Retrofitting Your Business

New. That one little word creates a sense of excitement like none other. When you 're asked, "What's new?" the last thing you want to say is "Nothing." People are naturally drawn to the newest hi-tech gadgets, new store openings and new restaurant menus. Why should your company by any different?

Look around. What services are you performing that are old and outdated and should be replaced with new and exciting ones? More importantly, what aspects of your current or potentially new client’s landscape can you identify as being ripe for a change? Performing the same services year after year might keep your business surviving, but incorporating new and exciting programs will help make it thrive.

Just ask Bill Kisich, owner of Inspired Landscape Creations, Glendale, Arizona, who has reinvented himself and his company more than once since he began his career.

“Fourteen years ago, I started installing irrigation systems for homeowners in the Phoenix area, which is notoriously hot and dry. They were so pleased with my work, I was constantly being asked what I thought of their yards and to suggest plants and other material for them to install. So, I started designing landscapes in addition to irrigation.”

From that point, word of mouth spread and his business began to grow rapidly. Then, the recession hit and he was forced to downsize. Kisich noticed that the one division of his landscape company that suffered the least was irrigation.

“When we weren’t installing big, new impressive irrigation systems with the landscape contracting side of the business, we began doing some very nice retrofits, taking existing systems and making them much more efficient.”

Understanding that some of his clients might not be able to afford the cost of an entire system, Kisich began to design his plans in phases. “The clients become very excited when I show them that they don’t have to install an entire landscape or irrigation system all at once. We put together a three- or five-year plan that we can do in phases. I’ll draw up the plans that show which part is installed first, how it connects to each phase, and how it can be purchased over time. We’ve had a great deal of success with our phase plans in the area of retrofitting.”

Coming from an irrigation background, Kisich has never lost his passion for water conservation, so once again he’s decided to reinvent his company from one that makes landscapes beautiful into one that also makes them sustainable. “I believe beautiful landscapes can be functional and ‘sensible’ at the same time. Balance is the key,” Kisich says. “One of the most exciting things I’ve been doing is working on my own irrigation program to reduce people’s water bills with the existing system they already have. Most of the time, the homeowners’ water rates are high simply because they’ve been irrigating improperly for years.”

Kisich’s program involves three facets his clients already have: their plants, their soil and their irrigation system. With 50 to 60 percent of the average Arizona residential water usage going directly into landscape irrigation, Kisich’s program has been able to reduce landscape water use by 35 to 50 percent by improving irrigation system management, installing upgrades using “smart” controllers, choosing more sensible plant selections and incorporating soil amendments.

Like Kisich, Marcus Kerske’s landscape road to success also took an unexpected detour. When Gardens of Babylon in Nashville, Tennessee, began operation eight years ago, the company offered a limited number of common landscape services. Once they began to define their brand, they developed a specialization and unique market niche.

“Our name has become synonymous with healthy, natural outdoor solutions—that’s probably the single strongest brand attribute people identify with Gardens of Babylon,” Kerske says.

With a little imagination, you can transform any backyard into a tropical “vacation” paradise that can be enjoyed without having to pack a single suitcase.

“Most of the time, we’re retrofitting first-generation irrigation systems with smarter systems— more efficient spray heads, pulsing systems that reduce runoff and systems that are triggered by evapotranspiration rates. We calculated that a good retrofit can save about 30 percent in water bills, which is considerable for the apartments and commercial clients we serve.”

Kerske continued to add other specialized divisions to his company, including a soil improvement division as well as a number of other soil amendment services. In 2008, they added commercial maintenance, which soon became the company’s fastest growing division, but they didn’t stop there.

“Landscaping is much more than pretty plants,” Kerske says. “Our clients wanted better-looking, low-maintenance spaces, so we’ve specialized in those landscapes that require minimal trimming, weeding and fertilizing.”

Seeing a growing trend in edible landscapes, Kerske added an innovated service to their landscape business to meet the needs of their community. “Around two years ago, we began a new landscape division called the “Personal Farmer.” Our crews go out to the homeowner’s property and replace parts of their backyard landscape with cedar timber-framed raised-bed gardens. We offer our clients a selection of planting vegetables, fruits, herbs or installing compost bins. This spring has been a busy one, with a demand for our vegetable gardens and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping our clients become more self-sufficient and grow their own food,” Kerske said.

