The commercial real estate industry, including apartments, office buildings, industrial complexes and retail spaces, took a hit after the residential housing bust. And, when it did, it surpassed residential real estate as the worst-performing property class in 2009.
Now, the construction sector is playing catch-up. Multifamily building has nearly doubled from its low, and office construction is up nearly 55 percent from the trough. Cranes and scaffolding are filling many an area’s skyline.
Now that commercial real estate is on more solid footing, it’s time to make a few predictions. Here are what some key players in the commercial real estate industry are saying as they look into their crystal balls showing the commercial space roughly 25 years from now:
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2015 and has been updated.
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One of the first parks built as part of Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, Canal Park presents a model of sustainability, a social gathering place and an economic trigger for the surrounding neighborhood.
Located on 3 acres of a former parking lot for district school buses, this three-block-long park is sited along the historic former Washington Canal system.
Inspired by the site’s waterfront heritage, the design created by OLIN, a landscape architecture, urban design and planning firm, evokes the history of the space with a linear rain garden and three pavilions reminiscent of floating barges that were once common in the canal. The rain garden functions as an integrated stormwater system that is estimated to save the city 1.5 million gallons of potable water per year. Stormwater is captured, treated on-site, and re-used for irrigation, building use and interactive fountains.
Collaborating with OLIN, STUDIOS Architecture designed a 9,000-square foot pavilion to host a café and dining area, as well as utilities that support the park and ice rink. Twenty-eight geothermal wells beneath the ice rink provide efficient energy supply for utilities. A second pavilion serves as a stage in the middle of the park, while a third offers storage for park amenities. Each city block features a David Hess sculpture.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2015 and has been updated.
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It may be the salesperson’s job to close deals, but it’s the responsibility of your entire team to grow the business. Successful green industry companies know that bringing in new contracts and increasing the value of existing accounts takes more than a compelling presentation and a clever closing technique. It takes effort from the entire team.
Even with a sales superstar, there are limits. There’s only so much time in a day, and an individual can only do so much. Instead of relying solely on your salespeople, empower your production team to source quality leads. This will help your sales team prioritize opportunities and spend time working those most likely to close.
Over my past couple decades in the green industry, I’ve seen this happen. In fact, I’ve been on all sides of this, from production to selling to administering an initiative for such a collaborative effort. Internal lead programs are, in my opinion, one of the most underutilized and most effective ways to grow your green industry business with a great return on investment.
Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Customers ignore and don’t even notice problems on their properties. They could be doing the limbo under a low-hanging tree branch for two months and not think twice about calling someone to prune their trees or expand their mulch beds. Those low-hanging branches are low-hanging fruit to grow your business. All your production team has to do is start a conversation with your customer.
If you’d like to empower your team to grow your business, or if you have an under-performing, existing lead program, here are some tips on how to make it happen.
Set SMART goals
Just “growing your business” or “getting more leads” isn’t a SMART goal. A meaningful goal is (S) Specific, (M) Measurable, (A) Attainable, (R) Results-oriented and (T) Time-bound. When you sit down to develop your lead program, create written SMART goals to hold the initiative and participants to.
For instance, a SMART goal would be: Have 10 plant health care technicians each generate 20 qualified tree pruning leads from March through November of this year, which results in 180 estimates totaling $126,00, and resulting in $70,000 of closed, new business this fiscal year.
Develop a compelling incentive
Make it worth their while or they won’t participate. Trying to meet a goal of generating leads and having conversations with strangers doesn’t come naturally to most production workers. This is especially true if you are stingy with what they get out of the deal. It has to be enough of an incentive to coax them out of their comfort zone.
How much should you offer? How about a minimum of $10 to $20 for a lead that qualifies by turning into a proposal and a little something on the back end if it sells, too? Think about how many dollars it normally costs you to get a new client through traditional marketing and cough-up a worthwhile reward. Show them their short-term and long-term earning potential.
