Blanton, who services approximately 500 customers, notes that technology has improved his competitive advantage, too. “Because of the competition, it’s a bit harder to sell today than it was when we first started in business. The Internet, though, has given me the opportunity to show prospective customers just how nice my properties look.”
For both Charlie Bowers, owner of Garden Gate Landscaping Inc. in Silver Spring, MD, and Rick Doesburg, CCLP and owner of Thornton Landscape Inc. in Maineville, OH, new technology has helped ramp up communication with customers, which is always a good thing.
“Email is becoming the preferred method of basic communication with our heavily ‘wired’ customers,” explains Bowers, who has 45 years of industry experience under his belt. “So many of them travel all over the world that email is truly the only way they can communicate. Right at home, we email most of our smaller and repeat customers instead of mailing a letter or visiting them in person. New and larger accounts, though, still require that personal touch.”
Doesburg agrees. “Cell phones, computers and email have all led to better and faster communication with clients. The new technology has been just as helpful for maintaining relationships with suppliers, as we can even order plant material right online.”
For Bowers, being able to order online and going to a single-source plant materials provider has saved, in his words, “tons of money,” and has truly simplified doing business. “We have our supplier’s inventory counts right in our estimating system, which is updated weekly,” he adds.
“The computer, or more specifically the AutoCAD program, has had a dramatic impact on the design portion of our business,” says Doesburg, a 40-year industry veteran himself. “The system saves us tremendous amounts of time just in laying out projects, something that is especially noticeable with bigger projects. After all, we’re selling our knowledge and creativity; otherwise, we would be selling only a commodity. The computer allows us to get this information, our knowledge and creativity, to customers in a hurry.”
|Twenty years of change|
|More competition||Understand costs, focus on strengths, hire and train good people|
|Rising costs||Practice LEAN management principles, take advantage of new technologies and efficiencies|
|Commoditizing of services||Fulfill promise to customers and always be professional|
|More intrusive government||Stay up-to-date on government regulations, become involved|
|Knowledgeable customers||Improve response time and communicate with them|
|Changing markets||Be aware of market conditions and be proactive|
|More "green"||Be aware of environmental issues, but balance possible with practical|
SERVICE IS NOT A COMMODITY
Many veteran contractors will tell you that the price they’re getting for mowing and maintaining a property hasn’t changed significantly in 20 years. In some markets, the price may have even gone backwards. What could be the cause?
One of the more subtle changes is in the perceived value of the products and services companies are offering. Currently, the trend is to define mowing and maintenance, especially commercial mowing and maintenance, as a commodity. With little or no perceived differences among service offerings, customers tend to focus on price alone.
“Two stages of mergers and acquisitions, the first in 1998 and the second in 2005-2006, led to some good independent companies going out of business,” explains Ron Kujawa, CCLP and former president of Kujawa Enterprises Inc. in Oak Creek, WI. “The new, larger companies approached landscape maintenance with a cookie cutter mentality. Service became very regimented, with all customers being treated the same way.
“In essence, these companies tried to commoditize service, but service is not a commodity,” Kujawa goes on to say. “No one can store or inventory service. Unlike a commodity, service cannot be evaluated or measured until it is delivered. Therefore, selling your services is the same as selling your promise to do something in a certain way for a certain price to the satisfaction of the client. Your reputation, your retention rate and your references are the best indicators that you will deliver as promised.”