Four landscape strategies that please customers without breaking the bank.
Hearing that it’s time for “the return of the customer” to retail is a little like finding out that your in-laws are dropping by in an hour: Your house, if not a complete mess, is certainly not “guest-ready.” The pressure is a little higher in retail though — your in-laws are stuck with you, but your customers have endless choices. If you’re like most organizations, your budget for improvements hasn’t exactly gotten bigger either. But don’t panic — here are four strategies that can help you maintain pleasing aesthetics for your customers without breaking the bank.
Use the Zone System
When you prepare for house guests, you naturally spend more time preparing the areas they will see (like the front entry and dining area) and less time on areas not meant for visiting eyes (like the garage and the basement). It’s only logical to use this same strategy across your portfolio of stores for maximum impact. If you create a few zones based on your goals — such as brand impact, curb appeal, employee facing, etc. — you can quickly determine where you need to focus to get the highest return on both your money and energy.
There are two tricks to using this strategy successfully. First, you have to have a clear and current picture of the needs on your properties. While this can be difficult to implement and maintain, it’s the only way to achieve informed decision making. The second critical piece to remember is to keep a close eye on your deferred maintenance. While you may be making an educated choice to address issues in one specific zone today, the issues in other zones haven’t gone away and must also be part of your plan. Remember to carefully monitor any potential environmental or liability issues. It’s difficult enough to manage facilities budgets without the addition of fines and costly settlements.
Work With Experts
You know that maintaining your landscaping is more involved than cutting the grass, but yet it’s still a challenge to justify the higher up-front cost of experienced service providers to your peers. For the past few years the industry has been locked on to reducing costs, which has driven retailers toward less skilled service providers. We’re all learning now how much that approach is costing in the long run. So if it helps you to sleep better, remember that in this case an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. It is as simple as protecting the asset that your landscape installations really are.
You need the expertise of someone who understands horticulture to look out for you and protect these investments. Let’s look at pruning, for example. If you really understand how plants cycle through growth, you know that by only pruning what’s needed, as it’s needed, you can extend the life of the plant and control its growth. If I approach that same plant with a pair of electric shears and just cut the whole thing (because it’s fast and maybe the job was bid too low), then I’ve triggered a more rapid growth pattern in that plant. This means that not only do I have to pay to prune it more often, but I’m also shortening the life of the plant and driving up replacement costs.
Ultimately hiring the wrong provider means that you will be spending more money over time.
Hold Vendors Accountable To Do What’s Right
If you are following this advice and choose to work with a landscaping services expert, you can trust that they know what is needed to properly maintain your locations. The best service providers, in many cases, will bid with that goal in mind, as opposed to what is stated in your scope of work to the letter. For example, locations with palm trees will absolutely need palm pruning services, although the scope of work for a national portfolio of stores may not include it. An experienced vendor knows that it’s necessary and will either include it in the bid or bring it to your attention. If you’re working with a vendor that’s not looking out for your best interests, you’ll experience a high frequency of extra costs, an inability to maintain the set budget, and an underserviced property.
Recognize That One Size Does Not Fit All
If you’re a retailer with a national footprint, you have some unique challenges when it comes to landscaping. It is unlikely that an installation designed for a prototype store can be successful and sustainable across the varying regions of the country. Incorrect plant placement is to blame for a staggering amount of problems that we see on-site. You can eliminate extra maintenance and plant replacement costs simply by allowing your local provider to identify, relocate, and occasionally replace improperly placed plants.
Another challenge for retailers with large footprint is that the typical bidding process has providers assuming an average property size. The problem is that your properties really aren’t average at all. In the end you will overpay for some properties (where the property is smaller than “average”) and you will be underserviced for others (where the property is larger than “average” and the service provider can’t profitably do the work for the fee specified). Taking the time to gather accurate property specifications and having each property bid to its specific needs can eliminate a lot of unnecessary variations in price and service.
— W. Edward Crotty is senior vice president, sales & marketing, with Newport, Kentucky-based Divisions Maintenance Group.