Commercial Hardscape Projects: Do you want them and how do you get them?
Many hardscape contractors have launched their companies and found success with a focus on residential hardscape projects. These same contractors are often curious — albeit mystified —about the world of commercial hardscape projects. How can we land them? Are we qualified for them? Do we even want them? These are all questions that ought to be analyzed thoroughly before diving in head first to take on both residential and commercial projects.
Commercial vs. Residential
At first glance, commercial hardscape projects may seem essentially the same as residential ones, only on a larger scale. This is a common misconception. There are many pros and cons to making the jump from residential to commercial contracting, and it is essential to talk through them with your team before deciding whether commercial hardscape projects are right for your business.
While working strictly on residential jobs, the formula that many hardscape contractors operate under is landing a large number of jobs, each with small to medium-sized payouts. This formula reverses when working on commercial projects – it’s often more lucrative to land a small number of jobs with larger payouts. Commercial projects require much more time, so there will be less bandwidth to take on so many projects. Having fewer projects on the schedule makes it much easier to manage and delegate tasks accordingly.
Experience & trust
Working with commercial hardscape projects is a great way to showcase a wide range of offerings to future customers, whether they are commercial or residential. Getting your foot in the door with one commercial project can open up numerous possibilities and lead to projects of all scales for your business. Everything that comes with working on the commercial level, like higher stakes, more comprehensive insurance, and even partnerships with bonding companies, provides necessary trust signals to potential customers that your business has the capability to work on any kind of project. (Source)
Oftentimes, residential customers are unfamiliar with the hardscape business, and therefore, unaware of obstacles that may arise during the installation process. One professional stated, “I’m generalizing, but I found that commercial clients, as a group, were far easier to work with than my residential customers had been…My new clients were, for the most part, seasoned professionals. They were business people who understood that things happen in business, and that one must calmly face day-to-day hurdles until they are overcome.” (Source)
Labor & equipment
Maneuvering a business focused on residential projects to one handling commercial projects will likely require more team members and additional or different equipment than what is currently in your arsenal. (Source) Getting the right team together, with proper qualifications to handle commercial work, will take time and rigorous vetting. Putting the necessary equipment into operation requires plenty of time for research and training the crew, plus the funds to pay for it all. Before moving ahead into commercial work, make sure your business can handle all of the labor and equipment requirements.
When it comes to commercial projects of any kind, contractors are working under much stricter timelines compared to residential jobs. While it is ideal to have a project completed when residential clients would like, timelines often can be adjusted due to inclement weather conditions or other factors. There is far less wiggle room with commercial hardscape projects. For example, if a hardscape company is installing a streetscape in a busy area, that street and sidewalk need to be completed or else the functioning of the entire street section is halted, slowing foot and vehicle traffic to businesses and disrupting the lives of countless other people. Your hardscape business needs to be ready to adhere to the rigid timelines of commercial projects before jumping in.
Communication related to residential projects is generally limited to the contractor and the homeowner. Not so at the commercial level. Often, the decision maker for a commercial project is not the one you will be speaking with. It may be a secretary or lower-level staff member in charge of facilitating communications between the contractor and the institution. This communication structure can lead to misunderstandings at any point along the chain, which can slow the entire process and result in backtracking. Be aware of this possibility and make sure all expectations and requirements are made perfectly clear to all parties throughout the entire process. (Source)
How to Land Commercial Hardscape Projects
Acquiring commercial hardscape jobs is very different than finding smaller-scale residential ones. This new territory will require communicating through new channels, building relationships in new spheres of the market, and a lot of self-discovery. Here are some of the best methods of breaking into the world of commercial hardscape:
While direct referrals and website leads are still great ways to generate work, many commercial projects are published on what are generally known as reporting services. These are websites that businesses use to publish the kind of project they are looking for along with location, expected size, the owner’s name, and even information on how to acquire bidding documentation. Browsing these sites is a great way to see what is out there and get an idea of the kinds of projects your company can handle. Then, you can start to bid on these projects, getting your name out there in the commercial marketplace. (Source)
Another way to hunt down commercial hardscape projects in your community is to join local organizations that overlap with your area of business. For example, getting involved with local commercial real estate groups can put your business in touch with decision-makers developing projects in hospitality or on business campuses. Organizations like the Building Owners and Managers Associations (BOMA) are gold to commercial hardscape contractors, because their members include “building owners, managers, developers, corporate facility managers, leasing professionals and asset managers” – the perfect crowd to start spreading the name of your business. Attending Chamber of Commerce meetings are another great way to start building relationships with local architects, engineers, construction firms and other business leaders. These business relationships can go a long way in terms of providing leads and referrals that benefit all parties.
Find a commercial hardscape niche
Based on your business’ previous experience and qualifications, it may be worthwhile to work within one small niche of commercial hardscape. It all depends on your understanding of the products and their applications within the commercial ecosystem. There are resources available, like the Unilock commercial architectural catalogue, that can help align your business with the perfect commercial hardscape niche. For example, if more traditional, by-the-book designs come more naturally to you and your team, specializing in office hardscapes or parking lots may be a desirable route. Perhaps innovative and unique hardscape design is more in your wheelhouse. If so, academic campuses or multi-family housing hardscapes might be an easier way to demonstrate your creative skills. Selecting and pursuing a niche like these make it much easier to market your business’ expertise in that specific facet of commercial hardscapes.