Most importantly, have the incentive focus on starting the sales process, not completing it. Let’s face it – your crew leader would be in sales if he loved to close deals. Just incentivize your production team to create opportunities and get back to their primary work duties. That will keep them from being so intimidated by the process.
Train for success
Conducting role-playing games at a company-wide or departmental meeting may seem cheesy and imposing but it works. People need a constructive and safe environment to get comfortable with learning how to start conversations with prospects and clients.
Make it fun and positive. Give participants a small gift card or item to thank them for stepping up for role-playing. See that everyone gets a chance throughout the year to practice in front of the group.
Promote and celebrate. Don’t allow the lead program to become an afterthought or it will fail. Deliberately work it into regular meeting formats and publicly recognize success. Hand out cold, hard cash, and let the rest of the team know just how much they could make if they chipped in, too.
Create a team reward like a party or outing if you achieve certain milestones as a team. Or you could even allow certain participants to partake if they achieve a certain level of involvement in the lead program.
Treat leads like golden opportunities
Nothing will take the wind out of someone’s sails quicker than when they find out the follow-up on their hot lead was met with cold indifference. Make sure someone from your office calls the prospect or customer within a couple of hours and keeps reaching out several times upon no contact. Be sure your sales team also enthusiastically meets the challenge by doing their best to get a timely estimate delivered and continuing to follow up through the process.
Develop a detailed reporting and feedback system
Anyone, at any time, should be able to check in on not just the collective efforts, but the status of a lead, see contact attempts and evaluate the outcome of individual opportunities. Let your production team members know how their leads are performing, closing and what improvement possibilities exist.
See that feedback is frequent and valuable for your team. This will help them to understand that you are taking their contribution seriously and could even inspire some friendly competition among their peers.
Fine-tune your program
Creating a lead program for your production team will reveal some missteps from time to time. You won’t get it designed perfectly from the onset. You’ll realize there needs to be some level of exceptions and fine print. Have your team understand right from the beginning that changes will be made as your company tweaks the program to be fair and profitable for all parties involved.
The ultimate benefits
In addition to creating an initiative that will help your company grow, you are ultimately investing in people. Your team will become more connected to the vision of your company. They will appreciate how they are rewarded both monetarily and with recognition for being a team player.
And, equally as important, your clients will be better served and their loyalty will be impacted. Creating a proactive team that identifies problems and solutions on your clients’ properties will position your team and your company as one that truly cares enough to take a few minutes to look up from their own responsibilities and recognize the bigger picture.
The lead program isn’t just about leading to more business. It’s about leading to deeper, long-lasting relationships for everyone involved.
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Going through the 2007 downturn taught Chris Lee, president of Earthworks in Lillian, Texas, to be a whole lot more nimble and flexible with his business. He says that’s a lesson in business that he’s still employing today and it has had a residual effect on his employees, as well. Now, when changes are happening, everyone is a lot more confident and trusting after having made it through the worst of times.
When the economy began to shift in 2007, Lee says the company had just made a very strong push into new construction. They had previously been around 80 percent maintenance work and 20 percent construction but were looking to make those numbers closer to 50/50. In that effort, they had hired new salespeople and even built up a new construction division. They were well down that road (with construction work around 45 percent) when all of the red flags started popping up that trouble was ahead.
Lee says that they’d go from being amongst two or three other bidders on a job to one of 15 — then one of 25. Things just kept getting worse. While other companies around them were gritting their teeth and hanging on for the worst, Lee decided to make change back toward maintenance. It wasn’t an easy decision having invested so heavily in construction — but Lee says that’s where being adaptable comes into play.
“By early 2008 we were back to about 90 percent maintenance work and during that time never laid off a single employee or cut back anyone’s hours or pay,” Lee says. “It was all possible because of the willingness to be nimble. It’s easy to get stuck on what you do — or what you invested in doing — but you also have to be willing to change.”
