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  #76 (permalink)  
Old 02-19-2006, 03:52 PM
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This is different for everyone. You can't charge a lot for a design fee if your competition is doing it for cheap (or free) and he's landing all the build contracts. I don't say that everyone has to do it cheap, but your chance of closing a contract to build a landscape is a lot higher if you did the design work. The client knows you know what is supposed to be built and already has built a comfort level with you. Most people don't like to switch ships in mid stream. No one has a better shot at landing the job than the company that designed it.

That said, if you have plenty of work, you don't have to put out a lot in the way of advertisement. If you take the position that design is a form of marketing, you don't have to spend your money on design either by doing it for free or by not charging full design rates if the work is there.

If you want to charge $2,500 for a landscape plan and you are getting enough design work and closing construction contracts, you should be doing it. If you want to charge $200, but are sitting by the phone looking out the window at all those fools landing all of the construction contracts because they were stupid enough to under cut you on the design fee that is another story.

It is all different depending upon how much in demand you are, what your true competitors (people whose jobs you are likely to get, and who are likely to get yours) are doing, the financial demographic of your market, how many job leads you are getting, and how busy your crews are. What is stupid for one company is absolutely brilliant for another.

None of it is a one size fits all. Whatever is worth the investment that works out in the long run, is what is right.
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  #77 (permalink)  
Old 02-19-2006, 04:32 PM
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I'm seeing a unilatteral problem in our industry and it has come to recent light to me through this thread.

Let me list the components of a landscape installation and the professionals who make them happen.

You have the designer/Architect not to lump them as the same but basically, they draw the plans for the installer, whoever that may be.
To varying degrees of detail and expertise, these folks make plans to be bid on by landscape contractors and in some cases design-build firms. They are also and should be paid to be responsible to manage the landscape company doing the install but often this is where the owner drops the ball and lets fate take over..


Then you have landscape contractors, listed as installers.

As listed, these firms look at plans, estimate them, submit a bid hoping to gain acceptance. The degree of their accuracy depends entirely on how detailed the work scope is when given to them for review, and closely they follow that plan.

Then you have installers who draw.

Good at installation, iffy at best on design. Thier gig is installation and they draw at give away pricing to get work. The homeonwer thinks they get a great deal because they saved $2,000.00 plus over having a dedicated firm do the drawing.

Then you have design-build firms.

A Design-Build firm is essentially a company who is hired for a given budget to draw and install as per what the client wants. In the correct way they come ointo fruition, they are paid from the get go to drawn, gain acceptance, and install what was approved by the owner/general contractor/agent.


The problem as I see most of it, is in the process all work is propagated. None would go to the architect and have them get to the board without signing a contract. The landscape firm that draws and anyone who draws needs to make it clear, this is a paid for service, unless they can manage to turn the sale into a design-build situation where they are on board getting paid from the first meeting on.

I write this with strong hopes that everyone, no matter what your competiton charges or chooses to be so stupid as to give away, would charge for drawings. The more it gets around that what we do is for profit not charity, the faster people will see value in those who are serious about this profession.

Now back to werk.....
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  #78 (permalink)  
Old 02-19-2006, 04:35 PM
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I might be getting started on the wrong foot here with a 1st post. I wasn't trying to insinuate that you (start2finish) don't know what you're doing. I was curious how involved a project you were talking about. I was definitely interested in this issue in general. We're in the same boat here. I charge a design fee based on the scope of the project but I am saying that it is a bit precarious because IF the project is not awarded then that design charge is not exactly comensurate (like it would be in the case of an L.A. firm) with the time I put into it. It takes me a fair amount of time to put together a nice looking plan. Like I said, even if there is no drawing just a plant list / estimate (which is a design in my head), it still takes a good bit of time. This is just a fact of design-build business, I understand that. We had an issue recently with an HOA (for a redesign) that gave no budget when asked twice about a budget. I drew 3 drawings for 4 areas and spent about 20 hours in Dynascape (maybe I'm not the fastest CAD guy ) but then all of a sudden after their next meeting our proposal is double what their budget is and they still have not paid for the design fee they were invoiced for after 3 months have past. So the issue is fresh in my head. It would be nice to stay so busy that one could command full pricing for landscape plans but not the reality for me.

