Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Free Business Model

So you call to get a quote for some “landscaping,” but do you know what you’ll get?  Chances are the design will be ‘free,’ provided you buy the installed materials for the job from the same Company (this is usually shown as a credit or incentivized to avoid bidding the design).  But is “free” really free?  Doesn’t it make sense that the labor to create a design for your yard is upcharged somewhere else along the chain, whether through the plant materials, labor for installation, or other non-itemized item?  Someone spent time to put pen to paper, and isn’t “time, money”?

You should also consider if you have already established a budget and no other design parameter that what you’ll get may depend upon readily-available or in-stock materials, thus cutting out the middle man, a plant broker.  Will the end result meet your needs for curb appeal, buffering/screening, the oft-intended goal of return on your investment, or will you be stuck with substandard plant material and a maintenance cost that will take away from the return-on-investment strategy?  I have heard the term ‘SOF-PACK’ described by at least one Landscape Contractor that literally means “S-tuff” “O-ff” the “F-arm” defined as plant material that is part of the existing inventory.  Possibly, this material was meant as an investment, purchased at a smaller size, wholesale, to grow into a Florida Fancy Grade (according to Florida Nursery Grades and Standards) for retail cost; however, more often, this is material which is overstock, part of a demolition at another site, and otherwise, material that is horticulturally substandard…thus, the installation you may end up with could be the result of a free design with inadequate plant material, to maximize the profit margin on a landscape installation.  (And I haven’t even inquired if the irrigation will be adjusted, to accommodate changes – to save you money, it should be…)

Some advice:  ask to see other previous installation and at least three recently-completed jobs, ask for three previous customers’ contact information, AND above all, ask about the plant material, inquiring specifically for photographic representations/samples of the plants/sizes you’ll be getting or take a visit to their ‘Farm,’ if in-stock inventory is to be used.  In short order, you can sort a Professional operation from one that is not, one perhaps on the ‘edge,’ versus one that is financially-stable.  Now, if you don’t have time to spend to “pre-qualify” a few companies to bid, that’s where a Registered Landscape Architect can help – in fact, that’s our job.  We pre-qualify companies, verify plant material, but, first, we’ve ascertained your end goals for the installed design during the design process itself – whether it’s one or all of the following:  a distinctive neighborhood aesthetic, perhaps an entertainment area, or quiet retreat.  And, in the end, our fees are typically recovered during the competitive bidding process, through the cost difference between high and low bids, without predetermined plant palettes or the need to up-charge along the chain.

So consider that while it may be free at the beginning, it could cost you in the end.

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