Golf & Landscaping
Good landscaping work and attention to detail begets new clients, landscaper says
Neighbours of a well-maintained property will become future clients, veteran landscaper says
May 12, 2023 By Mike Jiggens
Great work gets noticed, and landscape contractors who provide their customers with superior workmanship will acquire additional clientele who are willing to pay top dollar. The trick is to go the extra mile, leaving behind a clean, aesthetically pleasing property.
Such was the message from Brad Paton, president of Shades of Summer Landscaping and Maintenance in Hamilton, who shared his maintenance philosophies with attendees at Nutrite’s 13th annual spring lawn care seminar at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute. He made the same presentation at Landscape Congress in January.
“If you’re doing good work and people know who you are, you’ll get more work out of it,” he said.
Paton founded his business in 2009 after having worked as maintenance manager at Evergreen Landscaping in Hamilton for 17 years. He has won Canadian Nursery Landscape Association awards in grounds maintenance with both companies.
It’s the maintenance division of a landscaping business that is responsible for the longest-lasting relationship between the client and the company. A designer may deal with a customer for a month or so before passing things over to the installer. The installer may spend a few days to a month working with the customer, but the company’s maintenance wing will deal directly with the client from a year to several years. Paton said he has customers he’s been serving for 30 years.
“You’ve got to realize that with the relationship that you cultivate with the client, the person who maintains it often has the strongest relationship with the homeowner.”
Once a property is installed with trees, shrubs and other plantings, it’s the maintenance contractor who is responsible for keeping everything healthy, growing and tidy year after year. The impression the maintenance contractor leaves with the client is the key to retention and procuring new customers.
“If you have nicely maintained properties, their neighbours will be your future clients. If you left a lot of leaves all stuffed in bushes and there’s no snow on the ground, that’s the impression you left your client. Always be respectful to the neighbours as they are your next client.”
Paton said it’s advantageous to have clusters of customers in the same general area to prevent having to drive several blocks between clients and continually park and unload trucks.
A professionally maintained property is apt to lead neighbouring homeowners to hire that same company, building a customer base within the same neighbourhood.
Fall cleanup is an important seasonal task and cannot be compromised.
“Do a really good job, clean it up nicely and don’t leave anything. Clean it up as best you can. Go as late as you can in the season, even if it’s into December.”
Leaves are collected in the fall by the company’s Walker mowers, ensuring there are no stragglers. Leaving a property spotless in the fall bolsters the contractor’s relationship with the customer.
“When clients want their places clean, do an amazing fall cleanup because it leads to much better things in the springtime.”
Customers tend to be annoyed when they see such things as leaves stuck in hedges as well as other work that appears incomplete.
In the spring, most of the lawns serviced by Shades of Summer are dethatched. Paton said as the decaying matter is pulled out, the lawn is opened for the season’s first fertilizer application. While some companies will aerate their customers’ lawns in the spring, Paton said he doesn’t wish to risk damaging a property’s irrigation system, adding aeration is best done in mid-May than in early April.
Many customers like to have their gardens and tree bases mulched to add aesthetic appeal to their properties. Some property owners still prefer red-dyed mulch, but Paton said it’s a trend that is no longer in vogue.
“If you’re going to put something on top of your garden, make sure it’s feeding your plants as well as containing the soil moisture.”
Shades of Summer’s mulch preference is a product called Gro-Max which is a premium garden soil formulated for maximum root growth with a blend of compost, aged bark fines, peat, sand and is free of weed seeds.
Mulch is driven by aesthetics which is why many customers are attracted to black-dyed mulch. Paton said there is nothing detrimental about the product but noted nothing beneficial is being added to gardens.
Gro-Max has a dark black colour which is retained at the end of the season while black-dyed mulch turns white and needs to be topped up year after year, he added.
The timing for mulching is also critical, Paton said, noting it’s “a pain in the butt” to mulch in June or July.
“If you’re going to be doing mulching, do it first thing in the spring. It’s way easier when the gardens are completely empty, and then all your perennials come up through the mulch and that gets you set up for the season.”
Edging flower beds and getting mulch in early sets the tone for the rest of the season, Paton said.
Larger mulching jobs are done with a blower truck. When more than 15 yards of material are required, mulch is blown into place.
“It’s easy and makes you look really professional.”
Paton uses a 24-0-10 fertilizer formulation from Nutrite which he applies four times in the spring, summer and fall. Some landscaping companies sub-contract fertility applications to lawn care businesses, but he said he likes to maintain continuity with his customers.
“One thing you can offer the client that a fertilizer company cannot is that you’re there every week.”
Another advantage Shades of Summer realizes by doing its own fertility applications is that it can time the work based on weather patterns better. If the forecast projects a hot and humid week, for example, the application can be made the following week or perhaps a week beforehand. Paton said lawn care companies with hundreds of customers tend to stick to a schedule and may not apply at the most opportune time.
About 80 per cent of the properties maintained by Shades of Summer are irrigated, and many have their control boxes located on the outside of the home. Boxes installed on the exterior of homes allow contractors greater control when conditions are dry, especially if the homeowner is going to be away for a significant length of time.
The system might be programmed to irrigate a couple of days a week, but a prolonged period of drought might require lawns to be watered every day.
“A lot of homeowners hire us because they want us to do that. If you have control of the irrigation and it’s raining, you have the control to shut it off.”
Although some maintenance contractors prefer to leave mulched grass clippings on the lawn to return nutrients to the soil, Paton prefers to collect all clippings.
“The reason I do it is because it’s neat and clean and tidy.”
Contractors who choose to leave clippings on the lawn often find much of it has drifted onto adjacent driveways and sidewalks. When blown back onto the lawn, other debris often is mixed in.
“The most important thing we do for bagging grass is ensure the weed seeds don’t go back into the grass.”
Paton argued that collecting clippings and weeds helps to reduce mowing frequencies and weed growth.
Blowing clippings and other debris from curbs is also important, he added, because it’s part of the property that must be kept neat and tidy.
“Blowing stuff up and over the curb and onto the lawn is OK because we’re going to bag it.”
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