Lee says he watched some of the companies around him take hard hits or even go out of business because of their unwillingness to adapt to the climate. They kept pushing for construction work — and it just wasn’t there. Lee says that Earthworks’ adaptability to the situation has been a lesson that’s continued to serve them well.
“We have a good core of senior managers who went through that time with us and I honestly think it gave them a lot of faith in our ability to adapt to change,” Lee says. “It has taught me — and them — a lesson that change isn’t always bad. That’s made changes that have since come up, easier.”
With employees trusting Lee’s leadership through the worst of times, it’s made them stronger as a company. And with Lee also keeping everyone employed, despite the tough times, his people have also become more trusting and committed. While it was a “scary time,” Lee admits, he says that a lot of good has also come from it. He adds that learning from difficult times is what it takes for a company to truly grow.
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Want to keep up with the latest news in lawn care and landscaping? Check back every Thursday for a quick recap of recent happenings in the green industry.
National Honey Bee Day Approaches, August 19
Sponsored by the Bayer Bee Care Program, the $500,000 Feed a Bee initiative launched earlier this year with the goal to facilitate forage plantings or enhancements in every state by the end of 2018. More than 100 organizations have applied for funding to date, including wildlife agencies, nonprofit organizations, schools and universities, homeowners’ associations and more, illustrating the growing interest in pollinator health in the U.S. The three locations participating in National Honey Bee Day are part of the 58 projects that were awarded in the first round of funding alone.
Hunter Industries Announces Executive Promotions
Penn State Picks Jon Johnson to Direct Pesticide Education
Tal Coley to Head Government Affairs for AmericanHort
Former Senator Kelly Ayotte Joins Caterpillar Board
EAB Spreads on Colorado Front Range
Wedgworth’s Inc. Named as the Exclusive Distributor in Florida for Amp Agronomy
Arborjet Announces New National Sales Manager for Retail and Indoor Growing Markets
Durante Rentals Listed on the 2017 Inc. 5000
VOLT Products Win PIA 2017 Award
General Equipment Appoints New Vice President of Sales
Read last week’s industry news roundup: RYAN Turf To Launch National Aerate Your Lawn Day
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Understanding the value of your business is a key component of the exit planning process because it defines the business that you will be exiting at some point. It is the beginning step in determining how to preserve and enhance the value until the planned or unplanned need to transition the ownership of the business.
Few topics are as poorly understood as business valuation. Despite common misperceptions, it is a complex topic that cannot be boiled down to simplistic formulas or rules of thumbs.
One often hears green industry business owners talk in terms of business valuation in terms of multiples of revenue or cash flow. In these scenarios, cash flows may mean several different things:
While it is absolutely true that offers for the purchase of a business, especially a recurring revenue business like lawn care and some lawn maintenance businesses, may be made in the form of a price per dollar of revenue, that offer is actually the result of the buyer’s analysis and evaluation of the cash flow they can expect to generate from the acquisition.
In evaluating the cash flow that a buyer expects to generate from an acquisition, there are many factors to consider, including:
These factors will affect how the buyer evaluates the business and the risk associated with the buyer’s ability to achieve the expected cash flows from the business. The greater the perceived risk, the higher the discount rate or risk factor that seller will use in evaluating the cash flows and the lower the multiple of cash flow it will be willing to pay.
Some illustrations of this concept are as follows:
Some buyers will evaluate the business based solely on how it performs on a stand-alone basis, while others will evaluate it based on how it expects to integrate the acquired operations into its own.
These factors partially account for the wide range of business valuations. In the lawn and landscape industry, the majority of transactions have been somewhere in the range of two to five times cash flow. That is a pretty wide range and some transactions fall outside that range, particularly on the low end. It takes a very strong business to command a multiple at the high end of that range.
Ultimately, the market will value a business for sale. After all, fair market value is defined as “the price at which a property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller when the former is not under any compulsion to buy, and the latter is not under any compulsion to sell, and both parties have reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.”
