Earnings opportunities in the landscaping business are easy to overlook in the fall. Summer lawn mowing is winding down, along other services tied to the growing season. Yet, as the weather begins to turn cool, there’s more to do than simply prepare for winter snow and ice removal.
The fall can represent a new revenue opportunity if you choose to pursue it. Potential clients are often unaware of what can be accomplished during the fall and how those services can benefit their landscapes for years to come.
Before you can pitch your services, however, you may have to help your potential client get beyond their typical thoughts about fall – namely, that it’s harvest time and plants are now going dormant or dying. “Why,” they may ask, “would I want to put down mulch or try to plant a lawn now?”
They’ll probably be surprised when you inform them that fall is a great time for planting or reseeding a lawn. Explain that it’s the safest time for grass to germinate. The harsh heat of summer has passed, a majority of the weeds are dead and the seeds have time to set roots during both fall and spring.
For Creative Landscape and Irrigation, based in Asheboro, North Carolina, reseeding lawns makes up 90 percent of its income from September to November.
“Usually we serve most of our landscaping (projects) in September and October,” said Steven Wright, president and owner of Creative Landscape and Irrigation. “We don’t do landscaping in the summer. Fall is the best time to plant anything, especially anything large.”
Utopian Landscapes in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, also prefers planting in the fall so that the plants are able to spend nine months in ground before having to deal with the intensity of summer.
“Don’t forget to offer planting bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth to give your clients something to look forward to in the spring,” said Nikos Phelps, president of Utopian Landscapes.
Mulching has obvious benefits so stress these to your potential clients. Mulching in the fall suppresses weeds and retains soil moisture and temperature. This is important if they have plants like rhododendrons, azaleas or roses.
Leaf removal is one service you won’t have to convince your clients is necessary, but you may want to mention that its value goes beyond aesthetics. After all, leaves can smother their healthy lawn.
Make a plan
If reseeding lawns isn’t in your wheelhouse, this doesn’t necessarily mean that offering a fall service isn’t for you. Outside Solutions in Sykesville, Maryland, uses their fall cleanup service not only as another source of income, but also a way to keep in contact with their customers.
However, the president of Outside Solutions, Chad Beidel, has a few words of caution for landscapers who are considering this add-on service. First, he says, be sure to have “a clear-cut plan, including proper pricing that produces a profit, the right equipment and trained personnel.”
Phelps warns that accurate costs for fall cleanups can be difficult to estimate. One can’t know ahead of time how long it will take the leaves to fall or how the wind and weather of the season may play out in a given year.
“If you have the ability to bid time and materials,” Phelps says, “this will be your safest option and can help prevent you from losing in your first season.
“As you become more seasoned, you can take the averages of all the seasons to get a more representative estimate of how much time the job will take.”
According to Beidel, the top three features of a fall service are pruning, edging and light mulching, and leaf removal.
Be aware that pruning in the early fall increases the risk of fungal infections. It also promotes new growth that doesn’t have time to harden before the first frosts. Pruning should take place after the leaves fall. This enables you to see exactly what needs to go and what can stay.
Evaluate the equipment and staff you currently have to see if offering a certain service is even feasible. If you know little to nothing about proper pruning, don’t provide it. Stick with what you know and add it in later once you’ve had enough training on the subject.
Find a way to stand out
Fall services aren’t a new idea. Other businesses have been out doing this for years. Figure out a way to make your business stand out from the others. Wright loses customers every year to companies offering cheaper service, but he says the competition’s caliber of work is poor.
“After we lose a customer, within two seasons we gain about 90 percent of them back,” he says.
No matter what the season, competing on price alone can be a no-win situation for landscape contractors, whose reputation is what brought them their existing customers and is almost sure to account for most of their new ones.
That’s why Wright believes customers who choose a cheaper option are bound to come back eventually. With his company, he says, they could see results. For example, Creative Landscape and Irrigation aerates the ground multiple times before seeding – certainly not the cheapest way to go – while its competitors only go over the lawn once and use about half the seed. He may lose a job to them on price, but only for a season or two.
If your competition is actually doing quality work, consider an additional perk. During the recession, Wright added a gutter-cleaning service. Over three seasons, it picked up 600 contracts.
Outside Landscapes has dabbled in fall decorating with flower pots, pumpkins, scarecrows and the like. True, decorating is not a skill all companies have — pruning and seeding may be a better fit for your equipment and expertise – but the point is: There’s no reason not to push hard for landscaping work as autumn arrives.