For years landscape companies have focused on a couple of primary growth strategies: branch into new markets at the request of one or two key clients, or buy other landscape companies. The problem is that neither of these tactics addresses the one thing that truly drives vigorous growth in companies: innovation.
As of late, many landscape companies have been focusing on operational efficiency as a means to outperform the competition. The problem here is that operational efficiency doesn't really lead to innovation, either. Yes, it leads to reduced costs, so it is definitely a necessity in today's world of landscape contracting. But if you want to grow sales in today's market, you as the owner, along with your key people, have to focus on innovation.
Innovation starts with strategic positioning
According to Tom Oyler, one of the most successful entrepreneurs the Green Industry has seen, when you're talking about innovation, you're really talking about strategic positioning. It's not necessarily a revolutionary new product or service. You simply want to do the things everyone does—but you want to do them differently. Or, you want to do altogether different things than your competitors do.
Innovation is understanding your customers
Oyler thinks back to when he was a contractor. After being in business a few years, he obtained his realtor's license. "I figured that the real estate industry was the landscape industry's ‘driver,’ and wanted to better understand the real estate business and its terminology," Oyler relates. "That way, clients would view me as more of a peer, and not just a vendor. To sell a developer you have to think like a developer."
Matthew Johnson of Asset Landscaping in Phoenix, AZ, is a present-day landscape contractor who also has a realtor's license. "One benefit is that I have additional training on the importance and value of real estate, along with what features affect real estate values the most," Johnson says. "Another benefit is for commercial and homeowner association business. I know the laws pertaining to how the properties must operate. The Arizona License requires hours of instruction on HOA law, along with continuing education classes that are required to review new laws."
It's unrealistic to think that every landscape contractor is going to run out and get his realtor's license this fall. But it does make sense that innovation-minded contractors will take steps to learn more about the real estate business, such as by visiting websites like www.realtor.org.
There are other avenues for contractors to expand their knowledge base and learn more about their customers. Consider attending conferences geared toward developers, homebuilders or facilities managers. Learn as much as you can about green building and LEED. Contractors such as John Reffel of JLS Landscape & Sprinkler in Sedalia, CO, have even earned LEED accreditation.
Innovation is your personal touch
It's definitely important to know your customers inside and out. Finding innovative ways to make some of their pains go away can be game-changing.
Greenscapes of Southwest Florida has come up with an innovation that has resulted in increased customer retention and market share. Co-owner Linda Nelson says today's consumers expect a lot more personal attention. So Greenscapes has created Client Services Teams in order to increase the number of client interactions each month. This approach also puts more eyes on a property, resulting in improved quality control and more upsell opportunities.
Oyler recalls an innovation he came up with years ago while bidding on an outdoor retail center. "I told the property manager that we would put an English-speaking crewmember on their property every day to not only police the grounds, but also to act like a concierge in the parking lot, helping change tires or jumpstart batteries," Oyler says.