Jan. 27 2021 06:00 AM

Small steps can lead to solid growth when adding on new services.

It’s no secret that launching a business requires undivided attention, complete dedication and endless hard work. Once you’ve successfully started a landscape or irrigation company and built a clientele, adding services to your list of offerings might seem like the next logical step. With the right planning, timing, training, budgeting and marketing strategies, beefing up your offerings is a key way to expand your business and your reach. Though there isn’t one linear path to growth, heeding some best practices can help with a smooth and successful expansion.

Listen to costumers

Growth isn’t new to Tim Brucks, CEO of Total Landscape Concepts, Roseville, California, but it has come in different ways through the years. In the early days, his business focused on mowing and maintenance. He says a trip to the store changed that.

“I happened to be at Home Depot, and they were selling equipment, and one of them was an aerator,” he says. “I had a Home Depot credit card and was able to put the aerator on it with no interest, so I bought it. I went out the next day and made all my money back.”

Perfecting the services that you offer is a great way to increase your own confidence as well as the confidence that your clients have in you. When clients are pleased with the quality of your work, they will often ask you to take on additional work — work that might be outside of your current scope.

“A lot of it has to do with what customers are asking for,” Brucks says. “When you start getting a lot of inquiries about lighting you stop and think, ‘I guess that’s a hot thing and it’s time to learn something about that and make it happen.’” Shaun Omar experienced a similar type of organic growth stemming from customer inquiries and requests. When his business, Decoscapes Home Services Inc., Delray Beach, Florida, began answering calls from clients interested in landscape lighting, he started to consider the logistics and costs involved with growing his services to include installing this.

“We had several people asking for lighting, and I had done small jobs here and there, so it seemed like a perfect fit to add to our list of services,” Omar says.

Requests from clients and a hot market pushed Adam Puhl to expand services for his company, Puhl Landscape Design, Nelsonville, Ohio. Though his main service was landscape design, customers began asking him to do irrigation and lighting work.

“I’m in a very fast-growing section of Ohio, and I knew that there weren’t a whole lot of people doing lighting in my area,” Puhl says. “I was being asked to do things here and there. I had done all those services in the past, so I knew what it entailed, and it turned into adding those services to the business.”

Even with urging from customers, Omar says it has to be the right time for the business, and for you as a contractor, to expand. One of the biggest pitfalls is launching a new service before the idea is fully researched and planned, and before you have truly mastered it.

“I made the mistake once of adding a service before we were really ready and it almost backfired on us,” Omar says. “We made so many mistakes because we hadn’t done enough due diligence before releasing the service that clients were losing confidence in us. We fought back and it ended up being very successful, but it could have been a disaster.”

Brucks had plans to launch tree, lawn and shrub care services featuring fertilizer and insecticide application just as COVID-19 hit. He said he realized that instead of focusing the time and effort on a new revenue stream, the timing dictated that he focus on obtaining personal protective equipment and making sure his employees could work safely. Although the launch was delayed, he says he will still roll out that service in the near future.

Become an expert

Installing a patio or landscape lighting may seem to fall within your skill set, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to roll out that service to clients.

“The biggest thing is knowing that just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that you are proficient at it and should do it without correctly knowing how to do it,” Puhl says.

Though it requires extra time and effort, learning how to do things correctly and thoroughly training your staff are important steps before offering a professional service to clients. During the offseason, Puhl says he takes advantage of training sessions on irrigation and lighting installation that are offered by his suppliers.

“We’ve gone in to fix other jobs where a landscaper said they can put lighting in,” Puhl says. “We take the time up front learning to do things the correct way.”

As Brucks prepares to launch his spray service, he will rely heavily on an employee with previous experience and a strong knowledge of chemical applications and the licensing process for the state of California. As he adds employees to his team of 15, Brucks says training is always at the front of his mind, and he places a strong focus on teaching the fundamental skills required to complete the job.

“Most people cycle through a crew with my right-hand guy, and I go out to jobs and train people,” Brucks says. “We find that some companies aren’t doing things properly, so I don’t mind training to make that happen. We also do some fun things where we quiz people for a gift card, which leads to learning some of the basics a lot faster.”

