Nov. 1 2003 12:00 AM

It would be a rare situation for me to ever install bulk mulch again. First, I have to go get it or have it delivered. After picking it up in my trailer, it falls between the trailer slats and blowing off as I travel. You could follow that trail and find me at the job site! Depending on the size of the job, I need to have a front-end loader, pickup truck, wheel barrows, snow shovels ? and plenty of sweat.Then when I?ve finished applying it, I have to go back and clean up all the ?drippings? from under the trailer and tail gate and rake up the ?trail? to all the shrub beds and tree rings. Been there. Done that. It may not be the most efficient way to do it. Consider using bagged mulch. No ?trails? from the trailer, and virtually no cleanup, saving you time and money . . . and since most of us make no money on this service, bagged mulch is a blessing indeed! Plus, you can use the bags for debris, etc., at other job sites and save some more. But ah, yes, bagged mulch costs more than bulk. Agreed. However, the labor savings typically offsets the price of the bagged, so your overall expense should be pretty much the same. So why not use bagged, if it?s available in your area? If not, I know some people who?ve made a small fortune bagging up mulch for resale. If you are getting a ridiculously low price on bulk, maybe it will pay for you to continue using it and maybe even at your current price. On average, bagged mulch runs about $22 per yard, bulk mulch, depending on the grade, can be as low as $6 to around $20 depending on your location, plus sales taxes. The industry average to apply one yard of mulch is about l.2 hours whether it?s bark, cypress, straw or other types, a time consuming, usually non-profitable task. One thing I always find curious is many of us can?t calculate how much mulch we need so try this formula. Multiply the length times the width of the area to be mulched times the height of the mulch and that will give you cubic feet. Divide that figure by 27 (there are 27 cubic feet in a yard) and that will give you cubic yards, then round that figure up. The variable in the formula is the mulch height, so use .08 for a one inch height, .l6 for two inches and .25 for three inches. Not being able to calculate mulch when I started cost me a lot of money! I finally figured out the hand measuring method did not work. So, you have an area that?s 50? by 125? and want to add mulch at a three inch height. Okay, multiply 50 x 125 x .25 = 1,563cf divided by 27 = 57.87 cubic yards, rounded up to 58. Now aren?t you glad you read Irrigation & Green Industry magazine? So, to equate to a yard using two cube bags, you need l3.5 of them; three cube bags, you?d need nine bags, and pine straw, about 13 bales. Try these ideas. You?ll like them!

Making money applying mulch

So, now we have an easier way to calculate mulch and know the advantages of bagged over bulk. Now, we?ll discuss pricing mulch and making some bucks doing it. It?s been my experience that most of us make little or nothing, or even lose money, applying mulch. This is typically due to our lack of knowledge regarding the costs to do a job and/or looking at mulch as a ?loss leader.? However, I subscribe to the idea of making money on everything we do, don?t you? And remember this, the prospect that requests this service is usually an existing customer, and will not get another estimate . . . enough said? As I travel around from place to place, it appears most of us charge, on average, about $40 per yard for mulch delivered and installed. Let?s do some math here . . . the average industry time to apply one yard of mulch is l.2 hours. Assuming your all inclusive man-hour cost is a very conservative $15, labor alone costs $18. Assuming we are using bulk mulch at an average of about $16 per yard, that?s $34 per yard, and assuming the use of bagged mulch at around $22, now our cost is $38 per yard. Oh yeah, let?s not forget sales tax at say, 7%. Add another $1.12 for taxes or a total cost per yard for bulk mulch at $35.12 and bagged around $41. Just keep in mind the labor savings from bagged vs. bulk. See what I mean? And don?t forget, these costs do not include pickup or delivery time or fees if you have it delivered. I know, many of you pay less than $10 per yard and charge $75 per yard and that?s fantastic! I applaud you. Smart. But, if you are in a nonmoney making situation or want to free up some time, consider yet another alternative. First, let?s focus on making money on applying mulch . . . so do your math based on the above to really determine what it costs you to apply one yard. The simplest thing to do if you?re not profitable applying mulch is to raise your pricing ? no later than your next job! If it were me, I might do a ?complimentary? mulch job up to around 10 yards. I?d have to charge no less than $65 per yard (or whatever is right for you) up to that amount. Anything over ten yards, I?d sub it out to one of those big blow trucks and let them blow it in for me, it costs me less overall, (usually $28-$34 per yard) and I can use my time, personnel and expertise on money-making projects! Or I can choose to be home watching Dr. Phil or the NFL and making money without working! Start thinking like this and your Lazy Boy will be worn out!

Selling the profitable mulch job

How do you respond when your customer asks ?How much to mulch my property?? The most typical response I?ve seen is x number of dollars per bag or yard. When this happens we really make the customer work hard to get the answer to their question. Now they have to ask ?How many bags?? or ?How many yards will it take?? This approach really makes them struggle to give us their money! When we say, $5 per bag, their normal response is ?Hey, I can get it cheaper than that at the big garden center!? And that is true, isn?t it? Now we?ve created a numbers and price problem, and are still no closer to the sale or subsequent profits. Am I right or am I right? And please, if they ask to see the receipt for the mulch, don?t provide it . . . what we pay for stuff is none of their business. Their only job is to make a decision on the expense and pay us when we?re done. What we?ve really created here is confusion and frustration on the customer?s side. They?ve got multiple decisions to make and sometimes we don?t know how much it will take and quote them a ?plus or minus or not to exceed? figure. Maybe we really need to do our due diligence by first measuring the area to be mulched and doing the calculations to determine how much mulch the area requires and at what height, labor time, travel time, equipment time, pickup and/or delivery fee expense as well as sales taxes. So, how much will the job cost you and what profit do you really need to make? Again, they will probably only get your quote, then make a decision. Let?s go back to the question they asked. ?How much to mulch my property?? They didn?t ask how many yards or how many bags or how many people did they? . . . they just want a price! So, let?s give them one price and therefore one decision to make by doing our jobs upfront. ?Mr. Smith, it?ll cost $695 to mulch your property.? Then be quiet and let them make the decision. It?s called ?lump sum pricing? ? one price, one decision, all inclusive. Try this. I guarantee you more mulch jobs and more profits! It works.

November 2003