Yeah buddy, you’re the BEST landscaper in town!.. just like everybody else.
Over the last couple of months I’ve noticed a trend on the websites of landscape design and build companies that sees more and more of them lay claim to having “earned a reputation” as being the best, multi award-winning, first class, premier, undeniable top dog landscapers and designers in their field. “We measure our success by the awards on our wall,” reads one. Really?
Interestingly, most of the same firms also “specialize” not only in domestic projects, but also commercial, civil, boutique residential, resorts, in fact every small and large scale landscaping project of any budget in any location, local or international. Sheesh! Oh and did I mention that every one of them also produces designs that are innovative, unique, sustainable, environmentally sensitive, low maintenance, contemporary and timeless too?
I think you know what I’m saying. And I get it, I can see what’s happening; in a crowded market where competition is high and everyone is worried about getting a big enough slice of the pie to keep running, there is a tendency, no that’s the wrong word.. there is a sense of desperation to stand out from the crowd by being the best at everything.
“Surely,” these guys are probably thinking, “when potential customers see that my company has the most awards and is the best at everything, they will choose me over the competition.” And your website developer will love this approach. He or she will love it because they don’t have to understand what you’re really about, what it is that you do that nobody else does, which means they can very easily pump out the same homogenized, self glorifying drivel that everyone else has and alleviate you of some hard earned cash while they’re at it.
I’m being deliberately provocative. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of earnest, self promotion. If you’ve done well and you’ve seen some success, go on ahead and flaunt it. But think about this, the fact that you’ve won awards is not necessarily of any immediate value to your clients. It is valuable to you, for sure, as a component of your marketing and branding strategy that you hope will help people make a decision in your favour, but just because you have an engraved glass trophy on the desk back at the office isn’t going to help your Clients spend more time with their kids on the weekends. I honestly believe that too many “award winning” designers and contractors forget that from time to time.
If you’re going to specialize, you need to SPECIALIZE (am I being confusing?)
It’s also worth pointing out that you can’t really be the “best” at everything. The word “specialize” is grossly misused along with the terms to which it refers on almost all the websites I’ve seen it appear. To specialize means you focus on a particular area of your field. When you specialize in that area and we look at your projects, it should be immediately clear that such is the case. When I see a project built by someone who specializes in “sustainable design”, I don’t expect to see imported Turkish travertine, timber decking from Indonesian rainforests and a huge concrete swimming pool. If I do (as with 99% of businesses who produce projects like this and pop the word sustainability on their “about” page anyway) then in my mind, your claims to that and subsequently any other so called “specializations” loses credibility altogether. You’re not standing out at all, you’re about the same as the rest of them; a Jack-of-All-Trades yet master of none.
Again, I’m not going to push the point and indeed I think it’s about time to move on and discuss the implications of all this and what we can do about it.
The nature of our industry, and in fact most other industries, right now, is that if you want to get ahead, if you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to stake a flag on your own little square of real estate in the market and you need to OWN IT.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about finding a niche, a small area of specialization within landscape that belongs to you. Nobody else does it better than you, nobody is more passionate about it, nobody is more knowledgable. If you’re one of these companies that does anything for anyone and promotes yourself as being the best of the best at everything, if you’re one of these guys that just tosses around terms like “progressive,” “innovative,” “industry leading,” “sustainable” and “unique” without really thinking about what these mean, then like I said before, you‘re pretty much bobbing around in the same pool as all the others who don’t know what they do or why they do it, so they tell everybody they do everything.
And from the perspective of running a business that provides landscape services, the worst part about all of it is, you make the process of selection unbelievably difficult and confusing for the consumer. They’re doing their research, they’re googling all the key terms that you’ve paid money to rank for, but when they find you , they also find all the other alleged “masters” in the field and they’re thinking, “They all say exactly the same thing. How am I to choose which one is best for me?” And seeing as everyone is the best at everything, and supposedly specializes in all projects large and small what’s the one thing they’re able to differentiate you on? COST! If everyone is the best, and they all do the same thing, then heck you may as well get your award winning innovative masterpiece from the cheapest one right?!
By thinking about what it really means to specialize and to carve out a niche for yourself, will put you firmly on the road to becoming the “best” at what you do. And when you’re the best, the choice for consumers becomes much, much easier.
So what does it take to be the best?
Obviously, you need to be good at what you do, as landscapers, but I’m talking about being the BEST. What does someone who is the best do, that makes them so? I think about my old boss over at OFTB in Melbourne. For a few years there, without a shadow of a doubt he was the best in the game. Here’s what I observed about guys like that in the four years I worked with him:
First of all they’re passionate. This person (or business) will be providing helpful, valuable information about their niche to the world, most of it for free. You’ll see them giving presentations at the local colleges or universities because it’s important to them that others are aware of their message before they enter the workforce. They will have numerous articles on their website, other people’s websites and a column in the local paper. You’ll hear them on the radio as a guest on the gardening show. They’re so passionate about what they do, you’ll see them giving talks at trade shows and industry conferences, not because they’re selling anything or being paid, but because they’re passionate about what they do and they want to share it with their peers. They’re unafraid of giving away “secrets” to the competition because they believe in what they do and want others to follow their lead.
Second, you’ll see it in their work. It takes years to become the best; to refine, test and develop a specialization, but when they get there it’s obvious not only what they specialize in, but who it was that built it. There are construction details for which they’ve become known, that only someone who is the best in their field, in their niche could come up with.
Third, they have an unmistakable brand identity. When a business truly specializes, the strength of their brand is multiplied exponentially. What they are and what they stand for, and just as importantly what they’re not and what they don’t stand for are beaming from their business in all directions. When someone who’s needs align with the strength of this brand, there is no escape, they’re a rabbit in the headlights (apologies for the crass analogy, I just can’t think of a better one right now!)
