Front Office: Making a name for yourself

Reaching and retaining customers, like anything else that helps grow your business, takes effort, money and time. Dozens of our 2009 Landscaper of the Year applicants told us how important it is to focus on the business side of a company, in addition to the actual landscaping work. The biggest challenge is identifying who your customers are. What are their demographics? Where do they live? What is their income range? How might they receive information, i.e. newspapers, TV, etc.?

“If you get inundated with poor leads and the wrong customers because you didn’t identify your real customers, it can cause more harm than good,” says Bill Lillie, who along with his wife Linda owns Sprigs & Twigs Landscapes in Gales Ferry, Connecticut. “For example, our customers are mostly high-end residential and our products and services are tailored to that market. These customers are Internet savvy and don’t often use the phonebook. If we advertised in the phonebook, we would be swamped with the wrong leads. Avoiding the wrong customers is the first step in securing the right ones.”

Methods for reaching new customers vary based on your services, customer base and geographical location, but it’s important to know what works for you may not work for the next person, and that’s OK.

Getting the word out
Lillie says that reaching new customers requires they see you or hear about you several times before they remember you. As a result, he places advertising in several places simultaneously.

“The number one thing is to have a top-notch Web site and include its address in all other advertising you do,” Lillie explains. “Most of the time people will see or hear your ad, check out your Web site, and then contact you.”

Be sure to include a before-and-after project photo gallery so potential customers can see the wonderful landscape transformations you are capable of. Be sure to list all services you offer and if you charge for a consultation. Some landscapers provide the consultation free if the customer employs their services or puts the value of the consultation toward the actual landscape project.

“We use radio advertising on a local station to establish our brand,” Lillie says. “The station features soft rock piped into offices and businesses in a 50-mile radius, and has given us great exposure and brand recognition.”

Print advertising can be beneficial, too, if used to your advantage. Try to sponsor a weekly gardening column where readers can ask questions and you respond in the column. Newspaper inserts on home improvement or community

information provide a perfect opportunity to place your company top-of-mind for people new to your area and new home buyers.

“We buy a full page on the back cover or inside-front cover of these inserts. It’s worth the extra cost,” Lillie says. “With smaller ads, just like everyone else, you tend to get lost in the clutter. Your ad needs to stand out.”

Lillie also touts using company vehicles as rolling billboards. Having sharp, easy-to-read signage with your Web address and phone number is a must.

To personalize your message, consider direct mail. Develop a professional-looking postcard, preferably 8×10 so it stands out in a customer’s mailbox, summarizing your products and services and include your Web address and phone number. Know your targeted demographic, and send the cards to selected communities/prospective customers. Most response analysis studies show a 3-percent response rate from direct mail advertising. Lillie says their response was less that that in terms of number of responses, but the dollar value of the closed projects was “outstanding and well above our average customer ‘ticket’ price.”

Lastly, don’t rule out local and regional home improvement shows. They are generally held in the winter months and often attract thousands of people. Lillie stresses the importance of an impressive display and says he and Linda meet as many as 30 percent of their new customers this way.

Weighing the costs
“I think it’s essential to spend money in a down market to reach new customers,” Lillie says. “Even if your revenues are down, do not stop or slow your advertising; speed it up. The customers are still there – just a bit harder to reach.”

Radio advertising can cost up to $20 for a 30-second spot, depending on your area of the country. Keep in mind you have to run a spot hundreds of times at various times of day for best results.

Direct mail can cost about 50 cents per piece for printing and bulk mailing depending on what you are sending. There are companies that can tailor mailing lists to your area, customer income level and distance from your office. These lists cost about 5 cents per name.

“It’s best to get lists with the customer’s actual name and don’t use ‘resident’ or ‘occupant’ mailings. Those are much more likely to be thrown away,” Lillie says.

Home improvement shows can be a significant annual expense: the 8×10 booth alone can cost $1,000 or more. With all of the marketing material and booth decorations needed, Lillie says it’s not unusual to spend $5,000 to $10,000 on a show.

Above all, your Web site is the best selling tool you have. The single best way to secure a customer is to get them to your site because it can sell customers 24 hours a day.

For a few hundred dollars, you can have a basic Web site designed, but to really garner customers’ attention you’ll need to spend between $1,500 and $3,000. The cost of updating your Web site, including pictures, news and press releases may cost about $25 an hour in a Web designer’s time; and two to six hours a month would more than cover normal updates. The monthly cost of a hosting server for your site will cost between $10 and $20 a month.

Be sure to keep the site updated, make significant overhauls every few years, and take advantage of new technology. When potential customers contact you after seeing your site, they are on the way to becoming real customers. Web sites basically pre-qualify and excite future customers.

Once you make initial contact with the customer, arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss their needs and your capabilities. “Meeting the potential customer, and being on time, is the best way to start a new relationship,” Lillie says.

The Attachments Idea Book
Landscapers use a variety of attachments for doing everything from snow removal to jobsite cleanup, and regardless of how often they are used, every landscaper has a favorite attachment.
Attachments Idea Book Cover