Contractors' Biggest Opportunities in 2012

One thing you can never say about landscape contractors is that they lack confidence. Year after year since the Great Recession, a substantial percentage head into the coming year with a pretty good feeling about growing sales. At the same time, very few expect to see their top line shrink. The same can be said this year, as fewer than 10% of contractors expect to see a drop in sales in 2012—and roughly half expect to grow.

While the past three years doesn’t seem to have shaken their confidence, they have taught contractors to be a bit more thrifty and resourceful. Those who've survived the carnage and remain profitable are now feeling especially confident about their future prospects—along with what they need to do to accomplish their goals.

Following are insightful comments from a variety of Green Industry PRO readers who highlight what they believe are their biggest opportunities in 2012.

Improve sales, marketing and customer service

Roughly 34% of the survey responses identified some sort of improvement in the way of sales, marketing and/or customer service. Strategies include:

  • Adding a full-time salesperson
  • More targeted advertising
  • Personally visit existing clients; don't over-rely on phone and/or email
  • Improving website and online presence
  • More proactively pursuing new accounts
  • More attention to existing clients to improve satisfaction
  • Use that satisfaction to drive more referrals
  • Establish solid sales process and make sure we have the best salespeople
  • Increase property visits and empower foremen to interact with clients more
  • Better "sell our story" – i.e. our experience, education and passion for industry
  • Focus on our image and professionalism
  • Identify a couple of local trade shows we could display at

Expansion strategies

Roughly 26% of the responses pointed to growth opportunities through either expansion or heightened focus in key areas. Strategies include:

  • Growing the maintenance division
  • Focus on a private community that hires professional landscape contractors
  • Branch into the retaining wall business
  • Focus more on right-of-way maintenance and less on residential
  • Add a municipal contract that will reduce travel time and increase profits
  • We're a design/build firm now offering "estate services" to the general public, along with our new offerings of "handyman services" and "holiday services"
  • Sell more to upscale properties by becoming more of a "complete service contractor"
  • Focus on irrigation and organic lawn care with weed control enhancements
  • Become a specialist in lawn care since that requires a license and insurance; won't have as much of a problem with "non-pros"
  • Focus on those accounts that understand value and quality, and require insurance, etc.
  • More design and seasonal plantings to increase curb appeal in high-end residential
  • Acquire new "smaller commercial" customers in both maintenance and snow removal
  • Build up areas we already have accounts in

Improve the workforce

Roughly 15% of the responses relate to improving workforce quality. Strategies include:

  • Screen potential employees better, and earlier in the spring
  • Improve our interviewing process
  • Improve training so crews can answer questions better while in the field
  • Establish clear employee rules and guidelines
  • Hire a true landscape designer
  • More emphasis on quality training by shifting focus from people to processes
  • Establish monetary incentives to ensure jobs are completed on time
  • Seek out foremen with experience in construction and hardscaping

Get lean and more efficient

Roughly 15% of the responses suggest that improving efficiency is a priority in 2012. Strategies include:

  • Tackle large properties like they are small, breaking them down into sections so foremen aren't overwhelmed
  • Establish systems to ensure that we have a safe and enjoyable workplace
  • Focus on effective man-hour management
  • Focus on helping each crew become as smart as it can be
  • Run smaller, more efficient crews
  • Invest in better software to help us manage better

Other action items on the 2012 to-do list

The remaining 10% of survey responses hit on a variety of topics.

Fleet management. Make sure to follow manufacturer/dealer recommendations regarding equipment maintenance. Make sure you have the best equipment available to do the job. Don't get caught in the middle of the season; change out old equipment right away if you can afford to. If you can't afford to, establish a plan that will allow you to upgrade your equipment.

Change the government. One contractor said he wants to support fiscal responsibility in government by voting out the current government that got us into this mess and continues to dig us deeper. Another contractor said he will continue to play a role in helping fight nonsensical immigration laws. Yet another contractor said he will be proactive in reporting illegal contractors and/or workers to the authorities, hoping that doing so will help reduce the number of lowballers in the market.

Pay more attention to collections, improve estimating and pay down debt. Enough said.