Companies take their software use to the next level

April 19, 2017 -  By
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3D designs help clients visualize what they’re buying, contractors say.

How (and why) smart landscape pros are getting the most from business and design software.

It’s hard to imagine a time without current technology—when there weren’t apps or programs to create designs, make estimates or manage client services. When combined with solid business practices, software can help expand team capabilities and grow sales.

There are dozens of software options to choose from, but here’s a look at what three landscape companies are using to be successful and exceed client expectations.

Experience Designs

Helping prospects feel like they’re in the design is vital to selling a landscape project, but that’s nothing new. What is on the cutting edge is how some companies are doing that and how the advancements in software have helped.

One landscaper who has taken his digital designs to the next level is Damon Long, owner of Green Planet Landscaping & Pools in Las Vegas. The company has a $3 million annual revenue and provides pool and landscape design, along with hardscape, water feature, outdoor kitchen, fire feature and xeriscape installation to high-end residential clients.

Long has been using Pool Studio 3D design software for about 12 years and has seen it benefit his customer relationships. He says about half of his customers expect to see a digital design—and that’s a trend that will only grow going forward.

“I love designing in there,” Long says of the software. “The client has a good idea of what we’re going to achieve before we get started, and that’s really beneficial.”

He says his employees also enjoy using the 3D software, compared to 2D plans, because it saves time and has more capabilities. “Visually, it’s right there for you,” Long says. “You don’t have to build it in a CAD view. It eliminates so much work.”

The software allows users to create 3D designs and videos that can feature things like where the sun will be on a specific day/time/month—which helps designers show and sell shade covers and their benefits.

They’re also able to show the design in night mode, what it will look like from their neighbor’s yard and a variety of materials to see what the client likes best. Plus, the software is compatible with SketchUp, which Long says saves them time.

A new add-on feature Long has just started using with his design software is virtual reality goggles from Oculus, which are compatible with Pool Studio.

“You can show them the design in a virtual world,” Long says about the virtual experience. “You hook it up to your computer, put goggles on and walk around in that space. They can kneel down and feel like they are stepping in the pool.”

Virtual reality goggles help take the design off the page or computer and put it into a realm that feels lifelike. The more real the design experience, the better it is for helping to close a deal with customers. Long says business owners not using design software “are missing out.”

“My closing ratio has improved tremendously,” he says. “People are expecting that technology. If they see that a company isn’t using this technology, it hurts them.”

That’s especially true for higher-end projects and clients, he adds. “I wouldn’t buy an $80,000 to $100,000 backyard without seeing it,” Long says. “I’d expect them to have the technologies to show me.”

Instant Answers

Another landscaper who depends on design software and other programs to grow his business is Dean Ricci, owner of RLM in Hebron, Ind. It’s a full-service landscape and irrigation company—with $3.3 million in annual revenue—and it provides services to both commercial and residential properties. Ricci says the company has seen growth from incorporating a few software options.

For example, he uses the Pro Landscape iPad companion version for his design needs, only designing on his desktop a few times a year. Like many landscapers, his office is in his truck, so the more mobile he can become, the better.

Ricci says he likes how he can create a design right on site while he talks to a potential client—even sending them the design and estimate while he’s with them (normally for jobs less than $15,000).

“I design it while the customer is telling me what they like,” Ricci says. Being able to give clients instant prices and images of what their property could look like has helped him boost his closing rate.

“I proposed $2.2 million in sales and sold half of that,” Ricci explains. “There’s no way I could have done that five years ago. That’s all design/build. We get jobs because other guys don’t get back to them immediately.”

Ricci and his team also use Unilock’s Uvision to create 3D plans for complicated paver jobs. He says it has helped the company increase its closing rates by 10 to 15 percent.

“If you’re not using (3D design software), you’re not going to be able to compete in the market,” Ricci says. “You’re trying to sell people something you have to create, so you have to convey that message. Clients are very visual, and not many can read 2D drawings.”

For landscapers not using software, he suggests they get their feet wet with something simple and moving up from there.

“Start off small, and do something with apps at a minimum,” Ricci says, like ones where you can take site photos and add notes.

And it’s not just design software that can help. Ricci’s team also uses QuickBooks for accounting and Real Green Systems for recurring services like lawn care, irrigation and snow removal.

“(Contractors) can easily double their capacity because they have something like Real Green to invoice, follow up with clients, sell over the phone and take notes with that,” Ricci says. “It’s something specific to our industry and does a really good job.”

While software continues to improve and meet ever-changing needs, it isn’t enough on its own. Owners need to have a solid business plan and foundation in place to make the most of it, he adds.

“If you’re losing money, no program or app will help you,” Ricci says. “You need to change your mindset and business.”

Combining Software Solutions

When it comes to finding the right software for a large-scale green industry business, Mike Bogan, CEO of LandCare (formerly TruGreen LandCare), doesn’t rely on just one to meet its needs. LandCare is a $160 million landscape maintenance company serving commercial properties through 50 branches in 18 states.

LandCare relies on several software programs, including Aspire.

LandCare relies on several software programs, including Aspire. (Photo illustration: ©istock.com/Tatomm)

LandCare uses three separate software programs.

“While researching platforms, we found that there was no single solution that was built to optimally serve our needs,” Bogan says. “The systems that focus on providing general finance, human resources and CRM capabilities were not flexible enough to meet our landscape management needs.”

So, they focused on finding ones that had the ability to propose, plan and execute work efficiently; serve multiple branches; combine financial data and reports into branch, region, division and company subgroups; pay employees across multiple tax and wage jurisdictions; and plan and organize landscape operations in diverse climate zones.

That led LandCare to choose Aspire to handle its operations and client service needs.

“Aspire was able to provide each of the components we required—estimating, proposal generation and submittal, mobile-time entry, purchase-order tracking, job costing and job-cost analysis—while allowing us to combine or break down the data in as many ways as we could conceive,” Bogan says.

The company also uses NetSuite for accounting and financial reporting and UltiPro for human resource tracking and facilitation.

“Each are well-suited for our company’s particular needs in these areas,” he says.

Incorporating these programs has helped improve their estimates, update material prices and labor rates to ensure appropriate renewal pricing, compare actual to estimated job costs to identify estimating or productivity deficiencies and analyze performance of groups of jobs by client, market segment, geography, supervisor or production leader.

“Data and information—organized and delivered effectively—help our leaders make better decisions to drive quality and service to our clients,” Bogan says. “The span of control of a manager, measured in number of clients, crews or amount of revenue, increases as software brings improved access to real-time information and the ability to drive performance with quicker, more impactful decisions.”

His advice to other companies is to dedicate the personnel, time and financial resources to implement and lead the software program, which will change their businesses.

“Purchasing software is the easy part,” Bogan says. “Leading your team through change and empowering the implementation team is what determines the amount of value you will get from the software. Selecting the right software is an important starting point, but the implementation team and training efforts are what bring it to life in a powerful way.”

Photos: Pro Landscape by Drafix Software; ©istock.com/Tatomm; Green Planet Landscaping & Pools

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