It is often desirable in the exit planning process, however, to obtain a business valuation or market assessment. The purpose of such a valuation is to estimate how the market will value the business when the time comes to sell. (There are other reasons to obtain a business valuation and the purpose of the valuation is important to communicate to the “valuator.”) Competent business valuations can be prepared by a variety of professionals, including business appraisers and some CPAs and business brokers.
The business valuation process should also help a business owner understand the value drivers of his or her business. In other words, what characteristics of his or her particular business tend to increase the value (or multiple) assigned to the business and what characteristics tend to decrease the value or multiple. Understanding those value drivers will enable the business owner to develop a plan to preserve and increase the value of the business over time.
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As a field manager at Ruppert Landscape, Scott Sindall is responsible for the success of several landscape maintenance projects in the Forestville, Maryland, area, on top of other key tasks like hiring and training his crews, project planning and communication with clients. With his 2016 Ford F-450 Super Duty, Sindall is able to get around the area to oversee projects and transport necessities. Big enough to carry plant material in the truck bed and powerful enough to haul the trailer of equipment (which includes mowers, leaf vacuums, push blowers, two-cycle equipment and a variety of tools), the truck also seats six and features a custom aluminum dump body. Sindall says his branded vehicle serves as one of the branch’s primary marketing tools and that in a well-maintained state it has the power to “speak volumes” about Ruppert’s image and standards. We recently caught up with Sindall to find out more about his vehicle and how it helps him get the job done right.
Communication is so important — when appropriate. I carry my work phone (a Galaxy S7), work tablet (Galaxy Tab A), as well as my personal iPhone 7 Plus in order to communicate with my customers, crew and co-workers. But we have a zero distractions policy, so I only use these when the truck is parked.
I always keep my truck clean inside and out because not only am I representing myself, I’m also representing my branch and the Ruppert company. I also work much better in an organized environment.
Our fleet vehicles are branded and kept to a very high standard. This enhances our image, increases efficiency, helps us maintain employee morale and elevates pride in our company.
Our fleet vehicles are equipped with DriveCam. It records eight seconds prior to and four seconds after an event to determine how and why it may have occurred. An event is any driving irregularity that triggers a recording — it can be anything from sudden braking to hopping a curb or taking a turn too quickly. Events are reviewed daily and drivers are coached on safe and proper driving methods. This helps foster good driving habits and prevent accidents before they happen.
My Day-Timer — It helps me keep track of everything at my different jobsites.
My Galaxy Tablet — I use this to review maps and job details with my crew as well as take pictures and detailed notes for my clients.
Coffee — Getting up early in the morning means coffee is essential. I report to the shop at 5:45 a.m., and my crew and I leave the yard for our first jobsite at 6:05 a.m.
A full water cooler — It’s important to stay hydrated, especially on those hot summer days.
Extra ear plugs, safety glasses, work gloves and rain suits — These always seem to get lost or broken so I always keep extra on hand.
We also keep pink princess sunglasses in the truck for anyone who forgets their own that day! — We like to look out for each other and have an eye for fashion.
My North Face Backpack — I keep my job binder, training manual, tablet and all other necessities in it.
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James Godbold admits the job that won Hill’N Dale Landscaping two awards from the Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association may be the grand finale for this client.
Although the team might still be called in to do what he calls “a few little additions,” he explains that over more than a decade they’d re-landscaped the front and side yards of the property and installed a multi-zone irrigation system before taking on the backyard.
“The backyard has been on ongoing design/build effort because they were doing other things,” Godbold says. “For awhile it got put on the back burner, but we are finally finished.”
And, what a finish it is. While the job includes a flagstone patio, stone walkways and steps and an award-winning lighting system (the other recognition came for construction), the piece de resistance is a massive waterfall with five different outflows that when operating at full strength recycles a full 600 gallons per minute into the property’s existing pond.
