By Britt Wood
From the October 2020 Issue
The landscaping around a facility’s property is often the very first impression for customers, visitors, and employees when they arrive and spend time at a site. A strong relationship with your landscape contractor is important to this facility management goal. Your landscape professional should be a trusted advisor who works in partnership with you and your team to create a beautiful landscape that helps meet the goals for your site. Taking the time to understand the contractor’s business and their perspective will undoubtedly provide for greater understanding and ultimately a more productive collaboration.
Make An Effort To Engage
The first step to cultivating a stronger relationship with your landscape professional is to treat them as a trusted partner instead of a commodity.
“A smart client will understand the value that a good partnership brings,” says Chris Kujawa, President of Kujawa Enterprises, Inc., a commercial landscape company based in Oak Creek, WI. “That value will manifest itself in ways such as earned institutional knowledge, shortening the learning curve, continuity of relationships on multiple levels within both companies, cost reduction synergies, shortened response times, and a whole host of other tangibles and intangibles alike.”
Like any healthy relationship, engagement is a two-way street. The more a facility manager engages, the more the vendor will as well. Skip Thompson, LIC, CEO of TideWater Landscape Management based in Savannah, GA, says communication is the key and expectations should be outlined for both parties.
“There’s definitely a reciprocation element to it,” Kujawa says. “The more engagement, the better the level of mutual understanding becomes. As communication becomes better and clearer, servicing that client becomes easier and more effective. You also start to anticipate the client’s needs through that engagement process.”
Communicating frequently with your landscape contractor helps ensure that everyone remains on the same page.
Ask The Right Questions
Taking the time to ask more questions often indicates to the landscape contractor you are interested in a strategic relationship. Start by asking questions like:
- What are the various services you provide?
- What is your preferred method of communication?
- Who is the point of contact for specific needs (site issues vs. financial questions)?
By taking the time to understand the full range of services offered by a landscape contractor, you can reduce your vendor list, and they can become more valuable to you.
Kujawa adds: “A smart facility manager will ask open-ended questions that put the burden on you, like ‘What are your thoughts?’… ‘How would you handle this?’… ‘What more do you need from me?’… ‘Have you ever seen anything like this before?’”
Landscape contractors appreciate when clients turn to them for industry knowledge. “First of all, it’s an acknowledgment of trust in you and your capabilities,” Kujawa says. “The client is obviously comfortable with you and what you’ve been bringing to date. It’s also smart on the client’s part.”
Avoid Common Miscommunications
Thompson says too many times facility managers assume that everything outside the building is to be maintained. Make sure you understand the scope of work you are hiring the vendor for and what is included in it. Storm damage is an element that is commonly overlooked and can result in large cleanup costs.
“I think the most common miscommunications occur when the discussions center mostly around money,” Kujawa says. “Money is a yardstick for measuring a specific and finite aspect of a whole suite of costs. Money is merely a component of things like value, effectiveness, and efficiency. If you just focus on the money, you can easily find yourself misunderstanding the real reason for a discussion.”
To get to the heart of the problem, consider the underlying forces. Try not to let money solely drive the discussion as this often results in miscommunication and assumptions.
Seek Cost Savings
While money shouldn’t be the only focus, you should still look for cost-savings. An effective landscape professional is skilled in enriching a property’s value so involve them in the discussion when looking for ways to improve your bottom line.
“We can always identify some sort of cost savings somewhere,” Kujawa says. “The challenge is to do it effectively. And to do it effectively, the contractor needs to know the motivation and expectation behind the request to reduce costs. Is this a temporary, short-term budget issue to address, or a longer-term structural issue?”
Examples of short-term cost-cutting measures could include postponing bed mulching for a season, removing one or more seasons from a four-season color program, or holding off on aeration. For long-term cost savings, this could mean prioritizing where seasonal color is installed or reducing mowing for less trafficked areas. Being strategic about where to make cutbacks helps maintain a property’s overall curb appeal.
“When you drive down what I call the ‘sacred’ services like reducing mowing frequency too much, eliminating a turf care step or two, reducing horticultural pruning and hedging, you risk creating a larger problem that will result in a ‘curb-appeal deficit’ and [the] client will find themselves with an image challenge that will become increasingly more costly to correct,” Kujawa says.
Thompson says they analyze the site and offer suggestions that best service the property whether it be reducing the number of cuts required, replacing some plant material, or swapping out the groundcover from pinestraw to mulch.
“We can understand the partner’s needs and the desired effect they want to achieve and help them understand the best option available,” Thompson says.
Wood is the Chief Executive Officer the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), which represents an industry that employs nearly one million landscape, lawn care, irrigation, and tree care professionals who create and maintain healthy green spaces for the benefit of society and the environment. Learn more at LoveYourLandscape.org.
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