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My view on the industry/frustrated with local industry

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by D Felix, May 11, 2004.

  1. D Felix

    D Felix LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,898

    I'm not sure where I'm headed with this, but bear with me and we'll all see where I end up!

    I may not be that old (I'm 25), but I've seen a lot in this industry over the last 10 years or so that I have been involved in it. Since I got out of Purdue in '01, I've been employed full-time with two different landscape firms. The company I currently work for is in a small, small market. Our county population is roughly 35,000, so we end up going to a couple of other counties for work.

    Over the last 1 ½ years that I have worked for my current employer, I have been more involved with the day-to-day operations of the business than I ever had been at previous employers. Since we are a small company (3 people, husband, wife, and I am the only full-timer), this is not surprising. Between the three of us, we have 14 years of college education, and well over 30 years of combined experience in various aspects of the industry.

    We have little "true" competition in our home county/area. There is one other company that we even come close to considering as competition, however, even that is sometimes a stretch. We just focus on different things than he does. The problem is everyone else who seem to think they can make a quick buck in this business.

    Our local papers obviously run ads, and we have been noticing the increasing number of new ads placed by so-called "landscapers". Some of them we have seen their work, others we haven't. They all have a list of services (I'll get back to this in a minute), including; mowing, tree removal, backhoe work, dump truck services, driveways, seeding, odd jobs (ODD JOBS??!!!?? what legitimate landscape business advertises that???), stump grinding, the list goes on and on. The ones we have seen, we wonder how they think they are legitimate, or at least can be perceived as such. How professional are magnetic signs? Around here (maybe not in larger markets for various reasons), they should scream "here today, gone tomorrow".

    It seems like we have an over-abundance of what I would call 'fly-by-night' companies. In our home area, we may have a smaller percentage of these 'fly-by-nighters' than in larger towns, however, since our home area is smaller, we tend to see more of them than you would in a larger market.

    It's not that I'm worried about competition from these folks. At least not much. What I am more worried about is what they are doing for the industry, or, rather, what they are not doing. I am afraid that Joe Schmoe will go visit Mrs. Jones and will tell her that landscape fabric under mulch is the right thing to do. Or that she should have her trees topped. Or that yews will do fine next to the downspout drain, etc., etc., etc.

    Yes, I do worry somewhat about competition from these Schmoes. More because these fly-by-nighters will take away clients that could otherwise be educated about the proper ways of landscaping. I'm worried that they will leave such a bad taste in these clients' mouths that they will forever be soured by landscapers in general. If it's price that the clients look at more than quality for the price, then we probably don't want to deal with them anyway. They would probably be a waste of our time. We can't come down on our prices. We won't.

    Back to the fly-by-nighters. I mentioned listing services offered earlier. Why do people feel that it is necessary to do that? When we advertise in print (which isn't often), we advertise "Landscape Maintenance, Design and Installation". Doesn't that say it all? And why do they need to offer "FREE ESTIMATES"?? Yes, we give free estimates too. On maintenance. And installs too, but they have to pay for the design to estimate from!

    I guess what I am getting at is the industry needs to be held to a higher standard. Anyone with a pickup and a credit card can call themselves a landscaper. Granted there have been many successful businesses started that way. There have been many, many more that have failed. While I see nothing wrong with self-starters, part of me wishes for some sort of nationally recognized certification program for the industry. Oh, sure, you have ALCA's certifications, but how many clients know what they entail? *I* don't know what they entail for sure, so how can clients know???? Mechanics are held to the ASAE standard, why can't we hold ourselves to a standard? The standard wouldn't have to be an extremely hard test to pass, just a basic skills/knowledge test. Stuff that should be easily picked up in a season or two working in the industry. Indiana has an "Accredited Plantsmen" program through the state association that would be a good starting point. It's a basic test, one with any sort of background in the industry should be able to pass.

    Anyone have any thoughts on this? Maybe I'm just too frustrated with the way things are locally. I see WAY too much red mulch on a daily basis. And incorrect pruning, mulching, planting, etc. While I realize we are not perfect, we do a H*LL of a lot better job than anyone else around here. Anyone else in a similar situation?