In many ways, the waterfall was the project’s driving force. Godbold explains the clients have lived on the 20-plus-acre property for several years and both they and he felt the existing waterfall wasn’t quite right.
The waterfall was also a driving force in sizing the finished design. Godbold explains that the clients have a screened-in porch on one side of the house and a deck on the other side, and they wanted to be able to see it from both locations. They also wanted a dock at the pond from which to enjoy it.
“We basically laid it out with five different falls, and where you sit depends on what you see,” he says. “Now that the plants are growing up, it masks some things, but it gives different perspectives on it.”
After tearing out the old waterfall, his team spent a lot of thought determining the best way to build the new waterfall, which is run by a three-inch pump and a valve system that controls how much water comes out of each of the five pipes at any given time.
“It sounds complicated, but it’s not,” he says. “It took some thought, but it’s a fairly simple system. The big challenge was trying to get the correct number of gallons-per-minute.”
Not surprisingly, both the waterflow and the lighting system are controlled from the house.
All the stone for the job – boulders, stone steps and flagstones – is Ontario limestone. Godbold says some of the boulders in the waterfall are as large as five tons, and one of the biggest challenges he faced with the job was getting the equipment back to build it.
“There was only one way in and that was driving between the pond and the house to get the equipment in,” he says. “We then had to work our way backwards off the site. We really made a roadway, but the logistics were one of the bigger challenges.”
The job also required partially draining the pond – which also provides water for the 15-zone irrigation system – for the placement of additional boulders and lighting. A carpenter who regularly works for the clients built the wooden dock.
Godbold describes himself as a big fan of lighting, which may help explain the lighting award for this project, and the fact that he personally loves to look at the waterfall when it’s lit. The job incorporates three different styles: downlights, up lights and path lights, plus the underwater lights in the pond.
“I wanted it to not look too busy, but also to be safe,” says Godbold. “With the stone steps, we wanted to make sure they could see the step grades for safety purposes at night. You’ll see they’re fairly bright because we wanted to reduce the shadowing of the grade changes.”
He adds that the wrong light in the wrong place can make things harder to see and less safe.
The flagstone patio and walkways are also replacements for what was there. Godbold says the new construction features larger flagstones with butt joints to eliminate as much as possible gaps between the stones.
The plantings for the project are all chosen for the Zone 4 location.
“It’s a mix of about 60 percent shrubs and 40 percent perennials and grasses,” he says. “We like to use a lot of ornamental grasses and a lot of mass plantings. We wanted a mix of spring, summer and fall color, with a bit of winter interest.”
Work on the project extended for more than a calendar year, Godbold says.
“We started in July of one year and finished up in August of the following year,” he says. “But, that’s sort of deceiving because we don’t work from mid-November to mid-April because of the snow and the cold. It really gave us a full season.”
Most of that time, Hill’N Dale had no more than four people at the site simply because of logistical issues. A larger crew completed the plantings.
Along with the lighting, Godbold says he’s quite pleased with the way the entire project came together. And, as with any other job, the team learned a few things.
“Particularly with the waterfall, you learn little tricks along the way so that you know how to do things better the next time,” he says. “These are not cookie-cutter jobs; each one is custom and everything is not installed in the same way.
“When we analyze things after any job, we’re always trying to figure out how to do something better or quicker,” Godbold concludes. “Here, we learned a few new tricks for the water feature installation, and a couple good ideas for the lighting.”
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From the sky, a well-designed landscape can seem almost flat. Sure, you can see the patterns of the pavers, the shapes of the different-colored stones, and the touches of green and color from flowering plants. It’s obvious if a backyard has seating areas and a pool, or a water feature. And of course lighting is visible at night. But overall, the scene is one dimensional.
Thank goodness the bird’s eye view isn’t the way most of us take in a landscaping project, for we would miss a lot.
