New services. Contractors such as John Newman of Classic Landscapes in Hampton, GA, have been looking to new services in order to increase sales. "Business hasn't been as good as we'd like, but it's getting better," Newman says. "We've learned some things and added some new services over the past few years. For example, we've added LED lighting to the mix. We're talking to existing customers about converting over to LED. Once we explain the benefits (reduced energy costs and longer bulb life), they really like it."
In the commercial arena, Ruppert Landscape has seen an explosion in demand for green roofs, primarily among office and government buildings in an urban setting. "A lot of what goes into these green roofs are lightweight soil mixes, foam media for insulation, and green roof pavers," says Mike Ward, Ruppert's director of pre-construction services. Green roof pavers are designed to be lighter, less emissive and less reflective.
The primary driver behind the increase in green roof popularity is a builder's desire to achieve LEED-certification for a building, which means the building meets a certain standard for energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. Green and sustainability are two buzzwords that have continued to gain traction in the landscaping industry. How much traction they gain in your area can often come down to how you market them.
"I think the term sustainability is a bit overused," Newman relates. "But everybody wants low maintenance. That seems to be a more effective way of marketing it. We're looking at things like low-volume irrigation, less turf where it makes sense, low-maintenance plant beds and dry creek beds, for example."
Newman has also adopted an organic approach when it comes to new plantings. "We don't use high-nitrogen fertilizer anymore," he points out. "We now put down beneficial soil microbes like mycorrhizal in the backfill with organic compost. We've had very little plant death. It does add a little cost to a job, so be prepared to educate the client."
Better sales process. Be careful, though. Throwing too many scientific, fancy-sounding terms around may cause the client to turn skeptical. The bottom line, though, is that the client wants what works. They also want—or perhaps need—to stay within their budget.
"In the past, we could walk away from an initial client meeting and come back with a huge proposal that the client would typically go for," Newman relates. "Not today. Now we won't leave that first meeting without a budget, or at least a first-phase budget. If you don't do that, there's a good chance that you'll end up pricing yourself out of contention."
The bid/build world also remains very budget-conscious. According to Ward, Ruppert Landscape is asked to value engineer roughly half of the designs it is given. "We go through and look at what the architect specified, looking for lower-cost alternatives that will not affect the design intent of the architect," Ward says. "An example is polystyrene foams for green roofs. Expanded tends to be less expensive than extruded, but still works very well."
Trends in landscape design
A budget-conscious general public is a trend landscape contractors will likely continue to face for a while. Here's a look at some other trends in landscape design.
Outdoor living spaces still hot. The American love affair with the back yard shows no signs of letting up, according to a recent study from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Roughly 91% of landscape architects said outdoor living spaces remain quite popular. Defined as kitchen and entertainment spaces, the following elements are in high demand:
- Fireplaces or firepits – 95.8%
- Dining areas – 95.7%
- Landscape lighting – 93.1%
- Water features – 89.9%
- Installed seating – 86.9%
- Weatherized outdoor furniture – 81.2%
- Spas – 80.4%
- Pools – 79.2%
When it comes to pools, designer Gina Samarotto says people are moving away from free-form style to linear. A lot of people are also gravitating toward the color orange. "The 2012 Pantone Color of the Year, Tangerine Tango, can definitely be seen in the landscape," says Samarotto, principal at Samarotto Design Group in the greater New York City area. "Echinacea 'Tiki Torch' is a great example."
Hardscaping represents another popular outdoor living feature that's showing no signs of letting up. "(In commercial), we're seeing requests for a lot more pavers and natural stone work than concrete," Ward says. In the residential business, Newman says that he's seeing quite a bit of demand for smaller jobs like patios and walkways, although large jobs like complete driveways have fallen off a bit.