Five lessons learnt as a landscape architect to the swimming pool and landscape construction industries
Having worked for years in both ‘design only’ and ‘design + construct’ firms, I have learnt five very important lessons about achieving success through the designer-contractor relationship in our industry, all of which have led me to develop Pitch Box as a means to help business owners.
1. Save the WOW factor for marketing exercises.
High-end projects with significant customised details and substantial budgets represent a small proportion of the market and generally require disproportionate resources in relation to the actual profit generated by undertaking those projects. While they look incredible and appear in magazines, they can be time-consuming with lower margins and being so customised means many things are installed without being tested. These projects are great for designers such as myself to achieve something unique and exciting; however, I have repeatedly observed that they generate far less profit in the long term than ‘bread and butter’ projects. Such projects should be considered a marketing exercise and should be reserved and undertaken in light of that purpose at the right times.
2. It helps when everyone is on the same page.
I’m still amazed at the varying abilities of people both within and outside of the construction industries to read and comprehend a plan drawing. I’ve often felt completely shocked that some of my clients have signed off on pages and pages of house building plans without even understanding what they’re getting! In almost all these cases they are dealing directly with a builder (rather than an architect or designer) and are often looking at site plans and engineering details for which the intended audience is an experienced contractor, rather than the average person. I consider this lack of communication to be negligent and have seen many times how this inevitably leads to confusion, tension and the deterioration of relationships that began with good intentions. I’m fortunate to have experience as both a landscape contractor and a landscape architect so I have an appreciation for both sides of the proverbial coin. As a designer, I feel it is my responsibility to help my clients and their contractor see and understand in every way the vision I have for their property; it avoids confusion and prevents conflict later, which improves customer satisfaction and gets referrals.
3. Get everyone excited.
Having worked in a very personal way with hundreds of home owners, I understand that investing in a pool and landscape is much more than just a financial decision. It is also an emotionally driven lifestyle choice. I’ve found that if you involve the whole family in the discussion, especially children, you build enthusiasm, anticipation and pressure on the decision-makers for the project to be realised. While a new pool certainly adds to property value, people are driven by their love for their family and aspirations for the lifestyle they want to create for them. If you can communicate the exciting lifestyle opportunities their investment will bring, people will pay a premium to make it happen.
4. Pick your battles.
In a highly competitive market, fast turnaround, efficient delivery and working ‘smarter’ are the characteristics of a well-oiled and profitable machine. I understand that certain swimming pools, falling within a specific range of sizes, on sites with good access and a simple design that uses quality, yet readily available off-the-shelf materials, yield the highest returns. Most pool builders will know exactly which types of projects are the most profitable to build; these are the projects I have previously helped my employers do everything they could to win.
5. Take out the middle man and finish faster.
The ‘role play’ that occurs between the designer, the client and the contractor on any given project can cause the project significant delays. Some of these might include dealing with unexpected issues on-site, coordination with other trades, clients changing their mind and conflicting views on decisions such as material selection and finishes. Clients often alternately takes sides, aligning themselves with either the designer or the contractor on different issues as the project unfolds as it suits them. While each issue can always be resolved in the end, ultimately these scenarios can cause delays and should be avoided to streamline delivery. Much as I believe my role has been essential to the success of each project I’ve worked on, I also think an alternative model to streamline the construction sequence is possible; removing the designer from interaction with clients altogether can actually be a good thing. It enables the contractor to maintain control over every aspect of the project and in doing so gaining the trust of the client as the single point of contact for each project.
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