Kulp agrees, adding, “We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in interest from the $15,000 to $50,000 project segment. This has been due to the decrease in home equity.” McShane has been fighting that same battle. “The thing that’s affecting us the most is the drop in equity and the inability to tap home equity for larger projects.”
On a positive note, homeowners who do have some money to spend are looking to extend their existing landscaped areas, according to McShane. “They are looking for additional garden areas, and are adding fire pits and outdoor kitchen areas. The in-ground pool market has actually ticked up slightly for us; this spring we marketed a ‘refresh your poolscape’ program to homeowners with existing pools. Privacy plantings and berms, along with masonry stone walls, make a big impact to existing areas.”
For some landscape contractors, homeowners that are looking for function as opposed to desire have created another opportunity. “They’re not so much saying ‘ooh I want this fire pit,’ but are looking to extend their living space or maybe save water,” says Rob Diaz of Land Care in Las Vegas. “The over-the-top flashy look seems to have lost its luster. People who’ve decided to stay in their homes are trying to live within their means and create an environment they can stay with. On the other hand, those who are upside down with their mortgages aren’t going to put money into their landscapes.”
That’s why Land Care is getting a decent amount of work from what it calls “second-generation renovations” where the first homeowner has left, sticking the bank with the bill, and the new owner who bought the house through a short sale wants to make it their own.
Out east in Connecticut, Craig Kopfmann says homeowners are looking for creative solutions to improve their properties and enhance their day-to-day lives. “We’re seeing a bit more interest in masonry projects than planting,” Kopfmann says. “In mid-March we started receiving inquiries for everything from improving a pool area to creating a family-friendly patio and entertaining space. I’ve spoken with more motivated people than I would have anticipated at this point in the season.”
Generating sales leads
To drum up interest and generate leads like these, Kopfmann has spent a lot of time networking. “I try to stay in touch with my professional contacts and develop ways to help them,” Kopfmann relates. “This is challenging, but has to be a two-way street—otherwise the referral stream will dry prematurely.”
In Kansas, Payne has focused primarily on three areas: people who’d purchased a home fairly recently, empty nesters, and homeowners he’d submitted bids to before the market went south.
“Things got pretty bad around here in late-2009,” Payne recalls. “So in 2010 we’d created flyers telling people to invest in their homes and landscapes because doing so will help their home value come back faster when the economy improves. That worked pretty well. Now we’re focusing on empty nesters who have some disposable cash because they started sitting on it when stocks went bad.”
TenderCare Lawn & Landscape is also focusing on bids they did in 2009 before consumers pulled back. Letters are sent to these prospects saying, “We still care and wonder if there’s anything we can do for you.” Payne explains, “People want more attention these days, not just a bid slipped under the door.”
Kulp says consumers also want peace of mind, which is why his company has increased its warranty. Consumers want more bang for their buck, too. “We have had to educate clients about cost control, getting them involved in material selections, for instance, in order to meet their budget constraints,” Kulp tells.
In 2010 McShane geared his company’s marketing campaign around the concept of “Renew, Refresh, Revive, Reimagine and Rethink.” The premise was to encourage homeowners to enhance their existing landscapes with subtle changes. This year McShane is focusing on his company’s competitive advantages, i.e. designs, 63 years in business, warranty and in-house nursery.
“We need to convey this message to the marketplace and generate sales by explaining the Plantique difference,” McShane says. “We see opportunities out there, and our sales staff needs to extend this conversation with potential clients, listen to them, work within their budgets, and start the process.