Explore the financials

Once you have an understanding of the market and the services you are planning to add, it’s time to explore the financial side of expansion. If your current business model is profitable, it could be the perfect time to invest in the equipment or talent necessary for expansion.

When Total Landscape Concepts was in its infancy, Brucks said he picked up broken mowers from yard sales, which he then fixed and turned into his first fleet. That desire to minimize borrowing, keep costs low and test a business model before making a large financial investment has followed him throughout the years as he has grown his business to a full-service landscaping company providing landscape lighting, irrigation systems, hardscaping, turf installation and other services.

“A big part of it is how are you going to fund it, what’s your return, how long is it going to take to see a return,” Brucks says. “You can do things on credit, but we try to keep our credit use to a minimum.”

Brucks says he isn’t one to dive into a large financial commitment. As he has added services to his business model, he has been methodical about allocating labor and equipment. Instead of hiring a new employee to spearhead lighting or turf installations, he has cross-trained employees who have expressed a desire to learn new skills and take on more responsibility within the company.

As he prepares to launch his spray services, he says he will repurpose older maintenance trucks by converting them to handle chemical applications.

“We will utilize them to make money first, to make sure this service supports itself before we invest in new vehicles,” Brucks says. “When I buy new trucks I will try to take advantage of cheap financing options.”

After doing his research by talking to distributors and manufacturers, Omar was confident he could keep startup costs low while still delivering a quality landscape lighting product in a reasonable time frame.

“Knowing we can get our products in a timely manner doesn’t require us to make a huge investment in inventory, keeping our investment in our new income stream at a minimum while not affecting our service to our clients,” Omar says.

Rather than investing in equipment, Puhl has chosen to rent most of the equipment he uses for irrigation installation and lighting installation in order to keep his costs low.

“For the way we are set up, any equipment we need, we rent,” he says. “That’s the better way to do things rather than have all the overhead that a small business doesn’t need. I don’t keep a lot in stock. I may buy a dozen lighting controllers if I see a good deal, knowing throughout the year they will get put in.”

Make sure the price is right

When Puhl first began installing irrigation systems and lighting, he gauged the market by talking to suppliers. But finding the sweet spot for pricing also included some guesswork.

“The first few systems, it was kind of a guess as to how long it would take to get in,” Puhl says. “Then I considered how much my time was worth and went from there.”

In a perfect world, Brucks says pricing a service would simply entail calculating costs, overhead, labor and anticipated margin, but competition dictates that you have to provide a service better, faster or cheaper.

“Sometimes you just get out there and start selling and it works really well, or people start saying that they know another contractor who will do it for a lot less,” he says. “For commercial services, it took me a long time to figure it out. We bid and bid and bid until we started getting jobs.”

Omar says his pricing strategy avoids undercutting competitors, which drives down the market and affects everyone’s profit margin.

“I have learned the easiest way to separate us from our competitors is to offer a better-quality product and back it up with a higher quality of service,” he says.

Happy customers bring more customers

Puhl says that word of mouth marketing has been his best source of new clients. Many jobs have entailed fixing another contractor’s mistakes, leaving his customers satisfied with the quality of his work.

“I don’t do a ton of marketing,” Puhl says. “It is mainly a little bit on social media and lots of word of mouth.”

The biggest way to grow a new service is to make sure existing customers know that you offer that service, says Brucks.

“I started doing lawn maintenance and I had clients for years who would then get an irrigation system installed by someone else, not realizing that we also installed sprinklers,” Brucks said. “You always need to make sure your customers are aware of what you have to offer.”

When Omar launched his lighting service, he cross-marketed with a friend who owns a pool service company. His costs, postage and printing the postcard, were low, but he says his investment turned into an effective marketing strategy.

“We got a lot of work and the wordof-mouth clients continue to come in,” Omar says.

No matter how many customers inquire or how prepared you are to launch a new service, Brucks says the ultimate decision comes down to your own readiness.

“Make sure the timing is right,” he says. “Make sure you have enough time to commit. You’re not going to improve your life or your business by overextending yourself.”

Lauren Sable Freiman is a freelance writer based in Cleveland and can be reached at laurensable@gmail.com.