for the client in two big ways. The first is that they are dealing with one outfit that is designining something that will not be difficult to build and can be tailored to their budget. The second is that a design/build is far more interested in foregoing profit from design services for the greater reward of landing the construction contract (the money is in marking up product and labor, not design).

    A designer that shows up with a portfolio of built work that is similar to what the client is looking for and with the ability to price it and build it is going to beat out a designer that is short on those two things every time.

    If you do get a steady flow of design work, the profit in it is very limited if you do not manage the project. That is where the value is to the client. It is money hard earned, especially if you have to manage contractors. The contractors do not want to be managed by an outside designer because that designer is going to take the contractors ability to manage his contract away from him. That means the schedule will not flow exactly like the contractor wants, the materials may be harder to find or not as easy to get in atimely manner or as good a price as something else. You see where I am going. It is inherently less efficient for the contractor, so he has to add more money to the contract. You are also adding more money to the bottom line if you manage the job. It follows that the cost of the job to the client has to be more than if a design/build took the whole job on. It also follows that a contractor would rather only deal with jobs that he manages on his own rather than managed by you. More than likely, he'll pass on the job.

    The result is that a design/build, or a well established designer that has well solid relationships with subcontractors and a portfolio to prove it, out competes you in design price, time efficiency, total cost efficiency, lack of problems between designer and contractor, experience, and smoothness of flow from design to contruction.

    Look around your area to see if there are successful people that are doing design work and nothing else that are making a living. Most are installing small jobs themselves, are working as subs for established contractors, are part time, or have other income to supplement.

    The successful design only companies are usually very well educated, very experienced in project management, and working on projects that require very serious project management other than that which the contractors are going to do. Very few people make real money on design, it is project management that yields the dough.

    I hope that makes sense. I am a registered landscape architect. I grew up in a landscape family. I had my own company doing maintenance, design, and construction. I have worked for at least 11 landscape companies as a full time employee. I went back to school at 33 to get a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree, worked for LA's, Engineer's, Land Surveyors and landscape contractors in various land planning roles, and got licensed. I know this angle of the business. It is not an easy business.
  3. Chisolm Trail Landscape

    Chisolm Trail Landscape LawnSite Member
    Messages: 38

    Wow, thanks for such an indepth answer! I can tell you do know the business inside and out. We might just stick to landscape maintenance and some plantings then, along with getting our pest license.
  4. cgland

    cgland LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,929

    One avenue you might want to consider is doing professional designs for homeowners who want to do the work themselves, but lack the design knowledge. Do a nice design w/ a materials list and maybe a quote to show how much money they are saving by doing it themselves. There are several LCO's in my area that do this. Just make sure you have the proper knowledge to create a design that is possible to achieve.

  5. kris

    kris LawnSite Bronze Member
    from nowhere
    Messages: 1,578

    Hope you dont mind AGLA I hacked apart you answer to highlight a couple of points I've found to be true.

    A self employed LA that we use gets quite a bit of work from us.

    He also does quite a bit of Commercial design only.

    He is also very educated.

    I wouldnt say he was the best project manager though.

    Does he make serious money? I'm not sure of that. Depends on your definition of serious money.
  6. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,776


    You are making your living with the rest of your business. That would make the design part something that you are not depending on to stay alive. I think CG has a good point, there are DIY people out there that want some design advice. It is not that you can't get any work without building or managing it, but that it is difficult to make a living at doing only that.

    If there is no big investment for you in time or money that could be better spent, it may be something you want to offer.
  7. D Felix

    D Felix LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,898

    I will agree with what AGLA has said about independant designers...

    I've worked with one as an employee of a sub company, and it's kind of a PITA relationship when it comes to the design company managing the project, even for larger projects that run over $100k. I'd hate to think what a mid-sized project ($10-50k) would be like................

    The problems arise when the sub has problems. If the sub can't find plants that meet or exceed the specs, a change order is required. If the manager asks the sub to do something that is out of the scope of the contract, a change order is required. If the sub runs into something completely unexpected (a need for drainage comes immediately to mind for some reason), a change order is needed. Change orders tend to hold up progress, plus for the higher dollar amounts you will then need to go back to the homeowner for approval....

    If you don't mind your P&Q's and cross your t's and dot your i's, you won't be doing it very long. Mainly because you won't be able to get and keep good subs to do the work.

    Good luck with it!


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