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Home Shows are a marketing staple for a lot of Landscape/Hardscape firms. Company’s can generate a significant number of leads with the right focus and approach.

Just like any other marketing effort though, they must be wise with their use of budget and resources. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your home show experience:

1. Attract Homeowners With An Attractive Booth And Marketing Material

Your Home Show booth is like a 3D business card. It should give homeowners a visual representation of what your company offers and project a professional image. This includes your pamphlets, brochures or project information. Have them professionally printed.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

2. Don’t Give Price Lists To Your Customers

The homeowners you meet at a home show will default to the price discussion anyway. Why offer them a price list to fuel the fire?

Stay away from talking about price until you have the scope of work well defined. And that includes design fees, even if you charge a flat fee. Save this discussion for your face-to-face with the potential customer.

3. Your Only Mission Is To Set A Meeting

When you start talking to someone who is in the market for a Landscape/Hardscape professional, it’s not hard to go into sales mode.

My advice? Focus on getting an appointment booked and nothing else. Home Shows are like speed dating. Talk to as many people as you can, find out if there is a fit and set time to get together. Save everything else for your “first date”.

4. Find Out Quickly If Your Talking To A Potential Customer

It happens to everyone. You start talking to a couple. They are asking questions about your company and the work you’ve done. They seem nice. And then 25 minutes later you find out that they live in a condo, or they are from Winnipeg and just in town visiting friends.

Ask qualifying questions as soon as possible to eliminate people who will never be your customers. Questions that start with a “W”; who, what, where, when, why. That way, when someone else wanders into your booth while you are talking to the Winnipeggers, you can excuse yourself knowing that you are not abandoning a real prospect.

5. Measure The Success Of The Event

A lot of money and resources go into a successful home show. Determine all of your company’s costs including labor for set up and tear down, materials for the booth (including marketing materials) and any giveaways you sponsored while at the show.

Now, how many projects do you need to sign to make this investment worthwhile? This is the most important part of any marketing budget. Measurement.

Home Show season can be a very stressful time for any contractor so make the most of your events by being prepared and professional. The success of your upcoming season may depend on it

Happy Hardscaping!

Your Customers Are Looking For An Avenue To A Better Price

Your Customers Are Looking For An Avenue To A Better Price

If your business is booming and your price to your customer is a “take it or leave it” proposition, congratulations. You have reached the Mount Everest of the landscape industry.

But for those still climbing that mountain, you need a strategy for when your customers request a price break. So let me be your Sherpa and guide you with a few suggestions:

1. Offer An Earlier Installation

When you provide your customer with your project install date, never use the next available time slot on your project calendar. If you follow this rule, you can bring an earlier date to the bargaining table which can work in place of a discount.

Your customers want to be enjoying that patio, driveway or grill island as early as possible so use that as currency.

2. Offer An Upgrade Or Addition

Some of your customers are trained to ask for a better price. Why not give them a better project! Upgrade the polymeric sand to a premium product or upgrade the lighting to include the pergola. You can also add items such as plantings, a small seating wall bordering the patio, or a fire pit.

By upgrading or adding to the project, the customer gets added value and you get the project price you quoted.

3. Offer To Change The Scope Of The Project

When your customers ask for a lower price, you don’t have to slash your profit to get there. Find out how much you need to lower the project cost and offer to reduce some of the elements of the project. You may find that certain parts of the job are not as important as the final price. Your customers will be happy about how much money they are spending and you get to keep your profit margins intact!

4. Offer Alternatives

Customers may be trying to get a better price because they cannot afford the full project. Suggest they scale the project back by offering a different product that will save them money but offer a similar look. Take out some border work that will save labor dollars or offer to stagger the project over the next 12 months.

Help your customers discover ways to get their dream backyard or driveway without admitting they may be in over their heads.

5. Be Prepared To Walk Away

If nothing else works and the discount your customer is seeking is too steep, thank them for their time and pack up your design and presentation. Some contractors will actually use this as a closing tool since it forces the customer to make decision.

If they do let you walk out without a deal, don’t worry. One project is rarely worth the effort when dealing with small margins. Use your leads and referrals wisely and there will always be another project.

Customers have learned over the years that if they ask for a better price, they usually get one. Change that conversation by being prepared to talk about ways to change the project price without slashing your profit margins. You will set yourself apart from other contractors and get to the top of the mountain doing it.

