Sept. 1 1999 12:00 AM


Below, top to bottom:
A back yard and area under
a deck, before landscaping.
The same yard after work was
completed. View looking down
from second-floor deck.

1beforebackUnlike many professions, landscape designers have an easy-to-access record of their most recently completed jobs. They also have the unique ability to use these past designs and installations, which they have masterminded and overseen, to sell new creations to prospective clients.
If a picture paints a thousand words, then a well-designed site helps those words pass from person to person, and hopefully, from customer to customer. "Most of our new clients find us by referral, so they have seen what we can do," says Tim Thoelecke, president of Garden Concepts, Inc., located in the Chicago suburb of Glenview.

2afterThoeleckes company specializes in high-end residential design. Along with landscape, Garden Concepts, Inc. integrates such features as irrigation, fences, walls, water features, pergolas, gazebos, swimming pools, and lighting in its designs. The company also handles installation. One easy way to use a past job to help sell a new one, Thoelecke says, is simply by touring the property of a job recently finished. "When choosing materials, hardscape or plants, we will often take a client to a previously completed project to show examples," he says. There can be some drawbacks to this easy method, Thoelecke warns. " Photos courtesy of Linda Engstrom, Landscape DesignerIt can be difficult (to do these tours) because not everybody maintains his or her property to the same level," he says. "If going to tour a property, its a good idea to see how its been maintained prior to bringing a prospective client."

3aboveAnother method Thoelecke uses to help sell new jobs is his companys portfolio, which highlights the firms designs and installations. Thoelecke takes photos after a job is complete. Like fine wine, a good landscape design gets even better with age, however; so Thoelecke says he also likes to go back to a
former clients property and take new photographs two years after the design has been installed. "That is usually time enough for it to get settled," he says. "Sometimes they get even better over time, if maintained properly, at which time I will get other pictures taken."

If the property has been neglected, Thoelecke says the original photos provide him with a record of what the job was supposed to look like. Along with these original photos, Thoelecke suggests keeping a description of the design intended for the job being shown. This tactic helps spotlight the original plan for the property, as in some cases the client insists on changes en route. "Ultimately, it is the clients property, and occasionally decisions are made or design concessions made to accommodate a clients budget needs," he says.

Below: before, and bottom:
after landscaping.
Photos courtesy of Garden Concepts

GCStoneBeforeMost importantly, Thoelecke advises putting as much effort into your dealings with your customers as you do with the work you perform on their property. "Relationships are as important as the product," he explains, adding that people may talk to each other to see how the process went during their dealings with a company. "We make an effort to maintain those relationships far beyond the final installation, and our clients appreciate that," he says.

GCStoneAfterJerry Pence, owner of Exclusive Landscape Design of St. Louis, Missouri, says he, too, has been successful using past projects to sell new work. "My own designs are my best advertising," he says. Pence, Missouri Botanical Gardens Landscape Designer of the Year in 1995, has been published in Landscape Design and St. Louis Home, and he is a landscape design instructor at St. Louis Community College. "My work all comes by word of mouth," he says. "I sell my designs based on the customer already knowing my work and liking what hes seen. I dont use gimmicks. I also allow the customer to get as involved as he wants to by sending out a questionnaire before our meeting."

Like fine wine, a good landscape
design gets even better with age

Pence says he always takes his portfolio with him to meetings with each new client, and he also has a reference list that is sent out to the prospective client prior to the meeting. "There are several ways to market your work," he explains. "One is to be sure to take before and after pictures, and use them in your portfolio. I find it helpful to not only take an overall picture of a project, but also to focus in on a specific area, like a sitting area, waterfall or whatever."

Another marketing tactic Pence suggests others use is to take a couple of their best drawings, render them and put them into their portfolio. Pence himself has taken that advice one step further. "Ive done water-color paintings of either a proposed or finished product and given them to people. Ive also taken pictures two or three years after a jobs been done and sent them to past clients to remind them of how far their yard has come."

Before and after
landscape design.

Photos above and below
courtesy of Garden Concepts

Self-confidence is another important advertising tool, Pence asserts. "(You have to) be proud of your work. Confidence, without (having arrogance) in yourself and your work goes a long way in making a sale."

Linda Engstrom, owner of the design company Garden Aesthetics, located outside of Portland, OR, says she also relies heavily on past jobs to gain new clients, and she has several effective tactics in utilizing a past contract to sell a new one. She, too, highlights her work in a portfolio through the use of photographs. "My portfolio book is filled with before and after photos, and sample plans from previous jobs," she says. " In addition to showing a potential client what I have done, I also use it as an idea book."

Before and after
landscape design.
Top photos courtesy of
Linda Engstrom Landscape Design.
Bottom photos courtesy
of Garden Concepts.

5beforeEngstrom says she has several ways of getting prospective customers to her web site. One way is simply to give extra business cards and the web site address to current clients, along with a final packet, which includes four copies of the plan, a plant list, reports, and assorted booklets. "They can then easily refer me to their friends and neighbors," she says. "My client-site questionnaire is also located on my Web site and can be downloaded, filled out, and ready for me when I visit."

