Of all the changes Nick DiBenedetto, CLP, and his business partner Manuel De Souza have seen over more than 25 years in the business, the biggest one, they say, is with the customer.
“Our customers are driving us to bring more to the table,” says DiBenedetto, who launched N.D. Landscaping 26 years ago. “They want landscapes that truly add to the quality of their lives. Water features—including attractive pools, inviting spas and dramatic falls—are only part of the story. Homeowners want outdoor kitchens with all the fixings. They want granite counter tops, decorative stone walls with pillars, and exterior additions just steps away from their patio doors.”
SOME SERIOUS KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED
With the increased demand comes the need for contractors to become more knowledgeable in all aspects of landscape construction, from understanding conservation requirements, site planning and permitting regulations to solving drainage issues, running a labyrinth of lines for gas and electric power, and overall creating a virtual second home.
DiBenedetto is not alone with his perceptions. De Souza manages the company's maintenance division that accounts for 40% of an annual $5 million-plus revenue stream. He began offering an upscale maintenance service called “classic care” eight years ago to satisfy a growing demand for customized maintenance.
“Out of 300 or so maintenance customers, we have at least 40 who have signed up for our classic care service,” says De Souza. “These customers want more than core maintenance, which is how we refer to a weekly regimen of mowing, trimming, blowing, and so forth. They want someone on their property every week who's actually playing the role of gardener to dead-head flowers, weed beds, prune and keep their landscapes looking immaculate. We believe that's the future of maintenance, at least in our market. Offering this level of service helps separate us from a myriad of competitors who only offer a cookie cutter service.”
Located 30 miles north of Boston in Georgetown, MA, N.D. Landscaping employs 60 people among three divisions: design/build, maintenance (including lawn care) and snow removal. The bulk of the company's service offering is to high-end residential customers. When PRO visited the owners, there were seven ongoing design/build projects ranging in price from several thousand dollars to $500,000. De Souza's maintenance division was sending out six to nine mowing crews a day; two special enhancement crews, one fertilization crew and four classic care crews.
“One area we want to grow in is maintenance,” relates DiBenedetto. “In fact, within the next few years, our goal is to bring our maintenance book of business at least level to that of our design/build business. Not to say that we will lose our focus on design/build. We won't do that, but maintenance is predictable, easier to budget, and something that we can continually hone and recast to drive out costs and become more efficient. Conversely, every design/build project is different, usually very complicated, and often a challenge to estimate.
“The bigger and more detailed a project is, the more difficult it is to price it right,” DiBenedetto continues. “It helps to price in modules, i.e., estimate the cost of the pool, the kitchen, the patio, the fire pit, the stone walk and other pieces individually, and then put them all together in a quote. Even then you cannot account for the unpredictable, including the extra cost associated with excessive rain events. The other challenge with design/build projects is that customers want you to wave a magic wand and install the project in a week rather than having to deal with construction over the course of several weeks.”
Despite the challenges, DiBenedetto is passionate about his projects, and especially enjoys designing and building large patios with magnificent pools. He also likes the selling process.