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Sell Landscape by Visual Design

Susan Wessling | Landscape




To grow your business, new sales are a must. Because attrition is inevitable, the flow of new clients keeps your bottom line healthy. If you had access to a tool that could make your landscape presentations more effective and efficient, wouldnt you want to use it to your advantage?

Remember the old days? A potential customer would call your office and request someone visit her home because she was interested in doing some landscaping or retrofitting. Wow! What an opportunity to add on a new client.

On the appointed day, as youre driving to the house, you figure to yourself, This should be a piece of cake. After all, the client called me, she was referred by one of my other customers and since I wont make a sales call without the man of the house being present, I should be able to wrap this one up pretty quickly.

It doesnt look like a difficult job to sell these potential customers, and then bang! Is there any way we could see what youre proposing? the customer asks. Gee, we would hate to spend all that money and then find out that were not as happy with the look as we thought wed be.

You spend more time trying to reassure them that theyll like the finished product. More importantly, youre asking them to have blind faith in you. Talk about a tough sell!

Thats the way it used to be, but it doesnt have to be that way any more. Lets fast forward to the present.
You visit the property, find out what the customer would like and take a picture. When you get back to your office, you scan or download the picture into your computer. By playing with a few buttons and a mouse, you can use different plant materials, trees, rocks, lighting, grass, etc., to create a visual finished product. Your potential customers dont have to envision, they can actually see what they will be buying.

Make an appointment to see the homeowners. A good sales presentation coupled with realistic images of what the property will look like can mean the difference between selling a job or being bypassed for a contractor who makes a better presentation.

There are a number of companies that provide such software, including drafix.coms PRO Landscape, Design Imaging Groups DesignWare, and Visual Impact Imagings Earthscapes, to name a few. Many contractors are finding these tools essential for their business. They save valuable time, and their top-notch presentations increase sales.



Randy Mardis, a landscape architect and the owner of Landscape Technologies in St. Peters, Missouri, uses the PRO Landscape software program. It gives me the ability to show a client, in photographic form, a before and after (image) of a project that might not have broken ground yet, Mardis explains.

PRO Landscape contains three integrated programs in one, including a photo-imaging program, which is very valuable to Mardis, who says he gets extremely positive responses from his customers when they look at the presentation hes developed with the software. As with any good software program, customers are amazed at what the computer can do. It gives them a comfort level on what it is you are trying to do with the design, says Mardis. They can understand your design attempt because they can see what it will actually look like.
Presentations using photo-imaging programs make very good sales tools, agrees Sean Harman, sales manager for drafix.com. This allows the contractor to show the customer exactly what the product is going to look like, Harmon says. It creates a visual for the homeowner, and takes the guesswork out of it. It makes the presentation a lot easier for the contractor.

According to drafix.coms research, contractors close 90 to 95 percent of their sales leads when making this type of presentation. Harman notes, Also, what weve found (when doing this research) is that a contractor can be the most expensive in their area, yet if hes using this photo-imaging, it doesnt matter. Hell still get the job. Thats obviously a huge advantageto be the highest priced and still be able to land the job.

Tom Riccardi, owner of Visual Impact Imaging, also points to a high success rate in sales when using a photo-imaging program, which is included in Earthscapes. Riccardi, who is also the owner of Tom Riccardi Landscaping in Akron, Ohio, uses the software when making presentations for his clients. With the software, he says hes batting 95 percent in closing the sale.

The first step to using a photo-imaging program is taking a photograph of the site to be landscaped. This photograph can be digital, or one from a conventional camera that is scanned into the computer program. Once the photograph of the site is put in the program, the contractor or designer can add photo-realistic plant and hardscape images from an included library. These image libraries often have upwards of thousands of images.
Another feature of this type of software is a plant selector. This tool recommends plants to be used based on the conditions and criteria the contractor enters into the plan. So you can really choose the plant by things like color, the bloom season, and how much sunlight it will receive, Harman explains.

One of the problems people have with landscaping is envisioning what the finished product might look like years later. A shrub or other greenery might look really good the first year, but several years later it can outgrow the area and overshadow the house.

That doesnt have to be a concern any longer, because this type of design program also lets a contractor age the site for the customer. Using the aging feature, contractors can show their clients what the design will look like in a few years, or many years down the road. It can also help the contractor lead the customer to a design that will be well suited to his property. Sometimes a customer might have a particular type of plant material in mind, and just the right spot for it. However, the contractor knows its not going to work there once the plant grows, says Harman. If the contractor can show that to the client through visuals, it makes his job that much easier.

Earthscapes, for example, has an aging tool that gives contractors the ability to individually grow plants and other greenery, as opposed to aging the site by changing all the plant proportions at once. Plants grow to different heights and you want to be able to size them up according to what the plant type is, Riccardi says. If you can individually size them up, we feel that is more realistic.

