One of the easiest ways to add profit is to include curbing and edging installation in your services. Curbing and edging have gained popularity with contractors because of the minimal startup costs and training. Clients like these products because they increase the resale value of their properties with relatively little expense.
For many years, edging was used strictly to separate turf from planter beds. It provided a clean, defined look and kept the grass from encroaching into the beds. Thirty or more years ago, wood, bender boards and steel were the materials used. Today, aluminum, polyethylene, vinyl, and concrete, as well as steel and wood, are used.
Decorative stone or brick edging is designed for aesthetics, not function. Most landscape edgings, however, provide function first and aesthetics second. Whether stamped and colored or hardly visible above the soil line, today’s curbing and edging products define a landscape and protect the enclosed area. In the past, wood and natural edging have also been popular options, but these are now less in favor due to high maintenance and poor durability.
The demand for curbing and edging across the country remains steady despite tough economic times. Concrete curbing has gained in popularity and offers an opportunity to do some unique installations. The profit potential for installation is high, too. If installed correctly, these materials should also last quite a long time.
Of the variety of edging products available, concrete curbing is very popular in certain parts of the country. Using a machine made specifically for curbing, a contractor can create a clean cement or concrete border around gardens, flower beds or driveways. The benefits of a concrete curb are numerous, and a permanent curb provides an effective weed barrier. But one of the main reasons to offer curbing services is to appeal to clients’ vanities with a huge return on investment.
In several areas, keeping up with the Joneses has led to a surge in client demand. Mark Crosswell, president of Tygar Manufacturing in Ball Ground, Georgia, says, “There’s tremendous demand for concrete curbing, and it’s rising significantly.”
“Especially in areas where concrete curbing is less prevalent, the potential to dictate the terms of pricing is excellent,” says Patrick Roach, owner of Borderline Stamp, Inc., in Surprise, Arizona. Since Roach first introduced concrete curbing to the U.S. in 1982, he’s seen its popularity spread across the country.
Machines can typically extrude anywhere from a 4" to 6" high curb for residential projects and up to 12" for commercial work. Some machines have the added flexibility of installing 24" wide garden paths as well.
Different attachments allow for a variety of curb shapes in a contoured fashion. Moreover, many stamped patterns and coloring techniques are available to mimic the look of brick, slate, cobblestone, rock, wood and other materials. Some machines can also integrate low-voltage lighting, pipe for irrigation systems and electrical wire into the curbing. These capabilities make up-selling a breeze.
After the numbers of curbers in his area quadrupled in the nine years he’s been in business, Frank Castille, owner of Alternate Edges in Broussard, Louisiana, agrees. “There could be double the present number in the market just to meet the demand,” he says. “Anyone can go from doing this part-time to doing it full-time in about one year.”
Crosswell adds that the rate at which concrete curbing can be laid makes the profit margin excellent. “A novice curber can do 200' to 300' in a day, while the average curber can lay 300' to 500' a day. An expert could do up to 1,000' a day. Now, we estimate that a contractor could charge anywhere from $5 to $10 a linear foot for curbing work, while the cost to the contractor is only about $1.80 to $2.50 a foot. The difference is the profit that a contractor can expect before overhead expenses. On average, a 60% gross profit stands to be made.”
Roach adds that the cost of any additive to protect against water, UV-rays or cracking must also be factored into any quote. “Thed right additive can strengthen the curb so that it won’t fall a p a r t , ” h e explains.
A l t h o u g h Crosswell gives a ballpark figure of $8,000 to $30,000 in startup costs for a curbing machine, sod cutter/ bed edger and concrete mixer, the high profit margin will most likely pay for the equipment in no time. “If you compare the startup costs associated with curbing with the cost of a skid steer loader or mower for other services, the thousands of dollars that could be made in a day make it a much better option for a contractor, even if he or she does this only as an add-on service,” Crosswell explains.
Still, Roach cautions that “people should do research before buying any package.” Roach has seen many contractors shell out as much as $75,000 for machines that become “flowerpots.” Most manufacturers will offer some kind of training with an equipment purchase which you can take advantage of to shorten the learning curve. Castille adds, “Training makes a big difference.”
While concrete curbing has really taken off, it’s by no means the only edging product available. Steel and aluminum edging are also valued for their strength, durability and suitability for forming straight lines. “As harder materials, steel and aluminum will hold up to maintenance abuse and won’t come out of the ground,” explains Karl Nieboer, sales manager for Sure-loc Edging Corporation in Holland, Michigan. “Aluminum, which is lighter and softer, is best suited for residential and light commercial applications. Steel, which is heavier and harder, is better for heavy commercial use.”
Unlike concrete curbing, the goal of metal edging is to provide a durable, clean guard against turf plant roots and weeds. The focus is placed on the landscape. “Metal edging is meant to blend into the landscape. Only a little is visible above ground,” Nieboer says. However, that doesn’t mean that aesthetics are completely out of the equation. Sure-loc Edging offers a variety of colors for both its steel and aluminum edgings.
The cons of working with steel can include high cost and difficulty working with the material. Still, the demand for metal edging is growing, according to Nieboer. He says it’s quite popular in the East, and he fields increasing volumes of calls from customers in the West. And with an estimated 30 to 40% profit margin, metal edging remains a viable option.
Other edging materials include heavy-duty polyethylene and vinyl. Among the commercial products used by contractors, these edging products are noted for their pliability, resistance to cracking and sun damage and ease of use. The lightweight material is easier to transport and will not rust or corrode. Polyethylene and vinyl products are often selected to curve around flower beds and borders to enhance the aesthetics of the design and provide a clean edge. Aymie Clayton, sales manager for Oly-Ola Edgings, Inc., in Villa Park, Illinois, notes that polyethylene and vinyl are also less expensive than steel and aluminum.
Whereas appearances are important with concrete, polyethylene and vinyl edgings should be inconspicuous, says Andy VandeHey, president of VandeHey Company, Inc., in Appleton, Wisconsin. “A good installation will result in a low profile with a clean edge,” he explains. However, just because this kind of edging will be mainly underground doesn’t mean that cheaper is better. Clayton cautions against the rock-bottom prices of some plastic edgings that end up giving good products a bad name. “If the prices seem too good to be true, they probably are.”
When installing edging material like polyethylene and vinyl in the colder climates of this country, you have to take into account the freeze factor. To ensure that during a frost the edging does not heave, it has to be trenched in and installed with heavy-duty 9" steel anchoring stakes.
Because these materials are lightweight and more pliable than steel and aluminum, cheaper versions are more easily damaged by lawn mowers. VandeHey says, “Polyethylene and vinyl work best on smooth curves. Tight curves are generally the failure points where frost heave can push the edging out of the ground. They’re also more challenging to mow.” However, he adds, “Know your environment. Contractors in areas with less frost don’t have to be as choosy.”
As with concrete edging products, steel, aluminum and polyethylene/vinyl edging installation is fairly simple and straightforward. It’s always a good idea to check with the manufacturer, however, before you proceed.
Although the recent downturn in new housing starts does affect our industry, the good news is that homeowners may be willing to invest more in their properties now that they are not flipping them. For these clients, edging and curbing are good ways to increase curb appeal. They will not only enjoy the benefits of a clean look, but it also enhances the price of the home. For you, the short learning curve and high profit margin associated with these services could increase revenue. And in times like these, what’s more appealing than that?