Happy Hardscaping!

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“In the absence of value, your customers will default to price comparison. Understand what value you bring to your potential customers.”

Even with all the information available on the Internet, your customers will only have a small amount of knowledge when they sit down with you to talk about pavers, retaining walls and other landscape offerings. So how do you set yourself apart so your customers do not make a decision based solely on cost?

You can try to educate them, but you run the risk of sounding too “salesy”, or even worse, you provide contrary information to someone who believes everything they read on the Web.

Or, you can bring added value to your presentations.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Bring additional options for your customers to consider.

If your customer wants new pavers in their driveway, add an option to do it in permeable pavers. Give them a price to do an overlay on their plain concrete front porch with matching 45mm pavers. Add a funky, curvy border to the driveway to define the start of the walkway to the front door.

Whatever the project, have a few cool options priced out and ready to present.

2. Bring a list of references along with your project photos.

Your customers will check you out online, so there’s a good chance they have already seen your websites photo gallery. Present them a list of references from work you have done recently (the last 2-3 years preferably). Include the customers names, addresses and phone numbers. Some customers will just scan the list for projects in their neighbourhood, but others will go see the driveway you installed last year or call one of your previous customers to confirm they would recommend your company.

3. Bring a design that your customers can visualize.

Your customers do not install Hardscaping for a living so help them see your vision for their space with a great design. If you usually draw plans on cocktail napkins or an empty package of Export A’s, enlist the help of a qualified designer to help you project a professional image. If 2D hand drawings are your preference, learn how to use Google Sketchup to bring 3D images to life. You will close more business if your customers can imagine living in the space you have designed.

4. Bring a project checklist.

Customers have no idea now many steps it takes to install a driveway, a patio or a retaining wall. So tell them!

Provide a checklist for the entire project so your customers have an understanding of the complexity and duration of your work. It will help make sense of your labor costs and imagine what other contractors will do if your customers ask for their project checklist!

5. Bring your industry certification to life.

Most customers you meet will not understand what ICPI or NCMA mean to them, no matter how much research they have done. So help them understand how certification sets you apart. If they want a new driveway, place your ICPI course manual in the middle of your customers dining room table. Tell them that you use a minimum of 6″ of base under your driveways because it is the recommended industry standard. When you recite standards from these huge course manuals, it will help legitimize your price. And your customers will be wary of other contractors who suggest using quantities that do not have industry standards as context.

Find ways to bring added value to your customer presentations. Your customers will thank you by signing more contracts for more dollars than you could ever imagine.

Happy Hardscaping!

Does your company stand out from the crowd?

Does your company stand out from the crowd?

I was having lunch with a friend recently who had arrived a few minutes before me at our chosen restaurant. He had ordered a Coke and was running out to his car to grab his phone when I asked him which one of the waitresses was ours.

“The one with the glasses” he said.

I stared over at the two brunette servers. One was at least four inches taller than the other and perhaps ten years older. The younger one had highlights, was a few pounds heavier and her hair was shorter. As a pair, they were similar but in a superficial way. But not alike. It was not hard to distinguish one from the other.

But when I asked my friend which was our server, how had he answered? He hadn’t said the shorter one, or the one with longer hair, or the one with the highlights. He’d said the one with the glasses.

Wearing glasses was the major difference between them and it overrode all the other differences. The other differences were matters of degree. Taller, younger, thinner, highlights. The glasses were not matters of degree. One woman wore them and the other one didn’t. An absolute difference. No confusion. Our waitress was the one with glasses.

What do your customers and prospects remember about you and your company? Go over your typical customer presentation and write down the points that you feel make you stand out in the crowd of other contractors. And then have someone you trust look at the list. Together you can decide whether you have been telling your prospects that your taller, younger, thinner, have longer hair and highlights.

Or that you wear glasses.

Happy Hardscaping!

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The 40th Anniversary of Landscape Ontario’s Congress is about to kick off on Tuesday, bringing together landscape professionals from across the industry. It is your opportunity to get your first glance at new equipment, plants and products, network with industry experts and participate in the hundreds of product demonstrations. So much to see and do.

So what’s your plan?