The elevations, the rises and dips, the high and low points — those are all visible to the naked eye from lower levels. And that three-dimensional aspect that comes alive when walking around a property is exactly the effect landscape designers want when choosing to install walls — not just retaining walls for function, such as erosion control, but seating walls and boundaries to create living areas in a backyard oasis.
Jen Kloter, who is on the design team at Bahler Brothers Inc. based in Connecticut, achieved this goal with the project she designed for the Baltazar property in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. From high above, you can see the different levels of the property. But until you view the expanse at different angles, you don’t see all that Kloter had to contend with.
Kloter says it was obvious from the start that they would need to include retaining walls in the backyard design, and many of the elevations evolved as they were building, as the site was still under construction when they got started. All in all, the walls built on the property totaled more than 2,300 square feet, with the tallest wall being 10 feet tall and about 210 feet long.
“The pool design was a driver for what we ended up working with,” Kloter says. “The pool had revisions also — they moved it and it became bigger. The height of all the walls depended on where the pool was going to end up, so we worked backward from there.”
The project started with the two outer walls that include the playscape — the flat area that provides lawn space for the owners’ children to play. Then they worked around the house counter-clockwise, Kloter says, noting that there’s another retaining wall around the front, and grading and landscaping work was done out front as well.
“The next thing that drove where those walls needed to be was the vanishing edge of the pool and how to transition the patio areas,” she says.
Since the pool and patio were built on fill — the homeowner works in construction, Kloter says, so there was access to fill whenever it was needed — they had to discover where the native grade was and then install the two walls with engineered segmented retaining wall (SRW) with geo-grid behind them. Everything was built to an engineer’s specifications.
Material choices matter
While most material choices were made based on aesthetics for the pool and patio area, the structural integrity of the bottom two retaining walls — because they wouldn’t be seen from the patio — was more important, Kloter says, noting they used Techo-Bloc for the lower two retaining walls. “That is our go-to block for when we’re doing a large wall, especially if it’s not going to be viewed or doesn’t need to be decorative,” Kloter said. “They’re super structural.”
Initially the design called for building the 10-foot wall below the pool, and then installing a fence, per local regulations that call for fencing around pools. However, they didn’t want to risk blocking the view. They discovered they could bury the 10-foot wall so only 4 feet was exposed, then install another 6-foot wall as a safety measure. “No one can climb that and fall into the pool,” she says.
For the other areas of the backyard, the homeowners were keen on using natural stone. Kloter says while she tried to talk them into a concrete product, they wanted the stonework to match what was already there on the house. So Kloter found a stonemason to work with her crew, but Bahler handled all the prep, backfill and quality control.
“In the Northeast, we have a lot of natural stone that we can get, a lot of different looks. A lot is native to our area or nearby, such as Pennsylvania,” she says. “I also lived in Oregon and they have the opposite problem — you couldn’t get SRW blocks, so we had to build everything out of stone. It’s a much different look.
Kloter says it’s important to be aware of the differences between using engineered SRW or natural stone, because the shape and weight can affect installation tremendously.
“Say you’re building a 5-foot-high wall. If it’s out of SRW, it would be a single block wide or deep going up, usually with pins connecting them block to block and probably some geo-grid going some distance into the backfill behind the wall. All of that works together as a system.
“When working with stone, there’s no interlocking, so sometimes there’s slippage,” Kloter continues. “In order for a stone wall to be stable, you have to have really big pieces or the base of your wall needs to be 3 or 4 feet deep — you’re dealing with an incredibly large amount of stone. You can still use geo-grid, can still backfill, but the base of the stone wall is basically a big pyramid, going broad at the bottom.”
As for cost, Kloter estimates that natural stone accounts for 30 to 40 percent more than engineered SRW. On the Massachusetts project, because the Techo-Bloc they used was very basic, the natural stone probably ran more like 40 to 50 percent higher.