  2. The Good Earth

    The Good Earth LawnSite Member
    Messages: 171


    I think that we are all in the same boat. As the economy goes in the tank it will only get worse. Take the average Joe who pulls 30-40k per year. He has a wife, couple kids, and a mortgage. Over the past 3 years lets say he has picked up 7.5% in payroll increases. More than likely he has lost 3-4% in overall income because of benefits price increases, fuel increases, things along those lines. He is trying to stretch a dollar. One day he walks out in the garage and his eyes fall on the old lawn boy mower. Next thing you know he is mowing for a couple of folks. He has extra income all of a sudden. And as he gets a little bit more brave he takes on more jobs. All of a sudden he is a member of the green community. And he finds this site. The nice guys that we are, we give him the keys that we had to bust our humps to earn. The manufacturers and distributors love this guy. He is going to buy new stuff. Never mind the fact that he is in direct competition with companies that drop a load with these same manufacturers.

    You can't blame the guy. He has to feed his clan. Can't blame the manufacturers and distributors. They have a bottom line to protect. You can't blame anyone. This is the nature of business. Competition needs to be welcomed. It keeps us sharp. At the end of the day when you look at the job you are on you will know where the quality is. So will potential customers.

    This may sound arrogant but it is what I believe. I know that I can do more with less. Less help, less equipment, less overhead. The reason I can do this is because I am smarter than the average joe. The new companies can't possibly think that they are going to put a dent in my business. They can't hold my jock on the sidelines. What is going to happen when they get in the game?

    As a businessperson you have to think that way. It is the only way to be successful. If you don't believe in yourself nobody else is going to, either.

    As far as regulation, I don't think it would help a thing. And, as I mentioned before, the new competition only helps us. The cream rises to the top. Always will.
  3. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,776

    Most of us look at the services that we offer as being the right level of service, professionalism, and pricing. We know what the consumer needs and are able to deliver the goods.

    But, if you really look at it objectively, you will see that there are as many consumers that want (and in some cases need) a lower skilled, lower priced, and less experienced guy as there are guys making a living providing that service.

    No matter what level you are at there are those more educated, more professional, and more experienced than you. What would you think if they were the ones setting the standard for who can and who can not do this work and they set that bar above your level? Would you believe that you need to get out because you are not good enough?

    We all have to realize that this is a very very diverse industry by virtue of what consumers want. There are old ladies on fixed incomes that can't push a mower that need that guy with the Murray lawn mower in the back of his rusted out Subaru Brat (it was El Caminos back when I thought as you do). You are not going to mow her lawn for $10, but he will. Then there is the new resort going in that needs a gunite pool, fieldstone retaining walls, 3,000 SF of wet laid stone flagging, and 700 trees and shrubs to be worked around all of the other sub contractors, weather, and by a fixed completion date. That takes a big company in a whole other league.

    The worst thing that could happen would be for this industry to be standardized.

    I know more landscapers that started with no education and some basic mowing experience than those that have formal education. It should be up to the consumer to decide who tey should hire. There are several certification programs that landscapers can take and use as credentials. I think that is great, but why should I, as a consumer, HAVE TO pay for that just to get a pile of mulch spread or some plants popped in?

    Just what is proper experience? Technically, you can get no experience with machinery until you are 18 (OSHA - its the law). When you do get to work, who is training you? Will the standard accept work under a couple that does landscaping? Or, will it mean only work done under certified people counts?

    Good Earth nailed it. Keep sharp, understand your market, and deliver the goods. If you are getting beat at that game it is because you are not meeting the needs of the consumer as well as those other guys.

    There is no question that there are a lot of hacks out there, but always remember that the bottom feeders keep you from having to clean the bottom of the tank.
  4. meets1

    meets1 LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,855

    Great advice AGLA. I totally agree. Everyone can mow, place mulch, go to homedepot and buy a 50 pd bag of river rock.

    It is our professionalism that shines thru. We market, advertise, promote our compnay, our town, our area. Give a little, take a litte.

    Yes, it is fustrating to see these guys come in, degrade our industry to a point and then we feel we have to pick up the slacka bit and show off to a degree. That is fine!

    All things aside though, business is business. I own my business. I keep low overhead but things are paid for, we operate a wide range of services but I am constantly running numbers where we are meeting and exceeding our expectations and then re-evaluting our so-so services and accounts with accords to our numbers. I sometimes feel a bit over worked for all the extra time I put into the business but in the long / short term, I am seeing results.

    I guess I feel there is always going to be someone out there to do your job. I just make sure that I up the ante high that the others won't even try to compete on my level. I am not saying that no one could replace me or the crew in what we do or am I trying to be arragant about the subject but I do watch these new guys come and go. Be it with the old murray mower or someone who bought a used scag with 5,000 hours on it calling himself ligit cuz he a commercial mower.