With over 13,000 industry professionals and 600 vendors spread out over eight acres, it is more important than ever to understand where you need to spend your time effectively. So whether you are a hardscaping rookie or seasoned vet, here’s 4 items that should be on your to-do list:

1. Determine what booths and/or vendors you need to see

More than likely you will want to visit the booths of your go-to vendors. These are the people that make the products you use the most and you will want to see what changes they have in store for 2013. Notice that I said changes, not just new products. That’s because its just as important to beware of price increases, discontinued products and dropped colours as the shiny new pavers or retaining walls they have on display.

P.S. Don’t forget to visit vendors of the products you are competing against. You will gain some valuable information that will help you compete for those landscape prospects. Who knows, you may even find a product that fills a void in your current vendor’s selection.

2. Know what you want to accomplish

Now that we can see the tail lights of 2012, what are your plans for 2013?

Do you need new equipment this year? Are you looking to add lighting to your list of services? Do you want to install more retaining walls in 2013?

Great! Now make a list of questions you want to ask to help you make your decisions on each item. Print off or save a list of vendors and highlight their booths on the LO Congress floor plan. Here’s a link for both http://tinyurl.com/acu957q

3. Take notes that you can use after the show

After a long day or two of visiting booth after booth and attending one or more of the many conference sessions, what are you left with? Forty-five business cards, 14 pages of notes and countless numbers of pictures on your smartphone. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some way to capture all of these items in one place?

Download the Evernote app on your smartphone or tablet.

Now you can take pictures of those business cards, take notes on your smartphone or tablet and upload photos from the tradeshow and save them all in a notebook in Evernote marked LO Congress 2013 for future use.

Even if you still feel that handwritten notes are more your style than typing them into your iPhone, take a picture of those notes and put them into Evernote. The optical character recognition built into Evernote will scan your handwriting and now you can search by keyword to find what you want. How cool is that!

Here’s a link to learn how to use Evernote and download it too http://evernote.com/evernote/

4. Attend at least one Conference Session

Have you been to LO Congress for years but never attended a conference session? Whatever you want to do better in 2013, there is a session to help you make it a reality.

Are you interested in learning more about social media? There are 3 sessions to choose from. Do you own your landscaping business? You have four sessions specifically for you. There are also sessions on paying for your equipment, retaining employees and two on job costing. Make this the year that you take something from your list of goals for 2013 and learn more about it from some great speakers.

Here’s a link to this years schedule of key note speakers and conference sessions http://tinyurl.com/axvv3wo

Everyone at Landscape Ontario Congress hopes that 2013 will be a prosperous year for the entire industry. But they don’t have the ability to make that happen for your company. You do.

Be prepared to walk into the show with a plan. Without it, you’re liable to end up shaking hands and talking about the weather.

Happy Hardscaping!

Work Smart In The Offseason

Work Smart In The Offseason To Grow Your Business in 2013

You are plowing driveways instead of installing them, your breath is the same consistency as the exhaust on your truck, and your TV is constantly tuned to the weather channel. It’s that time of year to concentrate on plowing and salting and let your Hardscape work slip comfortably into hibernation.
Or is it?
This is the perfect time to work smarter than your competition and be better prepared to grow your hardscape business in 2013.  It’s important not to mistake motion for action so here’s a list of 4 things your competition will be doing this offseason and ways for you to do it better:
1. Your competition will be spending time at their local building supply settling their account and having coffee with the order desk. 
 
You should be finding out what new product lines your local supplier may be stocking and if there will be any expected price increases in 2013. Accurate pricing and additional product choices give you a significant edge when quoting projects over the winter and early spring.
2. Your competition will be visiting the local landscape shows and talking to the local reps about the possibility of an early spring.
You should be calling your local product reps and finding out what they will showing in their show booth. If they have no new product offerings or they are not products you will use, skip their booth and spend time with the vendors that have something your clients will want.
3. Your competition will have a booth in a local home show, offering homeowners a list of their services and pricing. 
You should be using your booth to show an example of your design work. Have an iPad or laptop with your local suppliers catalogue and photos of the creative work your company has successfully installed. A list of references from satisfied clients will truly set you apart.
4. Your competition will be attending events sponsored by the manufacturers for a free meal and some token gifts. 
You should be attending as many manufacturer events as possible to learn about proper installation methods and to keep on top of what new products your competition will be showing your customers next season.
Being better than your competition starts with investing your time and effort in off season activities that will better prepare your company for growth in 2013.
Happy Hardscaping!