6frontafterAlong with using past clients to help gain new ones, Engstrom says she has also built a name for herself by giving lectures and writing articles for the local newspaper. "My name is familiar to many people," she says.

Reputation is clearly one way to sell work, as getting a prospective client to see a past project can be done more easily for those whose name is recognizable. Tracy DiSabato-Aust, the owner of Horticultural Classics & Consultations located near Columbus, Ohio, and author of the book The Well-Tended Perennial Garden (Timber Press, 1998), says people know her book and her work and come to her already knowing what she can do for them. "I dont bid on jobs," she says. "I work with a few very exclusive high-end clients. It is a real joy."

DiSabato-Aust was formerly on the staff at Chadwick Arboretum in Ohio, and has taught at Ohio State University. She has received numerous horticultural awards and has written articles for such magazines as Fine Gardening and American Nurseryman. Country Gardens featured DiSabato-Aust and her garden last fall.

GCGreyFrameA specialist in perennial or mixed border design, DiSabato-Aust has given lectures about perennial garden maintenance and design all over the country for the past 17 years. "I speak to professional groups, as well as homeowners. I always encourage professionals to have before and after pictures of their jobs to show clients, as it is hard for the average homeowner to visualize the results," she says.

Before, during, and after
completing new landscape design.
Photos courtesy of

GCGoodwinHDriveBeth Edney LeBreux, the owner of Designs By The Yard, in Toronto, Ontario, takes a little different tactic to generate sales. Although Edney LeBreux says she carries her combination daytimer and portfolio with her at all times, she will not give out references unless requested. "I do, however, have clients that tell me that if I need to bring a client around they would be glad to oblige," Edney LeBreux says. Instead, she recently has begun sending clients to her home where she has different landscape materials used in her front and back yards. "This has proven to be a successful sales tool," she says.

GCGoodwinH1Edney LeBreux specializes in small urban gardens, and like many of her American counterparts, her main source of work is referral-based jobs. "I will generally get anywhere from one to five new clients from a job that I am working on or have completed," she says. "The new calls that I receive usually come from contractors that I work with.

GCGoodwinVSince I started my own business Ive not had the need to advertise. Ive been busy with the work that I have self-generated." Edney LeBreux says she has been using her portfolio for the last two years out of the six she has been in business for herself, and adds she is pleased with the response.

"An example of this occurred two weeks ago on an initial meeting. A client looked through my portfolio and found a garden that she had visited," Edney LeBreux explains. "She was delighted to find out that I had designed it because it was the exact feel she wanted for her own backyard. Our meeting had gone well until this point, but after seeing the portfolio, she was ecstatic and could not wait until I returned with the designs for her."

Edney LeBreux also plans to showcase her work on a home page on the Internet. "This is time consuming, but I think it will pay off in the future," she says.

GCGoodwinLastSpecialists seem to agree that using past work to sell new contracts is a practical and fruitful way to prosper. But, says one Portland, OR designer: "There is no better tool for generating new work than doing a good job on a project already underway." Myrna Dowsett, proprietor of Portlands Landscapes and Accents, specializes in upscale regional residential landscape design. She says she chooses to do relatively few jobs, and spends a significant amount of time on each contract she undertakes. "I choose not to turn them out, and I try to work with the contractor as the installation goes on," she says. "I am an advocate for the clients, and I try to troubleshoot as decisions have to be made."

For example, Dowsett says, if a contractor cant find a particular plant, she may step in and buy that plant. She says she does this because substituting plants can change the ambiance and effect she may have been trying to create. "You can change the whole complexion with a substitute," she explains. "Each plant has its own texture, color, size and form. Each has unique qualities."

This approach seems to work for Dowsett, who says she gets many referrals, both from former clients and the contractors she has worked with on past jobs. "Sometimes contractors and/or wholesale nurserymen refer me to their clients and customers," she says. "Mostly the previous installation sells my work."

Her portfolio also is important to selling her work, Dowsett says, and tours of past gardens she has worked on sometimes helps clinch a sale, although she leaves that invitation up to her former customers to extend. "I will give out names and phone numbers of past clients but never addresses. I respect my clients privacy," she says. "If a client allows another person to visit, then they can do that. That sometimes works out well, but I am not going to exploit that or be in the persons garden all the time." Dowsett says if a prospective customer does have an appointment with a former client, she occasionally will go for the meetings, although sometimes she prefers not to be in attendance. "Sometimes, it works out better if I am not there. Then the homeowner can say things they might not say in front of me," she explains. Like other specialists in her field, Dowsett says public exposure is an important part of advertising her work. She writes articles, lectures and teaches at
a local community college. "From my experience, hiring a landscape designer is like hiring an architect or interior designer," Dowsett says. "These jobs are all based on what others see of your work. People dont want to hire someone they dont know anything about."