Turn HOA blues into green

July 2, 2014 -  By

Q: We do a lot of maintenance work for homeowner associations (HOAs). Do you have any design advice on how to generate more revenue beyond mulching and adding seasonal color, maybe even some design/build work?

A: Good timing with your question. I’m working with a landscape contractor right now who’s trying to do the exact same thing. We just finished doing a walkthrough with the landscape committee last week. The contractor has done the maintenance for several years now, so he has an established relationship with the chair of the landscape committee and many of the individual homeowners. Even though it’s a newer community, there are many problems with the existing plantings, outdoor patios and walks as well as some grading and drainage issues, all of which are beyond his scope of work for annual maintenance.

While the building units are beautiful and the property itself has a lot of character, it lacks a sense of place and is devoid of color. In other words, from the outside, it just doesn’t feel like home.

The landscape committee is doing its due diligence and interviewing several landscape designers and landscape architects. Naturally, they asked Dan, the contractor, if he worked with anyone who might be interested in the project. He asked me if I was interested. I was, so we set up a walkthrough with the chair of the landscape committee and the treasurer, who happened to be husband and wife.

I treated it like any other design/build project, left my bag at the door and asked if we could walk the property. To me there’s no better way to engage a client than to see firsthand what their concerns are, as opposed to the alternative: a 60-minute presentation about my background and a sales pitch about why they should choose to work with me over someone else.

We started at their unit and their particular concerns. From there we walked around, reviewing the existing plantings at each unit and the common areas. I listened carefully and took good notes, trying not to offer any opinions or ideas at this point. If they asked a question, I answered it appropriately but always turned the conversation back to them and their thoughts.

Once I had a better understanding of who they were and what they were trying to do, I offered up some suggestions. I began by focusing on how they could save money, based on what we’d discussed.

As we continued to walk, I saw many of the common areas had extensive mulch beds for apparently no reason. I suggested reducing the size of the bed areas because it’s much easier and cheaper to maintain a few thousand square feet of lawn than it is to mulch and maintain an empty bed. Dan and I quickly crunched the numbers with the treasurer and determined that in one year they would save thousands of dollars in maintenance, and that would repeat every year. To modify

Tom Cruise’s line from the movie “Jerry McGuire,” “You had me at hello:” I had them at savings.

From that point on, it was pretty much a lock that we would get the work. However, now that I satisfied the financial side of the project, I also needed to pitch a few ideas for the creative side. As we continued our walk, I discussed how to enhance the main entrance.

By the end of the tour, I saved them money, excited them about the possibilities and showed them I have a pretty good handle on how to manage this kind of project.

They were so impressed they made me the exclusive designer, and Dan the exclusive contractor, for their rear yards. In just three hours, we sold more than three years worth of work and we had no competition.


About the Author:

Jody Shilan is a landscape design/build sales consultant, editor of FromDesign2Build.com and former executive director of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association. Reach him at 201-783-2844 or jshilan@gmail.com

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