"Based on the assumption that the housing and mortgage markets will stabilize by 2009, and with the greater number of baby boomers retiring, we're expecting to see older homes in the San Francisco Bay Area being sold to young families who will be renovating and updating gardens to include many of the amenities that have become so popular in the past few years, such as outdoor kitchens, fireplaces and upscale hardscapes."
Maximum Service Landscaping has made features like these a routine part of its service offering. Staying on top of trends has always been one of Burns' biggest charges. "Find out what your customers want, figure out ways to set yourself apart from your competitors, and get good at delivering the absolute best," he advises.
One of the company's newer offerings is finish carpentry. Rather than slap a quick wooden fence in, Maximum Service takes the time to use higher-quality materials and quality construction technique to build doors in place of simple gates.
"Building gates with stiles and rails connected with mortise-and-tenon joinery and inlaid tongue-and-groove boards has really made a big difference," Burns says. "We've also switched to using kiln-dried, vertical-grain Western Red Cedar whenever budget permits. The wood is beautiful and much more rot-resistant than the usual Redwood fence lumber. It really sets us apart from what many other contractors are building."
Similarly, Maximum Service Landscaping uses a lot of natural stone instead of manufactured products. "We've been experimenting with natural lime-based plasters for wall veneers in place of stucco," Burns explains. "Unlike stucco that typically needs painting every couple of years, the lime-based plasters get better with age. These higher-end finishes are getting noticed by customers, and the better we get at working with them, the less price is an issue."
Another area that has come a long in way in terms of product development is landscape lighting. According to Burns, the quality of transformers and fixtures has gotten much better, as have the efforts of manufacturers to provide training for installers. "Good landscape lighting design requires a working knowledge of the various illumination techniques, as well as the mechanics of the system," Burns points out. "Our installers have become experts."
WARMING UP TO GLOBAL WARMING
Looking to the future, Burns is keeping his eye on emerging markets for solar and wind power technologies, and how they might be incorporated in landscape installations. Energy consumption is at the forefront of many consumers' minds, so this could become a valuable service a landscaping company like Maximum Service could tap into.
Along with concerns regarding energy consumption, "global warming" and "climate change" are becoming household terms. Many of Burns' customers are becoming more concerned with the environment. "High-end customers are not only OK with paying a bit more for us to use sustainable landscape practices, they are beginning to demand it," Burns relates.
Maximum Service Landscaping has changed its approach to soil preparation, and now uses organic composts as much as possible. Plus, when designing a landscape, Burns tries to minimize the removal of materials from a site, instead trying to re-use everything possible. He also incorporates more native, drought-tolerant plantings to help homeowners conserve water.
With environmental responsibility in mind, Maximum Service Landscaping stays on top of the newest irrigation and drainage technologies to maximize efficient water use and reduce run-off.
"We've used a variety of ET controllers with some success, though these products are still evolving," Burns says. (ET refers to evapotranspiration, the rate at which plants lose water through the combined processes of evaporation and transpiration.) Maximum Service also uses MP Rotator nozzles, offered by Hunter Industries. (The MP Rotator is a stream rotor-type nozzle that fits onto a spray sprinkler body.)
Unfortunately, new product technology can only provide the tools for conservation. "It's hard to prevent the human urge to increase garden watering every time a client thinks their lawn or plants look too dry or wilted," Burns says. "Educating our clients is an ongoing effort."