From our unique vantage point as a system provider supporting independent garden centers (IGCs), we have noticed trends over the past few years. More than ever, IGCs are offering landscape services including design, installation, and maintenance, as part of their diversified offerings. Many landscape service companies are either building or acquiring commercial garden centers. This combination of product and service provides IGCs a considerable opportunity to grow and be more profitable.
There are several ways technology can be leveraged to support both the product and service aspects of your business.
A Different Business Process
One of the first things you appreciate about the landscape services business is that it is NOT the same as retail. Retail stores work to get a customer in the door and provide products and reliable advice. Landscape service providers follow a business process that goes from quote to collection. The major phases of a landscape service project can be broken down as follows:
Of course, there are many variations of this workflow, but most landscape engagements can be mapped into these phases. One major challenge with landscape services is that there are many opportunities within this workflow that can make or break the profitability of the project. For example, a designer can misquote the project, material costs may exceed your budget, labor can be impacted by weather, mistakes, and scope changes, and customers may dispute charges or delay payment. All of these can greatly impact your overall profitability and success.
My paradigm for considering how technology can support a landscape services business can be summarized as follows:
Your service business thrives:
- When it is driven by accurate data accessible to decision-makers.
- Where that data enables accurate and efficient creation and execution of projects.
- Where the business culture encourages consistent review of the data and processes to identify areas where correction, improvement and efficiencies can be cultivated.
Let’s look at some places where technology can be a true value-add to your operation.
Accurate Data – Shining a light on the situation!
Steve Howard, the chief sustainability officer at IKEA, provided a great insight: “You should measure things you care about. If you’re not measuring, you don’t care and you don’t know.” (TED talk).
Retail and wholesale operations are driven by fundamental economic concepts. Business thrives when revenue exceeds cost. Knowing your costs, allows you to accurately quote projects and recover a healthy profit margin. An accurate inventory and supply chain produces better quotes, eliminates cost overruns, and builds happier customers.
For the garden center/landscaper, knowing cost, availability, suppliers, and lead times becomes even more critical. Unlike the retail operation, landscape purchasing is triggered by project-specific needs. So, you need a landscape project management system that connects to your inventory and supply chain. Unfortunately, most popular landscape management tools have no connection to inventory or supply chain data. These systems can manage scheduling and quoting, but if you are blind to your inventory, you are operating in the dark.
Executing – Where the shovel hits the dirt!
We spoke of the product side of a landscape operation. Now let’s consider the labor and tools/equipment elements. Of course, experience, skill, craftsmanship, and good management all impact the accuracy of quotes and the efficient execution of projects. But even the most experienced landscape operation needs data. A landscape management system should track project execution, profitability, job costing, and even provide data to account for the unforeseen and unpredictable elements of the landscape world (such as weather, labor shortages, or mechanical breakdowns).
Likewise, scheduling both crews and tools is critical. An efficient operation makes maximum use of its resources. Having a tool to plan, schedule and monitor the calendar is essential to success.
Lastly, these tools help create discipline and accountability in the areas of change management and scope creep. Having the ability to capture a project change right away eliminates the possibility that the change falls through the cracks.
Analysis and Reporting
With an effective tool to manage, track and report on how materials, tools and labor are utilized to a project, a landscape operation can evaluate the overall success of a job. Good job costing analysis drives better quoting of future projects. Tracking data captures and identifies areas where there are opportunities for better efficiency. Performance metrics help make your whole team accountable for the success of the business. What can be measured can be improved. Tracking allows you to measure and reward your team at every level. Systems that provide data, accountability, and metrics such as KPIs let you focus beyond the success of one specific project.
Of course, this all starts with data. Applying this paradigm to your existing landscape business can help you identify where technology might give you the biggest ROI. Ask yourself some key questions:
- Do I have accurate information about cost and availability for services and goods?
- Are my quotes accurate and profitable?
- Am I using resources effectively? Are my crews and equipment being maximized to deliver services?
- Do I know the profitability of each project? Do my projects come in under budget and on time?
- Am I anticipating and accounting for change and other risks in my delivery of projects?
- Am I getting paid promptly with a high degree of customer satisfaction?
Consider and prioritize each of these questions. Then determine where to focus your efforts and your technical infrastructure.
Rapid Garden POS offers one of the industry’s most comprehensive POS solution for inventory management, customer management and transaction management. We offer a fully integrated field service management module called ServicePoint that supports your landscaping operations from quote to invoice. If you would like to learn more about our solutions, and about how ServicePoint can take your landscape operation to a whole new level of success, call (619) 774-4100!