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Hardscape Education Center

Take Your Hardscape Projects to the Next Level with Exterior Design

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There is a rapidly emerging opportunity for landscape construction professionals today that very few businesses are taking advantage of. Homeowners are experiencing a disconnect between the outdoor living spaces they see in product catalogues and luxury shelter magazines and the ones they receive when a landscape contractor has “finished” installing theirs. It is not necessarily because of any discrepancy on the part of the landscaper; the project could be installed perfectly. It is because the final space that’s delivered to the homeowner is missing key finishing details that makes a patio more than just concrete or stone – let’s call this “exterior design.”

Taking the warmth and light and softness they saw while planning – the allure that made them decide to invest in their outdoor living in the first place – is where the opportunity lies. In addition to a far happier end customer, exterior design packs many other huge benefits for those companies positioned to offer the service.

Why Exterior Design and Why Now?

The rapidly growing outdoor living industry has evolved and grown exponentially over the last decade. No longer are homeowners seeking the basic 10’ x 10’ patio and poured concrete walkway that fueled the start of the hardscape industry. The project’s being installed today are true outdoor living spaces with all the luxuries and amenities of our traditional indoor homes. As the size and scope of these spaces has grown, so too has the cost of the average hardscape installation. This natural progression of what homeowners are requesting has opened up a massive opportunity in exterior design.

In order to understand how best to utilize this market opportunity, we have to think about it from the eyes of the end customer. Most likely, they went online in search of inspiration for their new patio, outdoor kitchen, or swimming pool space. Once they gained enough ideas and learned about some of the possibilities, they reached out to a company, and, through even more elegant, strategic photos, a designer helped them formulate an outdoor space that would work well for their specific property.

Then, the project entered the construction phase. Everything was installed properly, including a beautiful fire pit, masterfully-constructed outdoor kitchen, and maybe even some built-in seating. On paper, the team did an impeccable job, and all the arranged needs were met. And yet, the customer is not as thrilled as they thought they would be.

Neither the contractor nor the customer fully understands what exactly is missing, so both part ways, neither feeling fully satisfied with the warmth and comfort of the space. Chances are over the next few months, the homeowner will try to add some accents, fabrics, and of course furniture for the patio, but because they aren’t trained in design, the new outdoor living spaces never reach their full potential. But why is this the case? It is because, even though the installation is technically finalized, there’s another incredibly important step that has not been completed. At the finish of a project’s construction is where the execution of the exterior design service should begin, bringing the project to the level that the customer expected when they sought to extend their home’s livable space to the outdoors.

What Exactly is Exterior Design?

First, let’s describe what interior design is. The ambience of the interior of the home is all in the details. The furniture, accents, color schemes, lighting – each piece is crucial to bringing the space together and filling it with warmth. In fact, the specialized interior design industry has become so popular that it is projected to increase by 20% over the next decade.

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The same perspective applies to exterior design. The seemingly small details that embellish the outdoor space are just as important as their indoor cousins. Think about accents like:

  • Furniture
  • String lights, standing lamps, table lamps, candles, etc.
  • Curtains or screens
  • Center pieces
  • Art
  • Outdoor rugs

These being only a few elements of exterior design, the magic lies in transforming a patio into an outdoor room using these and more. The opportunity here for the forward-thinking landscape company is to be able to inform the customer up front that not only can they design and install the desired hardscape and softscape project, but they can beautifully design the entire outdoor living space from top to bottom.

Where to Start?

Understanding that this is a great opportunity to add to your business is not quite enough. Every company functions differently, so it is necessary to analyze the most efficient, cost-effective way for your business to incorporate exterior design. There are a number of options, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. The key is to take a critical eye to how much your business can handle without stretching itself too thin. These are some possibilities:

Own it

If you, the business owner, are a creative person who has worked in exterior or interior design, you might decide the best way to approach this opportunity is to take it on yourself. If this is the case, this might be the most cost-effective way to pursue this avenue, as it will not require a middle-man or partnership with another company or individual. Be aware, this mainly applies to smaller businesses whose owners have developed the free time to pursue this route. With this option, you can show your customer a rendering of their finished patio and say, “Be prepared that this is what will happen when the job is technically finished, and you might be a little disappointed. But, at X Landscaping Company, we can take your patio to the next level by bringing in all the fabrics and colors you saw in the magazine.”

Train your team

Approach the members of your crew with ideas about incorporating exterior design into the business, and see who seems interested. Does someone on your crew have an “eye” for this kind of design? Utilize these more personal abilities and interests if the individual is comfortable. Help them develop this special interest by encouraging (or even offering to pay for) them to take courses on interior design. Maybe help them attend a workshop, and practice new skills by analyzing photos of previously completed projects. Not only will the team member(s) and company benefit from these honed skills, but you will also bolster your relationship with your crew by showing personal interest in their success.

Related Read: MANAGING FOREMEN PROACTIVELY THROUGH INCENTIVIZING Part 3: Intangibles

With significant experience and coursework to showcase your team’s experience, you can say to your customers, “Rather than going to yet another company to design the feel of your patio, my team, that is already familiar with the space, is equipped to handle all your exterior design needs, all from the same business.” Your clients will feel more inclined to keep all their business with one company they already know and trust, rather than looking elsewhere.

Employ a professional

If this kind of design skill is not easily accessible to the employees of your company, consider working with interior design industry students or self-employed professionals. The specialized design industry has a field employment rate of less than 15%. That means over 85% of interior design students and professionals are looking for a break into the industry; a landscape contractor looking to expand into exterior design could be the perfect break for them. By bringing in a trained professional, your company establishes an authority in this division of landscape design, with the ability to say, “We would love to expand the potential of this patio for you with tasteful, elegant exterior design, and we have a member of our team who specializes in just that.” Your business will appear to be more than meets the eye, bolstering your customer’s trust and encouraging them to go further with your company.

Establish a partnership

Maybe your team is already large enough, and you simply do not have time to manage yet another employee. Bringing on another team member can be a risk; if it does not work out, it can be difficult to mend the situation. Establishing a partnership with an interior designer or design company is a great way to ‘soft-launch’ into this new service your business is offering. Leave the specialized design to those who have built their entire career around it. The customer will be impressed with the sophistication of your company when you can say, “We strive to help you achieve the most out of your patio space, and our partners at ABC Interior Design will be perfect for the job. They will come in and help you select the best pieces to complement your space, and either my team or theirs will come install everything for you personally.”

What Are the Results?

Whichever route you choose to fully develop the customer’s outdoor living space by supplying all the colors and accents and aesthetics seen in the photos, all parties involved will be much happier with the final product. And, by adding this one extra step, several things have happened for your business:

  1. Increased customer satisfaction, which increases likelihood of relevance
  2. Provided an opportunity for them to refer you for other projects
  3. Incrementally increased sales
  4. Created a space that can be photographed and used to promote your business and gain future work

Who will fill the market demand?

Don’t let the exterior design industry develop separately from construction professionals without first establishing your company’s stake in it. Your business is directly involved with the landscape design and construction process. Your business already has a positive relationship with the customer. Why stop there? It should be your business that offers to take their project and bring it to the next level. Seize this growing opportunity to match the project that the customer wants to the product they receive by adding exterior design to your repertoire.

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