How to approach plant warranties

September 4, 2014 -  By

Landscape professionals share the different approaches they take to plant warranties.

Artisan Gardens provides one-year plant warranties and educates clients on watering.

Artisan Gardens provides one-year plant warranties and educates clients on watering. Photo: Artisan Gardens.

After a long day of installing plants, including junipers and barberry shrubs, the gloves come off and it’s closing time. Another job done; another happy customer. Days and weeks fly by until the client calls, upset that several plants are dead. Question asked: Whose fault is it? Are these covered by a warranty? That’s when the dilemma begins.

Landscape professionals have a score of approaches to plant warranties. Here are a few ways to handle them.

Deal or no deal

Brian Tauscher, owner of Ridgewood, N.J.-based Artisan Gardens, offers one-year plant warranties and advocates for everyone else to, too.
“If you don’t offer plant warranties it can be a deal breaker when a client is choosing between you and a competitor,” Tauscher says. “If you are looking to sell yourself as a quality contractor then everything you do should be (under warranty).”

Tauscher tries to avoid the plant warranty conflict by educating his clients, of whom 40 percent are residential and 60 percent are commercial. Artisan Gardens is 70 percent design/build and 30 percent maintenance.

“We try to educate them throughout the job (to) have them realize and understand what maintenance is,” he says.

Too much or not enough water is the most common mistake that causes a plant to die, Tauscher says.

He tells homeowners to “use common sense and adjust the watering to the weather and climatic conditions.”

It’s very important to plant correctly the first time to limit warranty issues, Tauscher says. He also does his best to stay in touch with customers after the job so plant issues can be resolved as quickly as they sprout.

“Keeping open channels of communication throughout the warranty period is important,” he says. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s texting, email or phone calls. Communication is important.”

Jody Shilan, a landscape designer and consultant with 20 years of contracting/design experience, says the best way to avoid plant warranty issues—and at the same time retain customers and sell new work—is to offer a maintenance agreement after an installation job.

Landscape Concepts offers clients free plant replacements up to 30 days after an installation.

Landscape Concepts offers clients free plant replacements up to 30 days after an installation. Photo: Landscape Concepts.

During the walk-through after the job is completed, Shilan says to always be prepared to offer a homeowner a maintenance contract along with a one-year warranty.

For the homeowner, “It’s sensible and logical after a big investment,” Shilan says.

If a maintenance contract is out of the picture, Shilan says a landscape company should at least offer a one-year warranty on all deciduous, evergreen and perennial plants. The key is to price the installation appropriately so there’s money available for possible replacements.

“In the industry we are stuck with that on some levels,” Shilan says. “But it does give homeowners some assurances and security.”

Giving a homeowner an easy-to-follow plant health care manual that covers watering, fertilizing and simple maintenance techniques goes a long way, he adds.

Along with that, sending out a monthly e-newsletter that provides maintenance information is the best way to stay connected with clients, Shilan says. If it’s linked to a website, Facebook page and Houzz account, even better.

Splitting the responsibility

Pat Ross, owner of St. Louis-based Landscape Concepts says putting responsibility on the homeowner solves many warranty issues. The company, which mainly does residential work, has an annual revenue of $450,000.

Exclusively design/build, Landscape Concepts gives customers a way to get involved by offering a warranty that entails free replacements for the first 30 days after installation, but anytime after that, it’s 50 percent of the plant cost, plus labor to replace the plant.

“This is a way to get a little more involvement from the homeowner,” Ross says. “It makes the homeowner understand their part in the plantings.”

During the development stages of a project, homeowners receive a presentation folder. This folder contains drawings, photos, designs and other documents about the project, including a sheet about watering practices and an explanation of the warranty.

If a plant were handled incorrectly or dropped, those signs are going to show up in the plant within the first 30 days, Ross says. The 50 percent cost after the 30 days is to make the homeowner accountable for the plant health care.

“The whole reason the warranties are laid out is because of the whole watering aspect,” she says.

When Ross receives a replacement call, she goes to the property to inspect the plant. If the plants surrounding the dead plant are alive and well, she will replace it even after the 30 days. But if the plants are noticeably not being taken care of, that’s when the warranty comes into play, she says.

“When we see maintenance happening, we make an exception,” Ross says. “It’s really hard to put warranties on a living thing.”

Caveat for the customer

Chris James Landscaping only offers one-year plant warranties to clients with irrigation systems.

Chris James Landscaping only offers one-year plant warranties to clients with irrigation systems. Photo: Chris James Landscaping.

Plants are not like a couch you buy, take home and sit on for years without any care, says Chris James, owner of Waldwick, N.J.-based Chris James Landscaping (CJL). They’re in constant need of maintenance.

After 36 years in the Green Industry, James has learned many lessons about plant warranties and has tailored his policy accordingly. Before he offers a one-year warranty James requires a homeowner to have an irrigation system to ensure the plants will receive appropriate watering.

If homeowners don’t have irrigation systems, James gives them two options: 1). Homeowners can pay for a hand-watering service done by CJL, which includes periodic trips to the property to water the plants. This option does not include a warranty. 2). He gives homeowners a printed list of maintenance instructions and it’s 100 percent their job to take care of it all, also with no warranty.

“Some clients are willing to take on the responsibility,” James says.

James’ projected revenue for this year is $1.9 million. With 80 percent residential clients and only 20 percent commercial, homeowner relationships are important to him. He refers to his company as a long-term partner and not a “one-hit-wonder company.”

“It’s not a plant-it-and-forget-it (mentality),” he says. “We want to establish a relationship.”

Right from the get-go he talks to the homeowner about what he can and can’t do regarding warranties, and he won’t start building until he feels they understand. CJL has a detailed contract that’s signed by both James and the client to avoid any miscommunications that can lead to replacements and warranty issues.

“A good warranty will state what each party is responsible for,” James says.

Although, James says if a homeowner calls him at 13 months, a month after the warranty expires, he’s not going to turn them away.

“All good business needs flexibility,” James says. “We want to affirm that trust.”

Keyes was a summer editorial intern for Landscape Management.


Web Extra: The CJL way to plant warranties

This article is tagged with , and posted in Design/Build+Installation, September 2014

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