Some of these software titles also have the capability of printing instructions on plant care, which the contractor can leave with his clients. PRO Landscape, for example, offers detailed information for each plant that is part of the landscape. So the contractor can design the landscape, and then print all the information and give it to his customer, explains Harman.

Shadows, adjusted to any sun angle, can also be added to a presentation using photo-imaging. Such features enhance the realism of the pictures the program creates. For example, the seventh version of PRO Landscape, which was released in January, includes an upgrade of its night light feature. It can show a night view that is very, very realistic. It shows where the lights will shine and the patterns of them, Harman says.

Mardis says the night shadowing tool can come in handy, depending on the potential job. This is valuable for clients (for whom) you are doing a light plan, such as for a commercial building, he says.

Keeping hardscapes in true perspective also can be important when showing a realistic image of the property. DesignWare, for example, has a true perspective tool that allows for placement of such hardscapes as pavers in a driveway where the bricks get smaller as theyre placed further away in the plan. It also has a warping tool that allows the contractor to make fences and walls that go backwards into the photograph at an angle.
Photo imaging programs allow for easy changes to designs and presentations. Mike Imondi, the owner of Landscape Design First in Westerville, Ohio, says the ability to modify or revise images is one of the benefits of photo imaging programs. This type of program allows you a lot of flexibility, says Imondi, who uses DesignWare.

Some contractors also take the opportunity to show clients presentations with additional features in an effort to expand the job. If someone, for example, wants a foundation plan, you can add a hardscape or a water feature to show him how it will look. As soon as he sees what its going to look like at his own house, generally hell want to include that feature, Riccardi says.

The contractor can definitely increase the size of the job, Harman agrees. He shows some extra things to the homeowners and they fall in love with them, and that can be tacked onto the job. So it doesnt just help to close the sale, it can increase the size of the sale as well.

This type of program also cuts down on turn around time, from making the presentation to nailing down the sale. We have a lot of contractors who use laptop computers. They go right to the property and do the design right on the spot; they narrow it down to where they can get the job in one appointment, Harman says. They dont have to go to the house, take a look at the property, and then go back (to their office) and do the design. It cuts the sales process down, and eliminates all the time in-between. A lot of people are impulse buyers if they fall in love with it, its a lot easier to make the sale.

Chris Walter, owner of Computerized Landscape Design in Liberty, Missouri, says for smaller jobs he brings his laptop to the site, arriving early to take a photograph of the property. Using the PRO Landscape program, Walter downloads the picture. He then sits with the client and moves images into the photograph to show them what the property will look like when he is finished landscaping it. It isnt a hard sell, says Walter. We work across the front of the house, and by the time I get from one corner of the house to the garage corner of the house, Ive sold myself. Ive just showed the customer what he wanted.

After agreeing on a design, an estimate is automatically calculated by the software. If the price is higher than what the client wanted, Walter will suggest some changes to get the cost down into the price range desired. After this is finished, Walter goes to his van, where he has a printer, and produces the image and the estimate. While that is going on, I get flags and spray paint.

On the flags, I write what each one of the plants is and flag out the entire job. I then spray paint the bedlines, Walter explains. Then I bring the customer the photographs and the contract, and get half the money for the job.

Walter says this system cuts down on the time it would take to go back to the office and produce a design. A lot of contactors still do it that way. They come back a week later. Who knows what can happen in a week? Your car can break down; a kid might break a leg. You have to act when people are hot, Walter explains. They wouldnt call you if they didnt want to spend the money. The way Im set up, I can close a deal a lot faster, in one appointment instead of two or three.

This type of design software has been around for approximately 11 years. It has really started to snowball in the last two or three years, notes Harman. Part of the reason for this is that homeowners are much more aware that this technology is out there, and they are demanding it. So contractors are having to offer it.
The other design program landscape contractors might find as part of landscape design software titles is a CAD program. This is a drafting program that gives a two-dimensional rendering of the site. These site plans give a top down view that is to scale. The drawings are helpful in the installation process. Programs that figure out cost estimates and help with work orders are also often part of these software titles.

Overall, software titles used during the design process are more efficient, according to Riccardi. Its also more professional looking and a great time-saver, he says.

I have done design in every way imaginable, said Walter. Using the software is very fast and makes you look very professional. Its like buying a car. If you buy a car, you want to see it; you want to see the interior, the color, etc. Its the same way with a landscape. Landscaping is a high-end thing. It costs a lot of money. The way I see it, by showing the customer what hes going to get, you have a lot better chance of getting that job. The customer gets to see the finished landscape before it exists.

There are only a few landscape companies that offer this service to their clients and prospective clients, notes Mardis. I would recommend more landscape contractors use photo-imaging programs when preparing their sales presentations. Not only does it save time trying to convey the design solution, its something a repeat customer will remember.

Jan-Feb 2001


 
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