Fours years ago I wrote this article, describing how the vast majority of landscape businesses are still jostling for first place in the same race, or the same space, rather than thinking outside the box and finding niche opportunities.
Four years later and things have improved, but there’s still a way to go and there are other forces at play that need to be considered.
The days of the one-stop-shop, a company that supposedly “specializes” in both design and construction, in all aspects of residential, commercial, school and government projects” is proving to be more of a cliche than an effective reality.
This generalist approach; trying being “everything to everyone” precludes them from being able to offer consistently good outcomes and impeccable customer service in all areas, to every client. It’s not to say clients don’t want a single port of call to assist with their project, the issue is that the quality of the outcome suffers when a business tries to appeal to every corner of the market and produce everything in-house.
Businesses large and small that offer the holy trilogy of design, construct and maintain are finding that if they don’t focus their super powers into a specific corner of the market, such as only working on commercial projects, their aspirations to dominate the market will soon be extinguished by those who do.
Though not impossible, it’s complicated and expensive to develop the capacity to solve every problem in-house, to a consistently high standard. Getting everybody in the organisation, with such varying needs and agendas, consistently rowing in the same direction is near impossible, at least, within the one company entity.
Large established companies that have split into or acquired multiple separate brands (“Groups”) are leading the way by example. Rather than a single entity, their indivudal brands each deal with a specific area of expertise within a specific sector of the industry; and they’re on call to join forces in relevant, efficient combinations as needed. When not needed by the parent company, they become available to team up with others outside the group.
Overlay these trends with the fact that the labour force itself is changing rapidly.
People are increasingly exchanging their jobs and the promise of a long term career as an employee for greater personal freedom and control over their financial future. They’re becoming consultants, specialist sub-contractors, “guns for hire” that you can plug into a project on an as-needed basis.
With a website and a social media feed, individuals or partners have the ability to quickly build their own brand, build a following and exceed their previous salaries, sometimes within months. We’re seeing these micro businesses coming together to work in the same team (“Collectives”) on a contractual or cooperative basis, both on one-off and successive projects as they build long term, trusting working relationships with each other.
In my opinion, the “Collective” as a business in and of itself, is a business model for the future.
Like the larger “Group” entities that own multiple brands, there are efficiencies to be found by collaborating on-demand with specialised brands. Collectives find strength in numbers, but rather than a parent company owning the entire organisation, they find flexibility and agility in cooperative agreements and the shared values of their members; people seeking greater freedom and control over their lives than they experienced as employees, locked into a long term career path.
In all the above cases, the lesson seems to be specialize, in the real sense of the word. The ones who are winning are simplifying what they do, “doubling down” on a specific aspect of landscape that they’re either extremely capable in, or have identified as a lucrative niche, a piece of real estate they want to own.
Some examples I’ve seen are specialists in small gardens, vertical gardens, nature play, plunge pools, plants for hire, event landscapes, sensory gardens, aqua play, classic formal, outdoor gyms, courtyards, rooftops, beer gardens.
These businesses aren’t claiming to be everything to everyone and that doesn’t mean they’re missing out on work.
It means they’re building a recognisable brand with a distinct value proposition, and this gives them the chance to build efficiencies into everything they do. They become the “go to” brand for that specific need and they’re invited to collaborate on projects with other specialists because they’re not only good at what they do, they can do it better and faster than anyone else.
So what does, or could this mean for you?
The answer would depend on the life stage of your business. Are you in a position to know what you’re really good at? Are you prepared to pivot and go after a new opportunity altogether?
Every industry has it’s challenges, every market is a living organism with gaps opening and closing, waiting to be filled or needing to be re-invented. Is your existing brand “sticky”, that is, do people know exactly what you offer that others don’t so they’re attracted to you every time, they choose you first? Or are you still trying to be everything to everyone (in which case not really anything to anyone)?
Like thinking about this stuff?
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