Lawn care contractor Craig den Hartog has deployed a diverse mix of marketing tactics this year. The focus has been on customer incentives and referrals, and employee training and empowerment. The results have been beyond his expectations. “We’re very fortunate that our sales have not dropped over the past three years,” says den Hartog, the owner of Emerald Magic Lawn Care in Holtsville, NY (Long Island).
The company’s sales mix has had to shift a bit, though—but it hasn’t been by accident. Pest control has dropped from 12% of total sales to 5%. Aerating and seeding has jumped from 10% to 20%. Lawn and tree care, Christmas Decor holiday lighting, and poison ivy and invasive vine control have held relatively steady.
Emerald Magic is also servicing more commercial properties. That revenue stream has jumped from 10% of total sales to around 20%. As for the lion’s share of the work (residential properties), landscape maintenance contractors continue feeding roughly half of it.
Serving such an array of clientele, each of which has been affected by the economic downturn in a different, yet equally profound way, has kept den Hartog on his toes. The Emerald Magic ship has had to get a little tighter, the marketing a little more creative, and the sense of urgency even more urgent.
“Many of our clients have had to cut back or cancel outright,” den Hartog relates. “We came up with an ‘Essential’ program that helped us save several accounts. We’ve even offered a ‘recessionary discount’ in some instances.” Now that the economic situation is improving, den Hartog says many customers are returning to normal service and/or pricing levels.
Community coupons have also helped bridge the demand gap for the past couple of years. “We’ve been aggressive with these,” den Hartog says. “We needed to tell the public that we were affordably priced.” Two of the more successful promotions were done through Angie's List (online) and Newsday (print). “These types of promotions open a lot of doors, but you also have to give up a large percentage of your sales. So be careful—you don’t want them to be your main driver of new sales.”
An increasingly significant driver of new sales has been Emerald Magic’s crews. “Active Sales” is what den Hartog likes to call it.
“We’ve been training our technicians to look for needs,” den Hartog explains. “When we do our property inspections, techs look for what could be better. They’re also empowered to let the client know. Finally, they’re empowered to strike up relationships with landscape contractors so we can get more subcontracting work.”
The training to make this happen is twofold.
Technical training. Monthly training sessions with Ed Gulliksen, aka “The Plant Doctor,” help keep techs on the leading edge of trends and technology. “My motto is ‘the more you learn the more you earn,’” den Hartog says. “My goal is to help educate and raise the bar of professionalism. My success hinges on the fact that my technicians are absorbing more information.”
These monthly training sessions are also open to Emerald Magic customers, including landscape contractors. “Offering this type of learning opportunity is a great way to say ‘thank you,’” den Hartog points out. One might think it could backfire, resulting in more landscapers bringing lawn care services in house. But that hasn’t been the case. “New work from existing contractors is up. New work from new contractors is up. I guess this proves that our other motto also holds true: ‘The more you give the more you get.’”
Sales training. Emerald Magic has also taken steps to make sure technicians are prepared to perform at a high level from a sales and customer service standpoint. “We remind them over and over again to do the little things, like wave to the neighbor of a customer you’re servicing,” den Hartog says.
The company also conducts sales training back at the shop. Role playing sessions have been very effective in building confidence.
Give consumers a reason to buy—from you
A variety of other tools are used to strengthen customer relationships and put buying incentives in place.
Fishing trips and golf outings are a favorite of den Hartog’s. Giveaways are another. For instance, consumers could enter to win a free trip to Ireland. Another promotion invited consumers to enter an “Extreme Lawn Makeover” contest where Emerald Magic would provide a complete lawn restoration valued at $600. Aside from the obvious publicity these campaigns generated, there was an added bonus: collecting names for future direct marketing efforts.
Emerald Magic Lawn Care’s active sales initiative has been all about generating new leads. The company has also had to bend with the market in order to hang onto existing customers. They’ve done it, and are feeling pretty confident that their level of service will do the rest.