preparing hardscape

Resolutions for your landscaping business

How did your landscaping business end the year? Make some serious money? Less than serious money? Or did you make little to no money at all?

Regardless of your profit or loss statement just now, now’s a good time for a do-over. January’s always the time when you make New Year’s resolutions. No one has ever said they had to be limited to losing weight and getting more exercise.

Make your resolution, right now, to have a better year in your business in 2019.

We can help, with words from people who teach about it, people who write about it and people who live it.

An opportunity and a challenge for the landscaping business

Dan Thomas is a teaching instructor in the Construction Management program at East Carolina University, where he helps budding homebuilders learn how to build and run successful construction businesses. He’s also been a homebuilder himself since 1987, specializing in custom homes that focus on using sustainable materials and technology.

Thomas says that right now, there are two points of view within the industry. If you are a subcontractor, you have a good opportunity for growth, as the construction industry overall is doing well. If you are a general contractor, you will face challenges, especially from labor shortages.

Share of New Homes with Patios Climbs over 58 Percent
From the start of the downturn in 2007 through 2011, the share of new homes with patios was consistently under 50 percent—as low as 44.8 percent in the trough of 2009. In 2012, the share jumped to 52.4 percent and has been consistently climbing ever sense, finally breaking above 58 percent in 2017.
NAHB

To be successful, Thomas advises that contractors be organized, estimate each job correctly and understand how to sell.

Being organized in the landscaping business means, for example, that you have the materials at the job site and you don’t spend precious time (and your profit margin) running back and forth to buy more materials.

Estimating means that you make enough to pay yourself, your labor and your materials, but also enough to pay overhead by accounting for every dollar that it costs you to be in business. Along those lines, don’t be afraid to bump up your profit margins. Have a precise understanding of what your costs are and keep in mind that they go well beyond labor and materials. Thomas suggests that taking a business class at a community college might help.

Understanding how to sell means that you do good work, take care of your customers and depend on that reputation that you’ve built to sell more projects to more customers.

A way to overcome worker shortages

The need to make changes seems especially pressing within the masonry industry. In its November 2018 issue, Masonry magazine, for example, quotes the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as saying the profession is expected to grow at a rate of 12 percent between 2016 and 2026, at a time when the masonry worker’s median age is 54, meaning that most will be retiring within the next 10 years. NAHB reports that two-thirds of bricklaying contractors are struggling to find workers.

Masonry Magazine reports that the problem had its beginnings in the 1980s, when trade education took a backseat to preparing students for college.

Today’s solution is to meet younger employees halfway by proactively developing them as leaders, by listening to their ideas and engaging them, because that kind of give-and-take is what younger employees have become used to as they were growing up.

Kent Huntley, CME, who is president of the N.C. Masonry Contractors Association, told the magazine: “Many people put it all on the youngsters. I put it on me, too. I need to ask myself, ‘what have I done to get to know them?’ It is up to me just as much, if not more, to start the conversation. If we (the masonry industry) started to listen to them more, we would learn a lot.  In my own conversations, it is really cool to get their take on a project or an idea.”

Not listening to the young may mean your own company may well suffer.

“They will jump ship, in a heartbeat,” said Thomas.

He added that listening may not be enough. A better bet would be to invest time and money to incentivize young people to pursue careers in the construction trades. Labor shortages could well be eased if the young found a fair pay scale tied to the cost of living. That would convince many to see a career in construction as a viable alternative to careers that require a four-year degree or more.

“This is long overdue – we need to show them that you can make money in construction right now,” said Thomas. “American kids would say, ‘maybe that’s not so bad.’ ”

Keeping your eye on the ball

Fred Adams Jr. of Fred Adams Paving in Morrisville, NC has some specific pointers for building a hardscape business. Several years ago, Adams’ company oversaw the installation of Pine Hall Brick Company pavers at the American Tobacco Historic District in Durham, NC.

He suggests:

  • Do a careful review of the job site. How will materials get into the site? Will construction be going on while businesses are open?
  • When estimating, know how long it will take, while at the same time, keep up with how much is remaining to do before completion. Keep the two in balance. If you have spent 60 percent of the time you had figured and only 40 percent has been completed, you’re in trouble.
  • Coordinate carefully with other contractors. Meet with them early and often, to ensure that you aren’t getting in each other’s way.
  • Build in contingencies, in terms of costs and especially, of time. Set aside some time each day for cleanup.

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