    Stay the course, focus on your core business and do what you have been doing and watch your areas of growth and maybe the possible expandion into a new niche market.
  5. Ice_Gargoylle

    Ice_Gargoylle LawnSite Member
    from indiana
    Messages: 60

    these other guys will shoot themselves int he foot sometim. what grows and keeps business? accountabilty, responsiblity, honesty. those three things. it all pretains to word of mouth. thats how most of us get work. i am 31 and i cant tell you how much this is true. you need something down, you ask your friends who is best. when you do one house you may have 6 others in the next couple years. do the math.

    here in indy, we got under cut on a 90k job. 4 companies came in in that range and the other came in at 45k. do you think he's gonna get fired? one company undercut us by 20k and got fired right after the contract was signed. thye cut corners on the estimate, so the snow contrator walked off the job=fired.

    as the business gets older, everyone will know you and your work.
  6. D Felix

    D Felix LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,898

    What everyone has said so far has crossed my mind at some point, believe it or not.

    Believe me, I don't think regulation is THE answer. I know some states have regulatory boards that govern all of the green industry businesses, and from what I understand about them (which really isn't much), they sound like a major PITA. Though, there are times when I wish for a test of some sort to ensure that everyone at least knew SOMETHING!

    My original post was not meant to advocate kicking people out of the industry, or even to promote some sort of knowledge test. It really came out of frustration from seeing how the other "companies" around here operate and the kind of work they do. I have worked in a couple of other markets here in the state (NW Indy and Lafayette areas, for those that are familiar with IN), and there were still hacks around, but because those were much larger markets they were not as noticable.

    I'm not the owner of the business that I work for, but I do see a LOT of what happens from day-to-day. We know what we need to gross on a daily basis to be profitable. We know what our overhead is. We charge accordingly. A year ago, we didn't know these things. The company is relatively new, about 5 years old. Even though we are not perfect, we are still the best around. A $10k job here is not unheard of, but they are not everyday occurances either.

    Anyway, thanks for re-inforcing what I'd already thought about guys! This got a little more discussion than I thought it would, so thanks again!

  7. stumpking

    stumpking LawnSite Member
    Messages: 12

    From an 'outsider' who had been kicking around the idea of starting up just doing cutting.

    You will survive through quality and emphasizing to the customer your experience level and by demonstrating your quality of service. Let the customers who don't care or aren't interested go to the $25 cut guys with the hoarde of illegals and no insurance. The ones who will listen to you are the ones to cultivate as your customer base.

    The economy isn't the greatest and in my situation the hostility level in the corporate world is seriously beyond belief. These two factors will drive a lot of people into their own businesses and 'landscaping' is a pretty obvious choice to consider. On the surface it sure seems 'easy'.

    Coming from a decent corporate income, the equipment investment really isn't that bad compared to a lot of other businesses, so you'll have people who know essentially nothing riding around on shiny new top-end Dixie Choppers because they saw them on cable recently. The price of entry is relatively low for people transitioning, yet another reason people head into this line of work.

    Here's what will save you and why I haven't gone ahead myself. The truth of it is for me is that I'm so out of shape that even a powerful mower that I'm essentially walking behind will wear me out. It's bad enough, that I'll miss spots just doing an acre from sheer heat exhaustion. This translates to not being able to even cut a straight stripe, let alone have any true quality. The lack of experience will show.

    When you get into the real work, what I can see from reading here now as the most profitable part, it's even worse. For a laugh for you guys, I just finished putting in two pallet loads of stacking stone to setup about an 8" stack wall border over maybe 150'. You really need to see what my hands look like today, and I can't even tell you how my back feels. The wall actually came out really nicely, but today I'm shot and woke up thinking what it would be like to have to go mow 10 properties, trim them, clean up, the usual I'd have to do this morning if this was my livelihood. I couldn't do it. Maybe after a full season I might, but I'm not so sure I wouldn't need hospitalization by that point.

    If I had customers I was doing the heavier design work for, I'd be making a mess for sure. I think that people ultimately will know the difference and you just need to weather the storm.

    I was talking to a friend that has a business and he basically has to turn people away because there aren't enough hours in the day to add anymore. He's strictly word of mouth referrals and refuses to advertise as he's found over the years that is where you get the people nickel and diming you and trying to juggle several services between non-payment. All of his quality accounts, commercial properties mostly, came from word of mouth referrals. That only happens from demonstrating your quality to the customer, enough that they will actually talk about what you do with other people.

