Pick Up The Brand

by Nate Hunter

Resuming landscape services: Picking up where others have left off.


A well cared for landscape enhances the brand of every retailer, giving customers a clear sign that it is careful, conscientious and financially sound. In recent years, however, many organizations were unable to maintain their landscape portfolios to previously established standards. As a result, companies are now looking for new direction in landscape care moving forward.

Resuming — or upgrading — landscaping services is a challenging process that can either lead to a significantly improved portfolio or to dissatisfaction on the parts of both the landscapers and their clients. The key to a positive outcome is creating a proposal that clearly defines expectations.


Planning For Success

A positive landscape transition starts with careful planning and investigation. The first step is determining the goal the company has in mind for its grounds. Is it to lower costs, maintain the portfolio in its current state or significantly improve its outdoor space? Too often, one or both parties will rush into new situations and begin making changes without properly preparing a plan that is understood by all parties and consequently outcomes are not optimized.

Begin by determining the corporate goal. This should immediately be followed by a comprehensive audit of the site in question.   Start the process by getting the most recent version of the landscape design that was used. This is necessary in all situations, even when a complete redesign is desired by the client, because it will help the landscaper determine what obstacles may exist.


Assessing The Situation

Next, assess the site based on the landscape plan. Go to the site with an objective point of view and determine how much of the plan has been fulfilled; figure out the surviving and missing elements. Compare every element to the original plan. For instance, if only 40 out of 100 planned shrubs are in place, the parties can then decide if the current situation is acceptable or develop a strategic replacement plan.

At the same time, closely examine the grounds themselves. Evaluate turf health, do a diagnosis of the irrigation system and audit all other systems that are required for maintaining the landscape.

Finally, the client and landscaper need to determine a minimum aesthetic threshold. This is essential to making the relationship successful. The scope of the rehabilitation outcome should be laid out specifically in the contract, describing the expected state of ground cover, turf, trees, other plantings as well as irrigation and electrical systems according to the aesthetic goals.


Success On A Budget

In these times, budget is usually the primary driver in setting the aesthetic threshold. Once the budget is set, the landscaper should provide the client with a list of work that can be completed within that budget so that expectations of appearance are understood.

SMS afterFrequently, clients don’t have a clear understanding of the costs involved in overhauling a landscaping portfolio. For a substantial rehabilitation of a typical landscape plan, the costs can average 15% of the portfolio’s full landscape value (as originally installed).

Clarifying expectations as to what can be completed within the budget is perhaps the most important step in any new landscaping contract. With a limited budget, some goals may not be attainable. The key to creating a successful relationship is ensuring that everyone understands exactly what can, in reality, be accomplished.

Still, different approaches exist. For example, clients with severely neglected grounds can still bring their properties up to the level their brand demands by improving the portfolio over a given time period. Naturally, this period will depend on the budget and the property’s condition at the time the contract is negotiated.

A plan can also be created to reach clients’ goals successively, over years or seasons. In these cases, the grounds may include turf that needs to be completely rehabilitated. It can be very costly to strip turf and replace it. Instead, the turf might be culturally rehabilitated over several seasons with nearly as good of a result. This method is less costly than stripping, but may take several months or seasons. If this is the right choice for clients and their budgets, it is important that all parties involved have a clear understanding of the process and the desired result.  


Contracting Results

A complete audit can be time consuming — it can take a whole season depending on the size of portfolio — but the time taken for thorough planning will ultimately benefit the property and the landscaping relationship. With that in mind, the best way to begin work on a new contract is to maintain the property at the standard at which it was found at the beginning of the relationship until all other elements have been worked out. Then the strategic plan for improvement can emerge and be executed.

When the contract is drawn up, the landscaper needs a well defined mission statement if serious rehabilitations are to be awarded. Items for change can be included in a punch list that becomes part of the contract. If the retail client has numerous outlets, a different punch list can be created for each location. With that degree of complexity, it’s easy to see why a successful relationship begins with meticulous planning.

That planning means that each punch list is reviewed and discussed by everyone involved, so that the spirit of the agreement is easier to maintain. By establishing clear goals with measurable results, client and landscaper can start from a common ground and move to a clear result.


Final Considerations

Ensuring the cooperation of employees or franchisees that run sites plays a large — but easily overlooked — role in making a landscape portfolio successful. At the site level there can be competing interests for local management, which is often rewarded for profit. Landscaping is an investment, but more important to some managers, it is an expense that can cut into their rewards. In these cases, it’s essential for the corporate entity to emphasize its interest in maintaining brand value by maintaining exterior appearances.

On the other hand, there are myriad examples of local managers or franchisees that want to invest in landscaping but are thwarted by the parent company for budgetary reasons. As a result, it is very important for the contract to clarify who is responsible for overseeing and paying for landscaping maintenance.

Transitioning a landscape portfolio is a complicated undertaking that can be enormously profitable. But before such success can be reached, thorough and detailed planning is a wise and necessary step to begin the process.

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