What Do You Find ‘Sexy’ in the Landscaping Business?

I know what kind of jobs I look for in landscape. What kind of job do you consider sexy?

Is it a five- or six-figure design and install job?

A huge job that keeps a crew busy for three months?

I can see the attraction to those kind of jobs, but that’s not what we at Driven Landscapes look for. Don’t get me wrong – we do plenty of planting jobs and lawn installations, but those jobs don’t define us. We aren’t a design and install company; we are a landscape maintenance company that also does some design and install work.

Landscaping Design & Install vs. Maintenance

It’s easy for a landscape company to get stuck with an identity crisis. I’ve seen it happen over and over. Many companies start out with maintenance work – and some of them do pretty well with it – but, instead of embracing a business model that works well for them, they invest a lot of effort and resources into chasing bigger, more glamorous jobs. More sexy jobs.

So why doesn’t Driven Landscapes go after the big jobs?

Simple. They don’t scale well.

Here’s what we find sexy: Making more money this year than last year, and then growing again next year. Consistent, predictable growth is damn sexy to us. In short, scalable business.

We’re going to look at three ways maintenance differs from design-and-install:

  • Getting the Work
  • Repeating the Work
  • Doing the Work

Getting the Work

Design and Install: By their nature, there are a limited number of these jobs each year and there’s a lot of competition to land them. Unless you already have a connection, your chances of landing any particular job might be slim. And if you don’t already have a strong portfolio of similar work, your only chance may be if you are the lowest bidder.

With a big-budget project, people are going to take a hard look at the price and they are going to be much more cautious about taking any chances on an unknown.

Maintenance: Right now, there are thousands of homeowners, within 10 miles of you, who will pay for landscape maintenance this year. While many of those people will start out by asking for a quote, price is often NOT their deciding factor. They are primarily looking for someone who will do good work, be reliable, and treat them fairly.

For maintenance work, people are much more willing to take a chance on a small company.

Repeating the Work

Design and Install: There’s really not much to say here. If you have to repeat the same install job, for the same customer, two years in a row, it probably means something went wrong and you’re doing it for free the second time.

Most residential install jobs are one-time things. If you land a commercial install project with a big company that has multiple locations, there might be opportunities for similar work at other locations. But there’s always a limit to the number of projects, and you’re often going to have to continue to bid and compete to get them.

Maintenance: In contrast, how many times can you mulch, prune, perform clean ups and all the other types of maintenance work? If you treat your customers well, many of them will ask you to come back year after year.

This is where the power of a multiplier comes into play. Add up all the maintenance services you can provide for a client. Next, multiply that number by the number of years you can repeat those services. Treat your customers well and you might provide these services for 5 years, 10 years, or more.

If you’re going to compare the value of a design and install project to the value of a maintenance customer, make sure you’re comparing the total lifetime value of those customers.

Doing the Work

Design and Install: These jobs typically have bigger budgets, but they’re also more complex. At the least, a greater level of employee training is necessary.

But, what does a complex job mean for the owner of a design-and-install company? Often, it means the owners are tied to a job site. These owners are actively supervising the job site if not actually performing a lot of the work. I know several companies in my area where the owners are on a job sites all day, usually by necessity.

Maintenance: I don’t underestimate the value of skilled and experienced landscape maintenance workers. But, let’s face it, it’s a lot easier and faster to train an employee to mow, prune, edge, mulch, etc., than it is to teach them how to properly install a patio or a set of stairs.

Overall, it is much easier to scale a maintenance business, adding additional crews when needed, under the supervision of trusted crew leaders.

What does it all mean?

Don’t get me wrong – design and install projects are exciting and can be incredibly rewarding.  But, to me, being able to delegate and run a business with minimal direct, on-site involvement is a lot sexier.

After all, isn’t the point of owning a business to not have to work as much?  Make more money and have people work FOR you?

So why are so many owners working long days and weekends, “grinding” in the field? There could be many reasons, but I think the first thing to look at is whether their business is scalable with their chosen model.

In our experience, a business model centered on landscape maintenance has proven to be much more profitable and scalable.

Besides, we still get design and install work. But instead of chasing it, it comes to us when our maintenance customers are ready or when they give us a referral.