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Weve recently been asked the following question, which could be viewed as another example of a catch-22. "My company is currently trying to expand into the commercial division, meaning condominium complexes, apartment complexes, and office buildings. Were trying to convince the property managers to accept our bids for the landscape maintenance of their properties. The problem we have been running into is that we dont have any experience in that field, because for the last years weve been servicing residential properties. Without any commercial references, all the property managers that we have dealt with refuse to accept our bids. But if we cant get any commercial work, how will we ever have any experience? My question is, what do you think would be a good way to sell our services, even though we lack commercial experience?"
What a great question! We asked some of our friends in the industry to shed light on this dilemma, and how to break out of this never-ending loop.
Richard Murphy of Landmark Design LTD said, "I put together a professional portfolio and presented it at board meetings. I let them know that I can offer them something more, and showed them my knowledge of botany and horticulture. Its all about presentations, down to how you write your proposals/quotes and contract specifications.
When you know that a property is out for tender, bid on it and show interest. Show them a five-year plan, and how you can improve the current landscape, even just by implementing a weed control and fertilizing program.
Property managers dont always rely on experience; they want someone that can adapt to their ways. You might be working for the property manager, but they are working for hundreds of people, at just one address.
Matt Ruesch of Matthews Lawn Service, has some suggestions to get you started with small commercial properties. "If you have any friends or relatives that work at a small commercial building, see if you can get them to get you in the door. I too, was asked about references from commercial properties when all I had was residential. I told them I had been in the business for a while, and worked for other companies that serviced commercial clients and was just starting out on my own. I gave them the choice to sign a two-week agreement so they could get a feel for the kind of work I do before committing to a full year. Take pictures of bigger residential jobs and show them to potential commercial clients. I guess just sell yourself; show confidence that you can perform good quality work."
Specialty Lawn Cares Mark Witcher said, "From my own experience, I have found that larger clients want someone with a proven background in large properties. However, you need to start with the smaller commercial properties and build a client base and resume. My company specializes in large retail and apartment complexes now, but we didnt start there. We first did banks, restaurants, retail stores and similar sites that were less than one acre in size. You just cant expect an owner to hand over a contract for services worth $30,000 or higher to someone who has never done anything larger than a $50 lawn cut. They want to be sure that the contractor will have the experience, manpower and equipment to handle a job of this size. We all have to start at the bottom and work our way up."
Says Andrew Harrigan of NV Lawn Specialists, "To expand on what Witcher said, you can get your foot in the door with the low-end commercials by knowing your residential customers a bit. Odds are you have customers on their HOA board, customers that are in decision-making roles at their jobs, customers that are also business owners. If you let them know youre looking to get into the commercial market, they might be more than happy to give you a shot."
Heres some advice for those wanting to expand their business into the commercial market.
1. Networking. This is a scary term for some, but it means that you use every contact you can think of to get a job! If you have friends or family, you have a job thats yours for the asking. Who cuts the grass where your family works? Are they part of a HOA? Kid brother who waits tables at a local restaurant? The guy who cuts your hair? The gas station near your house? Does your accountant have an office building? Your dentist? The list is endless. If you start writing a list of contacts you know, and where they work (small places are best), youll come up with an impressive list of opportunities. Very few small companies will turn down the offer for you to submit a bid. What do they have to lose?
2. Once you get a handful of these jobs and prove yourself, contact the decision-maker and ask if theyve been happy with your service. I assume the answer will be yes. Then all you need to do is thank them for their business and ask if it would be okay to list them as a reference. Why would anyone say no? Now you have experience and references.
3. Now you target an industrial park with tons of small businesses. Send a letter addressed to the "Maintenance Department." Even if they dont have one, theyll get it to the right person. Simply send a letter describing your company and services. Tell them youll be in the area next season, and would like to submit a bid. Put a tear-off on the letter where they can answer, "Yes, please submit a bid, and give a place for name and phone. And put a box there for them to check off, "No, were not interested in looking for a better service provider at this time." Most people hate cold calling. Youll get plenty of people willing to accept a bid.
It might cost you a few bucks in postage (you should include return envelope). But, lawn care is usually last on the business owners mind. Dont ask for a phone conversation or face-to-face quite yet. They have other things to attend to. The letter is not an in-your-face sales pitch, and leaves an opportunity to say no. People will be interested from your letter, and theyll give you a name and number to call. This prevents you from wasting time on the phone, getting by secretaries and harassing people who dont want to talk. Theres plenty of work out there....go after those who want to talk with you!
Jason Hisch, president of Groundskeeper Turf Management, told us, "There are several things you need to know in order to sell large commercial accounts or what we call HVCP, meaning Highly Visible Commercial Properties.
First, you need a photo on a postcard displaying your equipment line (fleet of mowing equipment) along with your employees and a bit of information about your company.
Second, you need to follow-up and follow-up. Touch base and re-touch base. Litter the city with your signs. Dont be afraid to continue to call upon them year after year. It usually takes six times of talking with someone before they are willing to meet with you.
Third, know your stuff, meaning your industry. Just a little bit of turfgrass knowledge will put you leaps and bounds above the common competitor.
Lastly, become full service--these type of clients need someone with extensive knowledge in areas of sprinkler systems, lawn care, shrubbery work, lawn maintenance and snow plowing. If these clients are your hope for the future, then you need all of these skills."
This is some insightful guidance for those who want to make the jump from servicing residential properties to commercial. By taking this powerful information from these business owners, you can get your company to break out of this catch-22. Good luck to you. Remember, you can make it happen. Dream it, build it, go for it!
Editors Note: This article was created by the staff at www.gophersoftware.com to help lawn care operators make the jump from servicing residential properties to commercial.