The Pros and Cons of Landscape Design-Build

Jun 23, 2020 | Growth Tips, Strategy

Running a design-build business is a double-edged sword.

There are big pluses and equally big minuses to owning such a business. The pros are growth and opportunity, and the cons will kill your fortunes if you aren’t careful.

In the past two weeks I have spoken with three clients in my community, and one new consulting prospect about this double-edged challenge.

Keep your eyes wide open.

First the pros: 

The timing is perfect for growth. Everyone is staying home and wants their property to be upgraded into the paradise that only a design-build specialist can visualize and bring to life.

The “cocooning” trend – which was first coined in 1981 by Faith Popcorn, a futurist and marketing guru – will continue as our population shifts even more towards working from home. I predict this will be a multi-year trend that will buoy the entire residential landscaping market!

The demand is large and will give you entry to a growing market, bringing with it a steady flow of new potential maintenance clients.

And done right, this niche can make you a lot of money and bring satisfaction to your community and your employees.

The cons are insidious.

The fatal flaw, which I see repeat itself over and over, is when a landscape business owner over-dedicates his or her energy into the design-build side of the business, and thereby ignore the maintenance side, running it on autopilot or just assuming that it will do just fine by itself.

Why do owners spend so much time on the design-build side?

  • It is the hardest to coordinate
  • Has the highest client expectations
  • Has the most potential for costly problems
  • Plus it is where all the sexy work happens and is full of instant gratification of a job well done

When this over-dedication happens the maintenance side never grows to its full potential, and sometimes it even atrophies.

Ironically, when the owner is dedicated to design-build, the installation profits can be overstated because they don’t account for the owner’s full overhead in that division.

The ultimate “con” is when the maintenance division doesn’t maximize its growth, the salability and enterprise value of the business is diminished.

Your challenge:

As you take advantage of the pandemic trend to supply homeowners with beautiful landscapes, take heed, and build your company more strategically:

1. Start by treating design-build as a “mass customization” effort. What this means is don’t make every project fully and utterly customized, instead build repeatable processes into your business model, and develop underlying “mass production” techniques into your projects and offerings.

2. Don’t make design-build so complex that someone else can’t design it, sell it, build it, and run it.

3. Give maintenance, irrigation service, lawn care, and garden care (etc.) its due. I have seen on more than one occasion where the maintenance side of one’s business actually falters and implodes because the owner is distracted.

4. Ensure your design-build clients are not left hanging, but rather, are embraced towards the end of their project with a maintenance program and leaders to keep satisfaction peaking.

5. Measure your legacy not by just how beautiful your projects turn out, but by how beautifully valuable your business becomes.

Everyone wants a business that is a triple win: A win for your clients and community, a win for your employees, and a win for your investment of time and money. How well are you balancing the pros and cons of design-build?