Jan. 27 2020 06:00 AM

Find out what you need to know when planning a new add-on service.

If you’re like a lot of landscape and irrigation contractors, you might be looking for new income streams. There are many different add-on business ideas that you can consider for your company. Often, what makes the most sense for landscape and irrigation contractors is to take the path of least resistance by delving into a service that is already needed among their existing client base. Since finding clients is typically the most time-consuming and expensive endeavor when adding a new service, this makes it practical to choose a service that is in demand.

For Krisjan Berzins, owner of Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape in Alexandria, Virginia, clients were specifically requesting pest control services and preferred to receive treatments such as mosquito control or perimeter pest control from a company they already knew and trusted. Berzins says he started out slowly, not investing a lot into hiring or marketing to new customers. Instead, he cross-trained some of his current employees and worked with existing clientele. His lawn care and plant health care technicians already had a skill set that transitioned nicely into performing pest control.

As the service grew, Berzins ultimately created Kingstowne Pest Defense, a separate entity, as he found homeowners consider pest services quite differently.

“From a marketing perspective, I found that customers really do look at lawn care and landscaping as largely separate from pest control, despite how much internal crossover there is,” Berzins explains. “I also didn’t want to be mistakenly perceived as a jack-of-all-trades but instead wanted to be able to position ourselves as true experts in each area, individually.”

Berzins says the alignment of a strong customer base that already trusted his company, as well as significant demand, has made this add-on work and eventually become its own business. But he advises that any company who is considering new services takes the time to analyze that need before diving in.

Need has also driven the success of adding a rainwater harvesting service to Marrazzo’s North River, a Wycombe, Pennsylvania-based landscape company. Owner Diane Marrazzo says she added the service in 2009 primarily as the result of water restrictions that were frequently placed on the region. Initially, these restrictions felt like a setback for the landscaping company, as any newly installed landscape is going to have significant watering needs. But installing rainwater harvesting systems became a natural addition that could also solve their water shortage concerns.

“Water restrictions might have caused us to postpone or even lose a job in the past,” she recalls. “But now we talk to our clients about storing rainwater for their watering needs—something that can ultimately save them money since rainwater is free, and irrigating a new landscape can start to add up.”

The company installs AquaBlox rainwater storage tanks which are manufactured by Aquascape, says Marrazzo. The system captures water from rooftops, filters and stores it. It can then be pumped and used as needed. It primarily took an investment of time to get a good grasp on how to install these systems, and attending a training seminar helped tremendously.

“Like anything, there’s a learning curve, but this is ultimately a win-win service for landscape businesses,” she says.

Noticing opportunity

Not all services are going to be specifically requested. Sometimes, clients don’t even recognize the services that they might benefit from. That was the case for Chris Speen, general manager of Twin Oaks Landscape in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who was already working with a lot of HOAs that had stormwater management needs, even if they didn’t realize it. He found that “getting started” often meant educating HOAs on the value of maintaining their retention or detention ponds over time in order to prevent long-term problems that could become extremely costly.

With much of the equipment needed to add this service already on-hand, such as machines like a mini skid-steer loader and compact excavator, Speen’s biggest challenge was finding a civil engineer to partner with. An engineer is often necessary to complete drawings or put their stamp on official plans.

“You can rent the equipment if you don’t have it, but building a good working relationship with a local civil engineer is going to be the most important step you take,” says Speen. “Today, we have a great relationship with three different firms.”

Under the stormwater management umbrella are a number of different services, including maintaining retention and detention ponds and performing various drainage work. Sometimes the team is cutting down foliage and sometimes they’re spraying products, which requires an applicator’s license. Other times they’re dealing with invasive species that requires a specialized approach. The work can be varied, and there’s a learning curve to get into it — but once you do, it can be a profitable, ongoing service.

The size and scale of jobs can vary dramatically, as can the payment structure. While Speen has one HOA that prefers an annual $30,000 payment, others budget for the service monthly. He likens it to billing for snow removal work. While a downside can be the amount of time that’s needed to get this service up and running, he says it definitely has a long-term pay-off. Today, he can afford to be selective with work and will only take on 36-month contracts.

“We’re at a point where we want the business, but we don’t need it,” says Speen. “That’s come a long way from having to take all the work we could get in order to get this service up and running.”

Matching skills

As new services are considered, skill set is obviously an important factor. You’ll need to consider what the learning curve will be for your employees — but also whether it’s a service that can even be taught. Services such as outdoor lighting, holiday lighting and water features require an artistic eye for design that most people either do or do not have.

That was what Chase Coates, owner of Outback Landscape in Idaho Falls, Idaho, found when he got into doing water features. Though it was a service he offered from the early days of his business, he found that as his business grew and he had an increasing number of projects, he couldn’t just assign them to anyone.

“Whereas you can follow a plan to build a patio or to install irrigation, water features are more of an art,” Coates says. “I was very limited by the number of team members I could send out to build one. You’re dealing with boulders and materials that don’t just ‘fit together,’ and you must have an eye for design.”

While it might be a good fit for a design/build company — which would likely also have the necessary equipment such as a compact excavator or skid steer — Coates says this might not be the right add-on for a contractor that performs mostly maintenance or irrigation work. For him, the biggest factor is definitely that artistic skill.

That’s also true of outdoor landscape lighting, says Nathan Cook, president of IDL Company in Kansas City, Missouri. Cook says that adding landscape lighting was a natural progression for his company, which now offers irrigation, drainage and lighting. But there is such an artistic element to it that it’s simply not right for everyone. He calls it a “highly specific niche.”

“Technically speaking, installing lighting is not overly complicated. But it’s an art, and that’s where some businesses are going to struggle,” Cook says. “There’s beautiful lighting that clearly looks professionally done and then there’s bad lighting, and I’d say the difference really is an eye for design. There is a big creativity factor to this service, and you can’t just teach that to someone.”

Like others, Cook transitioned into this service using his existing customer base and doesn’t really market lighting to brand-new clients. He says that the existing relationships and trust with clients who have already used his company for irrigation and drainage needs gives him the best chance to introduce additional services.

Similarly, there needs to be an eye for design for holiday lighting. But there is also a serious safety component that can make this service complicated, says Jack Moore, owner of Grassperson Lawn Care & Landscape in Lewisville, Texas. Though holiday lights were a natural addition for the company, as it obtains lights from its irrigation supplier, Moore says that there’s more to it than just teaching employees how to install the lighting.

“When you’re going to have people climbing ladders and walking around roofs, you really need to invest time in safety training to add this service,” Moore says. “There’s more of a learning curve on the safety factor than anything else.”

Easing into it

No matter which service you decide to add onto your business for an extra revenue stream, contractors have similar advice. Research the service and its need in the local market, and market to existing clients. Take some time to ease into the new service to establish it as a regular company offering. Moore is currently in the process of doing that as he “tests out” adding lawn aeration as the next possible new service.

“We’re doing a few jobs to get our feet wet and see how it goes,” he says. “But we’re also doing our research. We’re thinking about who in the industry we can talk to as we move forward with this service. Who can be our mentor? Anything you can do to shorten the learning curve will make a big difference. Fortunately, we’re in an industry that is willing to help one another out. My advice is to use that to your advantage. You’re not in this alone.”

The author is contributing editor to Irrigation & Green Industry and can be reached at lindsey.getz@yahoo.com.