Lastly, they have a network that is anchored across not only their own industry, but other industries that are able to help them grow. Even though they have a good relationship with all their suppliers, they’re also good friends with influential members of other industries that are useful people to know, even if they never buy a landscape from them. Think about how useful it could be if you had a great relationship with the host of the weekend gardening program, the owner of a graphic design agency, the president of the football club and several local real estate agents. The best in the game have a network like green running bamboo.. vigorous and popping up everywhere!
Seven Examples of Potentially Lucrative Niches
So let’s be even more constructive now, I want to discuss opportunities to specialize, where you can move away from the jostle amongst the guys that do everything or from constantly trying to break into (or defend your spot in) high end residential.
The name of the game here is “niche”, so quite simply we’re looking at each of these as an opportunity to specialize and profit from a very particular sector of the market.
Here are seven niches that I’ve found, along with examples of existing business claiming to specialize in it and the reasons I think they represent sound opportunities. If you’re interested in any of these you’ll see how much easier it would be to rank highly in google and stand out from the crowd in any category if only you actually specialized in one of them, instead of all of them.
1. Landscapes for Children
I’ve titled this one specifically in this way so you don’t confine your thinking to “schools and playgrounds”. Schools and playgrounds have been an excellent niche to specialize in, particularly for the small contracting firms who are able to accommodate the requirements for these types of projects which tend to be low budget and a little “lighter” on margins. More broadly though, landscapes for children could also extend to include sensory gardens for special needs children, innovative urban playcentres, foreshore amenties, themed parks and larger public play facilities where much more thought, creativity and experimentation is needed to move away from the installation of pre-designed proprietry play furniture that dominates our suburban estates and primary schools.
Check out: Jeavons Landscapes
2. Medical & Institutional
Specialised medical facilities are increasingly required to provide “green” amenity to patients and/or residents for quality of life reasons. The interior facilities required to accommodate the visually impaired, mobility impaired, quadraplegics, aged-care, mental health victims and other rare illnesses are all highly specialized and attract higher costs. External amenities for such facilities are no different. These sorts of projects are frequently discussed by governments around the world, constantly under pressure to improve facilities for those with special needs. For the right landscaper willing to learn the relevant codes and deal with specialist suppliers and fabricators, this could prove to be a worthwhile undertaking.
3. Aqua Parks
Having specialized in swimming pool design for several years, this is one I know is still a great opportunity. The main reason I say this is there have been some significant contracts awarded by state level government for broad scale “Aqua Parks” in several states here in Australia, and no doubt there will be more. These specialized parks use reticulating systems to provide a ‘wet’ environment for play despite dry climatic conditions and water-usage restrictions. What’s lacking in the proposals that come out of the tenders for these projects is a real passion for fun and interactive play coupled with an understanding of the often complex technical aspects of aquatic leisure facilities. Like the typical local suburban playground, a lot of what I’ve seen proposed for aqua parks is really a collection of off the shelf play equipment arranged haphazardly around a non-slip surface. For anyone up to the challenge, this could be a good one.
4. Pool Houses
The old timber pergola is all but a thing of the past. The notion of the ‘outdoor room’ has gained such popularity over the past decade that an increasing number of homeowners want properly roofed outdoor living and entertaining areas. Some of these take the form of an alfresco with a motorized louvered roof, others a completely separate structure, much like a ‘granny flat’ complete with kitchenette, bathroom and sleeping arrangements. These sorts of structures are more part of the landscape and swimming pool than the house and could definitely be profitable for the right firm willing to create a specialised design and construct team complete with architect, landscape designer and builder all under the one roof. New planning policies in some municipalities mean that people are about to build an additional dwelling without having to get planning consent as long as it remains under a nominated footprint area.
5. Low budget
“Feed the rich, go home poor. Feed the poor, go home rich,” said a wise friend of mine. As many design and build operators clamber to reach the holy grail of ‘high-end’ residential, very few it seems are prepared to look closely at the opportunities presented by the volume market at the opposite end of the spectrum. To intentionally specialize in this area would require a deep understanding of what customers with limited budgets value more than anything, and then translate those findings into a low cost, ‘pre-determined/pre-designed’ set of options, which can then be installed at great speed for a high turnover at consistent profits.
Check out: Hmmm.. not much on this one!
6. New Builds and Project Builders
As our suburbs expand, so too do the number of backyards, albeit they’re a lot smaller these days than they used to be. From our perspective, new builds by project builders suffer from one distinct condition: everyone who is building a new house has just about run out of money by the time it gets to their landscape works, but they have to do something to avoid stepping out onto sand and muck every time they leave the house. With consistently tight budgets, this is an opportunity for a different type of specialization. A well-oiled machine-like landscape business prepared to develop a strong relationship with a successful project builder will enjoy the lucrative spoils of a consistent flow of work.
7. Over 55’s Lifestyle Villages
With an ageing population, the number of self-sufficient ‘lifestyle villages” are noticeably on the rise and the competition to develop the most desirable one is already mounting. Interestingly these kinds of projects vary in quality depending on the developer and some of them now seem to be including resort-like facilities with 5 star luxury ratings complete with pools, marina and golf courses. Each of these projects requires a specialized approach to creating a landscape as the residents have a specific set of needs and expectations and are mindful of value for money when it comes to balancing lifestyle and spending their limited retirement funds.
What’s your opinion? Are you guilty of claiming to “specialize” in order to gain your prospect’s attention? Are there other niche opportunities you’ve considered exploring?
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