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Expand Sales Opportunities With Commercial Design-Build Landscape

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Business Advice

Knock his Block Off and You Win

Most landscape contractors have a mix of residential maintenance and design/build work as well as commercial maintenance and bid work.  Now before you go any further, look at what I just wrote:

Hmmm! Seems like there is a huge opportunity being overlooked here. But what could it be? Oh yes I see it. What about commercial design/build?  (Did he just say commercial design/build?)

That’s right! Not commercial bid work but commercial design/build. Give it a minute and the concept will hit you like a ton of pavers.

About 10 years ago one of our residential DB clients, who was also a facility manager at one of the commercial properties we maintained, told us that the owners of the property wanted to not just give their office building a face lift, but redesign the entire entrance to the building and the outdoor sitting/lunch area for the employees. He told us that they were interviewing a few architects, and landscape architects about the project and asked me if we wanted to bid on it when the drawings were ready?

Just as I was about to jump at the opportunity and say absolutely I said, “George (his name was George) I have a much better idea that is a win-win for everyone,” and so began our foray into commercial design/build work.  Although the concept seems pretty straightforward, there are still some key things that you need to do to ensure a smooth and steady process.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and discuss why this is such a great idea but also why it is not a slam dunk. Just because you do residential DB install work and commercial maintenance does not mean that you can just jump into commercial design/build without rethinking your business model.

Commercial maintenance is a lot like a popular kids toy from the 70’s called Rock’em Sock’em Robots. Rock’em Sock’em Robots was a boxing game where each of you controlled a boxing robot. You were able to move them around the ring, sort of, and had two controls, one to throw a left punch and the other a right. The goal was simply to knock the other guys block (head) off.  If you did this before he did you won.  If he knocked your head off first, he won. Fortunately you could push your head back on and play again.

For those landscape contractors under the age of 40, believe it or not the game was a blast and much easier to play than Call of Duty – Black Ops.

Anyway… The point is that this is how most commercial property managers interact with landscape contractors. Instead of trying to work together to provide the best service for the best price, each side tries to out maneuver and out do the other so that they can knock the guys block off and win. As we all know, in these types of situations ultimately no one ever wins. Even if you push his head back on and go a few more rounds.

If you want to develop a commercial design/build department you need to take the gloves off and treat the facility manager the same way you would a high end residential customer. Most facility managers are really just homeowners that have a lot more responsibility. The reality is that he (or she) has a million things going on to keep the building and property running and looking good and anything that you can do to help them would be great. Here is all you need to do to make this work.

Reach out to all of your commercial property owners and facility managers that you do maintenance or snow plowing for and let them know that you are providing this new service. If you can create a marketing piece that’s great if not an introductory letter or phone call will work too. They already know you, depend on you and have a working business relationship with you, why wouldn’t they be interested.

Suggest that you do a walk around the property with all of the interested parties to talk about project opportunities. Or maybe they already have a project or two in the pipeline and are just waiting for someone to spearhead it to get things going.

Offer to provide them with some numbers that they can put into their capital improvement budget for the next fiscal year so when they are ready to pull the trigger the money is there and so are you.

So before you schedule your next meeting with one of your property managers, instead of suiting up and putting on “the gloves”, tell yourself that he his really just a homeowner who has a big piece of property to manage. This way you can treat him like a high end residential client as you introduce your new “commercial design/build department”.

He may not understand right away and may be waiting for a sucker punch because you have been beating each other up for so long, but just stay with it and before you know it you’re no longer “bidding” on commercial work, you’re growing a prestigious commercial design/build department to service your high end commercial clients.

Jody Shilan is a former landscape contractor and award winning designer. He has sold tens of millions of dollars of installation work throughout his career and now uses his 30+ years of experience to teach other landscape design/build contractors how to dramatically increase their sales and standardize their landscape design/build/sales process. He does this through private consulting, public speaking, group workshops and his “exclusive” members only website

Jody Shilan appears as a guest blogger for LMN Blog, Landscape Management Network’s resource hub for all things related to building a better landscape business. For more on the Landscape Management Network, check out the website at

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