Ken Munroe, senior landscape supervisor for Toll Landscape in New Jersey, worked on the backyard of the model home for a new development called The Reserve in Holmdel, New Jersey, with designers Mark Culichia, president of Toll Landscape, and Matt Moonan, vice president, as well as Tony Manganello, landscape supervisor. Munroe says they were tasked with bringing a more West Coast feel to the East Coast.
“Some of the walls are very linear and a different look than we’d typically use in New Jersey,” he says. “We wanted to appeal to a millennial buyer, a city kid, who is used to that kind of look.”
In order to achieve this, the design included a lot of straight lines and dark colors, using Unilock products for the flooring as well as the company’s Lineo dimensional wall for the walls, made of smooth block.
Munroe says the aesthetics dictated the materials used, so it would blend seamlessly with the overall look of the house. Though in the front yard, natural stone was used to match the stone veneer — called Pinnacle Stone — on the house itself.
The younger buyer looks for a sleeker product more so than an older buyer, Munroe says. Someone in his or her 20s and 30s usually wants a more contemporary look compared with other buyers.
Manganello says he thinks there’s a mix to what people go for when it comes to materials. “I think it comes down to personal preference of the homeowner,” he says. “When you show them different homes we’ve done, some like contemporary or the more natural, almost tumbled look that’s been engineered to look old. I haven’t seen anything to show we’re going more engineered over natural stone. Even in older communities, senior communities, there’s a mix.”
Creating living areas
The homeowners of the Massachusetts home Kloter worked on both come from big families. “When family comes over, they needed every speck of space, however I needed to create intimate areas because they are a husband, wife and two children when it’s just them.”
Keeping the uses of the backyard in mind — for entertaining larger groups or when it’s just the home’s usual residents, is important when considering what to include in the landscape design.
“I tried to use the walls and curves of the walls to create little nooks and crannies and still leave some open spaces when more people will be over,” Kloter says.
While she prefers to use concrete products for features such as fire pits, fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and sitting walls, when it comes to water features, Kloter says they will start incorporating natural stone and use boulders, river rocks and gravel — a mix of materials.
Munroe says it’s important to talk to a homeowner about their outdoor lifestyle. “[Find out] what they want to use the outdoor spot for,” he says. “It’s no longer just a spot for a grill.”
Munroe says the design at the Holmdel model home called for walls for a water feature and seating, and to form the base of a pavilion that houses entertaining items such as a pizza oven, refrigeration, a wine cooler and kegerator.
In addition to those elevated surfaces, planting beds were a key part of the aesthetic look they wanted to achieve.
“We’re always looking for ways to break up hardscape with softscape,” Munroe says. “You’ll always find little pockets of flowers, [such as in the] pillars above the water or fire pits. It breaks it up and offers some color.”
Installing raised planting beds along the house is another key design element Toll likes to employ, Manganello says. “We’re always going to try to avoid pavers right up against the house, break up the siding and pavers with plantings,” Munroe added.
Another feature that comes into play when building walls or planting beds is lighting. Munroe estimates that $25,000 to $30,000 of lighting was installed in the model home project to show off different architectural features of the house. Lighting was also included in the pavilion and inside the walls, under every cap and inside the pool. “All of the trees and plant material are highlighted with landscape lighting, too,” he says.
Keeping drainage in mind
While the aesthetics of any type of wall are the fun part of design, the function must also come into play and drive how, where and what is installed.
“We always have to think about drainage,” Kloter says. “Water can be such a huge enemy — especially frozen water and what happens when it thaws. If it’s not installed properly, it will cause all kinds of problems.”
Kloter says Bahler Brothers tries to avoid any future warranty issues by building correctly from the get-go. For example, while standards from the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute say retaining walls need a pipe that exits on either end and every 40 feet, “we take that a step further and we install 3 feet of stone behind the walls, so there’s very little water even getting to the pipe then.”
