As COVID-19 continues to make headlines and impact industries in a variety of ways, it’s critical that we remain in constant contact with our dealer and contractor partners as our typical peak season remains ahead amid uncertain times. However, the outbreak seems to have a varied impact in each market.
In Southern and Southwestern states where spring is in full swing, contractors are reporting that they are still seeing a decent flow of leads and are bidding and signing projects. In the North, however, it’s important that contractors explore the resources available to continue to build their pipeline. In fact, some manufacturers are partnering with contractors to capture leads using digital tools as home shows are canceled or moved to virtual mediums. Despite what has transpired, perhaps the time people have spent in their homes could lead to an increased interest in investments in beautiful outdoor living spaces.
Federal guidelines, however, urge us to eliminate physical contact as much as possible in order to protect ourselves, our families, our crews and our customers. Considering that, it would appear that providing design consultations would be difficult.
Thankfully, we have an incredible number of tools at our fingertips to “meet” with clients virtually. Instead of meeting face-to-face to discuss a new project, meet with your client over FaceTime or apps like Zoom and Skype using your smartphones or tablets. Have the client walk the property with their device camera, so you can see everything and communicate in a way that would be similar to a face-to-face meeting. Use your device camera to display product samples and describe the features. Email them images of that product in other installations for further reference.
If allowed by your local municipality, set an appointment time when you can enter the property to take measurements while avoiding any face-to-face engagement. If you live in a state where stay-at-home orders are in place, measurements will need to wait until the order is lifted, unless the project is simple enough for the homeowners to take the measurements themselves.
Design software and 3D renderings help drive success
If you are unable to visit the site, there are, thankfully, a wide array of other tools to gather the information you need. Contractors now have access to an incredible amount of satellite imagery and mobile applications that allow them to gather information without ever having to step foot on the jobsite to take measurements. Some mobile apps even allow homeowners to upload images from a number of angles to generate a 3D model of their home within hours. In addition, some hardscape manufacturers provide design services so contractors can work with an expert outdoor designer to create photorealistic 3D renderings that include everything from hardscapes and landscaping to furniture, outdoor appliances and more.
The visual and detailed aspects of 3D renderings are known to help homeowners come to decisions more quickly, as they are able to visualize their new outdoor living space in real-time. Contractors can send a homeowner the 3D renderings to view their space, make a few quick revisions to the plan and move forward with the project – all while maintaining proper social distancing and saving contractors valuable hours by reducing the time needed to travel for presentation appointments with customers.
In fact, 3D renderings offer a number of perks and benefits for contractors and homeowners alike. For contractors, design software implementation:
- Eliminates questions upfront, making projects run more smoothly from start to finish. This leads to pleased customers and, in turn, referrals and more repeat business.
- Reduces the amount of time spent in the design phase, which increases the amount of time available for contactors to spend on selling and managing projects.
- Leads to increased ROI as the number of site visits to close projects decreases.
- Helps streamline the process of selling and installing hardscapes.
- Offers the ability to give customers a better visualization of the overall project and walk them through two to three viewpoints of the design. This gives contractors the opportunity to answer any questions that arise.
Overall, today’s technologically-advanced and digitally-connected world provides opportunities that could even allow the green industry to operate more efficiently, even after we return to business-as-usual.
Leveraging technology and other resources in the age of virtual selling
Some contractors, whose pipelines are still strong for the next eight to 10 weeks, may see a delayed impact of slowing business. As such, it’s important to look beyond the 10-week mark in order to continue to build out opportunities.
Contractors should consider ramping up marketing and proactively communicating with their client base to create opportunities, including incremental projects to maximize each lead that comes across their desks. While business might be on the slower side, contractors have an opportunity to take a step back and spend more time developing each project proposal. This is also a great time to reach out to past clients to pique interest in adding onto their projects with features such as grill islands, kitchens, fire pits, lighting or cleaning and sealing. Keep in mind that many people postponed or canceled spring break trips and may consider using that money to improve their spaces.
By utilizing these incredible technological tools, contractors can better navigate the nuances of business today. From platforms that enable online e-signatures and financing programs, contractors are still able to close deals and move projects forward without breaking a safe social distance. While contractors’ phones might be quieter than normal and home shows are being postponed and canceled, it’s also important for contractors to form strategic alliances with builders and other trade professionals to help get their name and information in front of homeowners, who might be taking this time to plan their next project.
In fact, most consumers have more free time as they shelter in place, which means they also have more time to read and research. This means that more homeowners are preparing for their next big outdoor project – whether they plan to break ground now or when uncertainty passes. Being proactive now will ensure that your business will be in a great place once COVID-19 passes. This is a temporary setback. The most important thing is to keep moving forward and stay positive!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Joe Raboine is the director of residential hardscapes at Belgard.