    I still maintain that your average customer has no idea there is much beyond gassing a mower that is required to be a good service. Be sure to talk about the details with your customers, you don't have to overwhelm them, but make it clear that you have the knowledge of soil types, grass types, things like that. It's important, and it will stand you out in the crowd of guys with Craftsman mowers on a sheet of plywood trailer where their boat used to be.
  8. D Felix

    D Felix LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,898

    Another thing I see the "new" companies doing (I alluded to it briefly before), is they are trying to do too much, instead of focusing on what they may be good at.

    We don't mow. Plain and simple. There is simply too much competition in this county to mow. Dixie Chopper is headquartered here, and everybody and thier brother knows someone who can get them a discount on a new DC. Well, everybody but me, that is! I know a couple of the Evans', but not well enough.:D

    What we do is strictly landscape work. Design, installation and maintenance. We do that well, and have no desire to mow, or even push snow. Or sell firewood as some do.:rolleyes:

    We do very little mass advertising as well. I do agree that those people responding to ads are more often than not looking for price rather than quality. But there are those that don't fit that description that respond to advertisements too.

    Probably the best advertising we have done is letters sent directly to those who make the decisions. If it hadn't been for one fax, we never would have been able to put in a bid for over $900k earlier this year (on one job). We weren't successfull bidders, but we are now on more lists.........

  9. hosejockey2002

    hosejockey2002 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,195

    This whole industry is driven by the consumer. You have the consumer with the million dollar home who has a six figure landscaping budget and will spend top dollar to get the very best. If I pulled up in my older truck with magnetic signs they probably wouldn't be very impressed, and would want to go with a large company with a large ad in the yellow pages and shiny new equipment. There's nothing wrong with that, that is the niche of that company. On the other hand, there is the consumer who wants is done as cheap as possible, and they don't care who does it, as long as it's cheap. These are the consumers who call me after I do a bid to tell me that some other guy beat me by $150 on an $900 job, and will I beat his bid. I tell them no, my price is my price, and I am licensed, insured and bonded and I have expenses to meet. The other guy may not be, but the consumer doesn't care, they just want it done cheap.
    I guess my opinion is, in this business be as big or small as you want to be. Just only do the work that you are licensed, insured and qualified to do. Don't bite off more than you can chew. If someone asks me about irrigation, I tell them that I don't do it and refer them to a guy whom I know does a good job at it. If you make a mistake, you fix it. If a customer calls you with a legitimate problem or complaint, make it right. When I bid a job, I figure out how much it will cost me, how long it will take me, and how much I want to make on the job, and go from there. If I end up cheaper, that's great. If someone beats me, that's the way it goes.
  10. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Messages: 2,116

    As far a regulating the industry, I don't think that's going to happen. ALCA is probably one of the best known organizations and I'd say 99% of consumers have never heard of it.

    When you drop off your car for auto repair, do you ask if the mechanic that will be doing the labor is ASAE certified? I never have.

    I think we all knew the barrier to entry in this business was probably as low as it could possibly be. When you study any really profitable large corporation, the reason for their success isn't only that they are good at what they do. I've spoken with dozens of dissatisfied Sprint PCS customers, and as their customer, I wouldn't say they are at all good at what they do. But they are in business today and will probably be in business 20 years from now because they have a "moat" or barrier to entry. Only so many licenses for wireless service have been issued by the FCC. That's one moat. The other moat is that it costs BILLIONS of dollars to build a network that could compete with Sprint PCS. That's the other form of moat. The last type of moat is brand recognition. That's Coca-Cola's & McDonald's moat.

    We have no moat in this business at all. There's no licensing requirement (at least in Texas), unless you're doing irrigation work or pesticide applications. And even with that, there's absolutely no enforcement, so a ton of the competition for those two products is unlicensed anyway. Until you've been in business for years (probably decades), there is no brand awareness moat. And the capital costs to enter the landscaping field, especially mowing, are probably the lowest of any industry.

    But I think we all knew that when we started our businesses.

    I guess what I'm saying is, it sucks that we have to compete with people who are throwing out prices that we know can't make any money. But we have to compete with them. There's no getting around it.

    My only wish is that the govermental bodies would start actually enforcing the laws. Pesticide and irrigation licenses (TDA). Overtime abuse (Dept of Labor). Sales tax (State Comptroller). Unemployment taxes (Workforce Commission). If a competitor is avoiding these regulated costs, and I'd guess 95% are dodging at least one, they have a tremendous advantage over a legitimate business who is following the rules. If the government would enforce the laws, I don't think we'd have to deal with as much of the "this is so low, it doesn't even make sense" types of prices we are up against from competitors.

    DFW Area Landscaper

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