While the landscape installation business as a whole has been stung by the construction and housing slowdown, homeowners have developed an even deeper love for their outdoor living spaces. Thus, that business has remained strong. And as an integral component to an outdoor living space, the hardscaping business has remained relatively strong as well.
"Outdoor living spaces continue to be popular because homeowners are staying in their homes longer," says Ken O’Neill, vice president of marketing for Belgard Hardscapes. "Remodeling has allowed consumers to create the perfect home for their families without relocating. A big part of those renovations are to their outdoor spaces—both in the front of their homes for curb appeal as well as their backyard living spaces for enjoyment and entertainment."
What today's homeowners want
In general, consumers want a variety of choices in styles for their hardscapes, and they want those styles to complement the design of their homes. There are basically four styles that today's homeowners are looking for.
Classic – This type of product's smooth textures are made to look like brick or cobble stone, and also match the look of tile. This remains the dominant product in the market, according to O'Neill.
Antique – In the 1990s, Belgard started tumbling the product to distress the corners and edges, creating a time-worn, yet elegant look. O'Neill says this is the second most popular type of product.
Natural – Recently, Belgard’s R&D team scans natural stone, and applies those photos (textures) to their molds to make the final product look more natural. "The goal has always been to make these products look like natural stone," O'Neill says. "We are getting closer and closer to the real thing." This type of product is gaining in popularity throughout the country, but is especially predominant in the Northeast and Midwest.
Contemporary – Though not a huge deal in the U.S. yet, more contemporary looks have really caught on in Europe. This trend is expected to gain in popularity here before too long—especially in more urban markets, and places like Florida and California. "We're talking about really clean lines," O'Neill says. "It also goes back to the way it was in the '80s a little bit in terms of shape, and using techniques like bush hammering and polishing to create unique textures."
Oversized and inset designs becoming more common
O'Neill is also seeing a lot more interest in oversized pavers. There's a simple explanation as to why.
"In general, patio spaces are getting larger than the basic 20x20 approach we used to see," O'Neill points out. "Consumers want things like outdoor kitchens and fireplaces. That means more square footage. Oversized pavers work well in these instances. Once you get to a 500-plus square-foot patio, bigger stones simply look nicer because they are more to scale. The larger dimensions, such as 8x16 (inch) or 16x24, also look a lot more like natural stone."
A sixth trend O'Neill has witnessed is that inset designs are becoming very popular. They are often requested in the flooring (to look like a rug), and also in the hardscapes of a fire element.
Regardless of what product or style the homeowner is looking for, one thing is universal: Homeowners want to know that what they’re installing is going to last, so durability and warranties are important.
Staying competitive and growing sales
Follow-up with both potential and past customers is critical in today's market. "It’s hard to do, especially for some of the smaller contractors during the busier seasons, but it has to be done," O'Neill says. "That’s when you’re building up jobs for the slower seasons."
Past customers can become great repeat customers. Ask them: How are you enjoying your hardscape? Is there anything I can do to add to your outdoor living space? Are you ready for the next phase?
"Many homeowners don’t fully understand the potential of an outdoor living space until they’ve lived with it for a while," O'Neill points out. "They’ve been cooking on a regular grill, but now can see the benefit they’d get from an outdoor kitchen bar. Or they’ve enjoyed a moveable iron fire pit, but might like the enhanced look of a hardscape fire pit with a low wall that offers additional seating space. By simply asking a past customer what you can do to help them better utilize their space, you can start conversations that can lead to new business."