Another trade show season is behind us. Call me crazy…Mr. Picture Perfect does…but I love trade show time of year. I actually enjoy the set up, the long days, networking with other contractors, and especially the opportunity to meet potential clients and to re-connect with clients we’ve worked with before. Trade shows offer business owners an opportunity to make a good impression on a lot of people in a very short amount of time. That’s why when you visit us at events like the recent Quinte Home and Lifestyle Show or the Connon Nurseries Design Expo, you’re talking to Mr. and Mrs. Picture Perfect themselves. We use these events to educate the people that we meet about our business (of course), industry trends, and why it’s important to compare apples to apples when researching landscape design-build companies.
Apples…What’s not to love?
The one thing that drives me crazy about trade show season is the following 2 or 3 weeks of non-stop meetings and estimating time fondly referred to around here as the ‘fallout’. We spend a lot of time educating folks on the importance of good landscape design, realistic budgets, and top quality installation practices. While some people we meet at trade shows and throughout the season take that advice to heart, others can’t bring themselves to do an ‘apples to apples’ comparison and are shopping for a landscape strictly on price.
Being a good Dutch girl, I can completely respect this position. While there are many products I will shop price on, when it comes to the service industry I am very wary of the lowest bidder. Shopping for the right landscape contractor is a much more involved process than finding the best deal on toilet paper or laundry detergent, and it pays to do your research. I’ve put together a
short list of items to watch for when comparing landscaping quotes and contractors. Look at the bottom line first if it makes you feel better, however take a careful read through each contractor’s entire proposal. Make sure that you’re comparing apples to apples before coming to a decision based on price alone. Keep in mind that what you don’t see on the proposal is often just as important as what you do see.
The installation method or ‘specs’ for your project should be clearly outlined in your selected contractor’s proposal. There are no real ‘trade secrets’ in the landscape industry here in the chilly north. Among experienced landscapers, it’s common knowledge that a 6 inch base made up of limestone screenings is not going to hold up for more than a couple of years. Unfortunately, because landscaping is not a regulated industry and is relatively easy to get into with the right work ethic, homeowners continue to be swayed by what appears to be the same installation for a lot less money. If your contractor has not outlined the project specifications, ask for them in writing…they should make up part of your contract. Keep in mind that the most beautiful paver installation will only look as good as the base supporting it allows.
The International Concrete Paving Institute (ICPI) is the authority on interlocking pavements in North America and sets installation guidelines for the industry. Look for an ICPI certified installer if you’re looking for an unbiased expert on base construction and paver installation. Some paving stone companies have an authorized contractor program. If you’re speaking to a contractor who’s invested the time and energy to join one of these programs, then you know that you’re dealing with someone who is up to speed on the latest installation practices.
You called this guy or gal for a reason, so keep that in mind when considering their proposal. Who referred them to you? Have you visited their website? Have you seen their work before? Do they have repeat customers? References? What have you heard about their team members? Are they well trained? Polite? Every team brings its own culture to the job site, and it may be helpful to remember that these folks could be on your property for weeks at a time depending on the size of the project.
Is this contractor insured? If not immediately evident on their contract documents it should be a question that you specifically ask before this contractor becomes your liability. You are within your rights to obtain a WSIB clearance certificate for any contractor who will be working on your property.
Much more than keeping the trucks clean or having a great looking logo, good business practices are what keep good contractors around. Find out how long this guy has been in business for a clue as to whether he’ll still be around if you have a warranty issue. Planning to have more work done at a later date? Make sure your contractor is a long-range planner as well. Remember my comment about landscaping being easy to get into? It’s easy to get out of too with the wrong business ethic. Landscape Ontario’s website is a great resource for finding a contractor in your area who adheres to good business practices.
Hopefully this post has given you food for thought. There are a number of great landscape design-build companies in the Quinte area, but like every industry, landscaping has its share of ‘bad apples’ too. Be willing to invest some time into researching a few companies so that when it comes time to choose a contractor, you can make an apples to apples comparison.