Carving Out a Niche in a Crowded Market
While some landscape contractors are beginning to tap into more specialized service offerings, the vast majority are still trying to do it all. Many businesses try to be everything for everybody; they fear turning down work and missing an opportunity to book out their season. But in this effort to be a one-stop shopping experience, they do a little bit of everything, but specialize in nothing. Harvard Business Review puts it beautifully:
“Why do people hire a contractor? Surely not because they value having a stranger in their house who will charge them top dollar. Surely not because they enjoy taking time off from work to wait for the contractor to show up. In fact, professional contractors have only one decisive advantage: they have specialized know-how that the home owner lacks.”
It is this precise reason why landscape contractors need to tap into specialized niche areas of the vast, competitive landscape industry. It takes a lot of market research, trend-watching, and self-understanding to make this transformation, but the results across the board make it all worth it.
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Niche
Making the transition from a full-service landscaping company to one that specializes in a niche will not happen overnight. Every business is different, so each will require varying degrees of attention in different areas. Launch a full-scale evaluation of your business, your team, and the market by asking these questions throughout the process:
What Are My Business’ Strengths and Weaknesses?
A thorough understanding of your business’ skillset is crucial to selecting a specialization that makes sense. For example, XYZ Landscaping might offer both contemporary and mid-century modern outdoor design; but contemporary design has provided much more business and better reviews. This company would benefit to specialize mainly in contemporary design and fully hone in on the technique and marketability of this niche.
Is This Niche Important to My Market?
Evaluating the target market is another essential step when choosing a niche. The niche has to meet a demand, otherwise the average design/build pro will struggle to turn a profit. For instance, the same company mentioned above may discover that, within the key demographic of middle upper-class homeowners in suburban Vermont, an exciting 67% are interested in contemporary designs for their outdoor living spaces. In this case, a design niche is a great way to go. Be sure to adjust aspects of your demographic, like income and geography, to see where your niche might best succeed.
Is This Niche Going to Last?
Trend-watching is a great way to tell if one specialization is going to maintain a profitable longevity. Research those who influence the trend and listen to your target demographic. In the case of XYZ Landscaping, contemporary design may have just started to gain traction in suburban Vermont but is exploding in other areas. This can indicate a hopeful increase in demand for this specialty, and XYZ Landscaping can anticipate a lasting work flow.
Does This Niche Set My Business Apart?
The main purpose of specializing in one aspect of the landscape industry is to differentiate your business from the competition. Look into other landscape companies in your area to discover if there are other businesses already specializing in your chosen niche. The team at XYZ Landscaping may discover that there are only two other landscaping companies that specialize in contemporary outdoor design in suburban Vermont. This leaves impressive odds for the success of their newly chosen specialization.
How Can I Market This Niche?
When exploring different niches, it’s also important to explore the many ways to market them. Pay attention to the social media and internet tendencies of your key demographic, and market your new niche to appeal to them. For instance, the middle upper-class folks in suburban Vermont may respond better to video content than to written content. So, XYZ Landscaping would benefit from showcasing their work with contemporary design in videos, more so than with blogs or text posts.
Creating cross-industry partnerships is another great way to market a niche. XYZ Landscaping may notice that 40% of those interested in contemporary design are also interested in formal water features. Developing a professional partnership with a company that specializes in water features could be a smart way for XYZ Landscaping to market their niche.
What Specialties Are Out There?
When first beginning to explore the strategy of using a niche to create room in a crowded market, many business owners struggle to understand just how narrow of a niche is ideal. In fact, many professionals look at hardscaping as a narrow niche under the landscaping category. Depending on the competition in a given market, that widely-cast niche may still be enough. The reality in many markets, however, is that something much more specific is required to stand apart from the crowd.
While asking all of the above questions, investigate the myriad of possible specialties to develop a successful niche in your market.
Rather than offering every style of design out there, consider specializing in one or just a few styles. According to the AHFA (American Home Furnishings Alliance), 36% of homeowners with outdoor spaces are looking to update the style of their space. Set a niche with a chronological design style, like contemporary, modern, or vintage design. In fact, contemporary style is within the top ten most popular outdoor design styles, according to HGTV. Designs based on cultural or geographic styles are also successful, like Asian, Southwestern, or tropical. Even exterior designs dependent upon a desired feeling is easily marketable, like Zen or industrial. All of these, and so many more, are specialties that appeal to homeowners, and many are not yet being fulfilled by contractors.
Many contractors are becoming known for the specialty materials they use for projects. Thirty percent of homeowners with existing outdoor spaces are seeking to use new materials to update their outdoor space (AHFA), which is a massive pool to tap into. This niche can include using only premium quality natural stone products, incorporating rustic and repurposed wood for overhead structures, or using unique concrete pavers and walls with unique finishes, colors, and textures. One contractor has even become widely known for creating outdoor spaces that feature an artistic combination of natural stone materials and concrete pavers. Developing and owning this niche has catapulted this business above much of their competition, resulting in an amazing portfolio of work and rapid revenue growth.
Since so many landscape professionals have the tendency to want to “do it all,” focusing on one, or only a few, specialized services is a great way to stand out from the crowd. Compare trending design disciplines with your own list of services, and start narrowing down the list. For example, HGTV named water features one of the top 10 trends in backyard design. One contractor has seen great success by observing this trend and creating a marketable niche by specializing in only high-end, custom water features. Of course, there are plenty of other service niches as well, such as irrigation, custom outdoor kitchens, landscape lighting, etc.
While much of the landscape industry predominantly focuses on single-family residential home projects, commercial/industrial projects make up a noticeable 23% (Landscape Professionals). This number is often neglected by contractors, but a niche within this sector could reap a significant profit. Consider commercial specializations, like healing gardens for medical facilities, interactive spaces like aqua parks and sensory gardens, and even “over-55” lifestyle villages. A niche like one of these may mean taking on fewer, but larger-scale projects, which can be easier to manage and schedule for some organizations.
Creating sustainable landscape designs has become a top priority for homeowners, especially those in areas with severe weather conditions (Garden Design). Developing easily maintained spaces with little environmental impact is of major importance for both environmental and economic reasons. Homeowners with this in mind will look for companies with specialties in low-maintenance gardens, drought-tolerant plants, and sustainability technology like smart-phone integrated irrigation control.
While many homeowners are looking for the outdoor design requiring the least maintenance participation on their part, some are looking to fully engage in the maintenance of their project after construction. Many contractors live in fear of this DIY-er, dreading the end of their expertise. But instead of shying away from this crowd, create a niche in the market by embracing them. Supply instructional videos to help new clients understand proper maintenance of their new garden or patio. While many of these DIY customers like to be involved and educated, they often end up hiring a contractor for large scale projects like patios, walkways, and pools. By engaging with this type of consumer, it allows for the experiential value they cherish, while providing plenty of opportunity to showcase the importance of professional expertise.
Landscape and hardscape design is seen as a luxury industry – something the homeowner does not need per se, but is nice to have if it can be managed financially. Homeowners require more motivation to spend upwards of $50k on something they don’t need, although a patio with an outdoor kitchen is a nice thing to have. One of the greatest ways to bolster this incentive is personality. Infusing your company with emotion and excitement for a project can be the difference between gaining and losing a job. Perhaps you have a TV-type personality; use it by making videos of yourself giving outdoor living tips. Or maybe you are simply passionate about the kind of work you do. Every conversation with a customer, every blog post and email, every step of the process should be infused with your passion for this work. This gives the homeowner the sensation that what they are receiving is not just an outdoor living project – it is a true masterpiece.