Knowing what your particular client’s needs are is vital to the services you provide. The “landscape” of the landscape industry is constantly changing along with the economy, government regulations, the eco-green movement, and climate conditions. With the price of gas skyrocketing and airline travel becoming more of a headache than

its worth, many people are choosing to forego their annual family vacations and stay home. With a little imagination, you can transform any backyard into a tropical “vacation” paradise that can be enjoyed without having to pack a single suitcase.

A few years ago, Tommy Todd, owner of Tommy Todd Landscape & Design, St. Petersburg, Florida, noticed a dramatic shift in the way his clients were utilizing their backyards and found a way to capitalize on the trend. “In Florida, as in many parts of the country, homeowners are not only remodeling their yards with plants and flowers, but they’re creating livable outdoor environments where they actually want to stay home and enjoy a “staycation.”

After more than 25 years of being focused on lawn conversions, lawn and ornamental pest control and residential landscape projects, Todd took his company into another direction. “Our clients are investing in remodeling their homes from the inside out. We saw this as an opportunity to expand our business by offering a new landscape service, so a few months ago we started installing outdoor lighting and fireplaces to create outdoor leisure areas homeowners could enjoy all year long,” Todd said. “We not only renovate and update the aesthetic beauty of their landscape with new plant material, but we also add waterfalls and ponds to give the homeowner a sense of their very own oasis.”

There are a number of modular exterior fire products, including barbeque islands, fire tables, fire pits and fire urns, which create an exotic feel. By offering and installing these items, you’ll be opening a new avenue of revenue for your business.

It’s no secret that water rates are skyrocketing in nearly every city in the country. Irrigation rationing and conservation laws are being enacted at a rapid rate. These are excellent opportunities for your company to offer cost-saving and water-conserving irrigation projects. Also think about retrofitting landscaped areas by installing drought-resistant and native plants to just about every residential and commercial property owner in your area.

The term retrofitting describes the measures taken that replace old and outdated parts with new and updated ones. Usually, the replacements are connected to environmental savings in energy and water.

“We just added retrofitting to our company and almost immediately were contacted by clients in our area.”

“Last year, our water district announced they were offering a rebate program for homeowners who installed water conservation irrigation systems. Once the program went into effect, I mailed information about new smart controllers and water conservation irrigation systems to all our former clients, and also to homeowner associations, condominium and apartment complexes, senior living communities and business complexes in our area,” says Arlene Wing, owner of Lifestyle Landscape, Seattle, Washington. “The rebate program benefited everyone. It gave us work, the homeowners received their rebates, and they’ll also be saving on their water bills in the future.”

Michael Garcia, owner of The Lawn Jockey Landscape, San Diego, California, also jumped on the retrofitting bandwagon, and business has never been better.

“We just added retrofitting to our company and almost immediately were contacted by clients in our area. We have added ten new residential clients and six large commercial properties, and more are calling nearly every week.”

Sometimes reinventing yourself can be as simple as adding a word to your company’s name. Kathy Horbund has been specializing in drought-tolerant landscaping for more than 30 years. Her company, Kathy’s Landscaping, in Santa Monica, California, was doing a fairly decent business, but her clients were more interested in general landscape services than what she had to offer. “I found out that there was another landscape company with the same name as mine in another city, so about eight months ago I decided to add the word “sustainable” to my company name.”

Seemingly overnight, Kathy’s Sustainable Landscaping came up on the top listing on Internet search engines and her website began to receive three times the number of hits. And her phone is just as busy. “I’m not doing anything differently, but with all the media talking about our water problems, the word sustainable has become much more popular than ever and so has my business,” Horbund said.

There is always something new, different and exciting to be found in the landscape industry, if you take the time to look. Whether you choose to retrofit existing irrigation systems, rejuvenate old worn out landscapes, renovate backyards with edible gardens, create a livable outdoor environment, or simply add a word to your company’s name, the opportunities for continued success are out there. Now is the best time for you to go out and try something new.