She also explains that it’s recommended that a heavy compactor not get within 3 feet of the face of the wall, so anytime you have a wall, you’ll likely have soil there, but you can only compact it with a small compactor. Kloter says they try to bring in stone and run a small compactor over it, so it’s compacted well enough when they drop the retaining wall stones into place. Then, once they are past that 3-foot zone, they can run a big compactor over it.
One service that not all landscape design companies get involved with is the future of their installations years down the road. Bahler now has a division that does hardscape cleaning and maintenance. As a business that has been around for 30 years, Kloter says there are a lot of hardscapes in the ground with Bahler’s name on them. Customers are coming back and saying that the installations still look wonderful, they’re just a little grimy and need cleaning up.
“It’s a fairly new division for us,” she says, “but it’s gaining popularity. It’s been really good for us.”
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As your company grows and customer base expands, it might be time to consider investing in software for managing the customer base and your employees. Schedules, services, invoicing and account balances can become less time consuming with the use of business software. This LawnSite member wants to know if there is a point where getting software at your business is so crucial that the investment can’t be put off any longer.
GSO LAWNEN4CER: What’s the magic number of customers before needing software? I’m getting to the point where I can’t keep track of who’s been serviced and who’s up next for service. I have some customers who want their lawn cut on certain days. I need some suggestions.
anrwhr1212: If you know what software is and you have to ask that question, I think you can benefit from software now. We are a husband and wife team. My wife runs the office work, and I handle customer relations and stuff in the field. We decided to go with Service Autopilot last year, and we could not run our business without it now. We recommend it to anyone. It was a game changer for us. We only have 42 accounts right now but some are weekly, some biweekly. It helps when anyone asks for extra work with the next service, keeping track of accounts receivable and so much more. It’s awesome. A business friend who owns a multimillion-dollar-a-year lawn care business once told me no matter how big you are, you need software. Now that we have it, I know it’s true, because it’s never too early to start. If you start now, optimize your time, it will give you plenty more time to focus on growing and customer service. You won’t regret it.
JLSLLC: Sounds like you’re ready for software now or some sort of spreadsheet. Either way, keep us updated. I use a large calendar from Staples on my wall in my office. No real complaints if you keep up with it. There are much better ways than mine. Just a suggestion.
Steve5389: I use Yardbook and I have about 25 customers. One thing I like is that you can set jobs as recurring. Set your jobs as complete each day, and when you click on the customer’s name, it will tell you when their last service was.
Service.com: The honest answer is one customer. It is so much harder to transfer everything over to a system when you think you need it than to just start with one.
13Razorbackfan: I use Microsoft Outlook to schedule, keep a separate ledger for jobs done that day along with the amount and if they paid, and then I keep a separate accounting ledger. It’s kind of old fashioned, but works for me. I then invoice out using a Microsoft Publisher invoice template for the people who I invoice monthly. People who pay cash, I write out a receipt from my receipt book. It might sound like a lot but it takes me 10 minutes to do every day when I get home and maybe 30 minutes to send out invoices at the end of the month.
Darryl G: I just use a day planner for scheduling and QuickBooks for invoicing. It works for my solo operation with 25 to 30 mowing customers and 50 or so overall that I work for in any given year. I did a free 30-day trial a few years ago – I forget which software but it was one of the popular ones. My issue with it was that it seemed like I was spending more time and effort adjusting for weather delays and missing accounts missed of running out of time in a day than it was worth. It has no way of knowing everything I consider when shuffling my schedule. I was left with the feeling that it might be good for someone scheduling crews, but for me it seemed cumbersome and made decisions that I just ignored anyway.
BrandonV: It’s easier to start off with software than to try and add it in later.
Mowingman: You don’t ever “need” software. It is just something most people nowadays “want.” I am kind of old school and do not want much of anything to do with computers or software. During my peak years, I had 160 accounts and was running three crews. I did it all with a few scheduling forms I designed and a pencil. The only thing I used the computer for was to run QuickBooks for doing my invoices. I saved a lot of money by not purchasing computer equipment and expensive software programs.
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Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.