Mark

Last edited by mark m; 02-19-2006 at 04:41 PM..
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  #79 (permalink)  
Old 02-19-2006, 04:51 PM
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So the issue exists. I agree with Bill about this but putting this into action has been like I said, "precarious". My designs look professional. I will say that we are fastly moving away from "designing as a part of the bidding process" because the reality is that designing is involved and takes time to put out nice plans. Speaking of nice looking plans, I have a very large stack of plans in my office, drawn by ASLA certified landscape architects that graphically speaking, range from "stark commerical designs" to "horrible" and "unreadable" to "this guy obviously never set foot on this site!" Some of them are great but I am surprised at some of these plans I've seen. Dynascape helps us offer nice looking plans that are to scale and accurate. It is too much to offer without the money involved. I suppose we're just trying to work our way up the scale starting from charging next to nothing to charging fairly. Make sense?

Mark

Last edited by mark m; 02-19-2006 at 04:57 PM..
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  #80 (permalink)  
Old 02-19-2006, 05:05 PM
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No offense taken here, I love what I do and the only reason I spend time on these forums is to hear other people's ideas and resond to criticisim. I greatly respect Bill's post I have read many of them and he has made his business and clients play by his rules. I don't have the game mastered as well as he. I have a builder that hires a design only firm here in town to draw all his plans. I spend more time substituting and changing the plan to fit his budget, than I would have if I did the job from begininng. I have done hundreds of take offs from plans and hundreds or installs following a plan, in the beginning it was for another company for the last 6 years for my company.
I had even tried using a respected designer to refer the clients to and then bid the plan. the SOB was referring another company to bid the designs and never I wasn't getting a chance to even see the plans. It took 3 or 4 clients to finally have one tell me what was happenning. I guess the first couple figured I was an idiot not to have known who I was dealing with. I would love to find someone who does nothing but design and farm out the work getting the plan prior to the customer reviewing it with my proposal for installation attached. If there are any changes then I would ammend my proposal to affect the changes. Our market is call 10 guys to come give a "free estimate" convincing the customer to lock in a drawing and purchase it to bid it out is the only time we have been paid for a drawing and as mentioned before if we get to design we usually get to install. The problem is Saturdays seem to be estimate days and Sundays are billing and accounting days. Monday-Friday is equipment maintainance and production. My family gets the 30-60 minutes I am awake each evening before passing out in the recliner trying to catch a weather forcast. Don't get me wrong I LOVE MY WORK!!! I also love my family. Balancing my time and juggling the customers and opinions and selling are taking too much of my time. What I need is a parent company to estimate, design, bill, collect, and send me money monthly. YEA RIGHT!
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  #81 (permalink)  
Old 02-19-2006, 05:26 PM
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start2finish,

Does your firm do maintenance?

Mark
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  #82 (permalink)  
Old 02-19-2006, 07:58 PM
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no maintainance. Purely installs and grading/drainage issues. We spend most of our time on jobsites (new construction) clean-up, backfilling, grading, final seeding and simple plant installation.
We do a considerable amount of advertising in our area and are having a fairly good close rate on residential work wether it be new installs or renovations, but this process is proving very time consuming. They pay faster though..
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  #83 (permalink)  
Old 02-19-2006, 10:29 PM
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agla is just really nice agla is just really nice agla is just really nice agla is just really nice
Design is a very tough part of the business.

My personal opinion, based on many different experiences, is that most mid sized contractors are in the toughest predicament. They don't have enough design work for a full time person, feeding an independent designer your leads is very risky (Start2finish is not the only one to have had his work fed in other directions), the contractor does not have time to sit at a drafting table, and his competition might be beating him by getting in early with a design that the client wants to see him complete.

I know a lotof contractors that have no interest in designing. They just bid on work by independent designers. They know the designers are less likely to allow contact between their clients and a contractor who has the ability to take design work away from them. Just like you might hire an independent irrigation company rather than subbing to an irrigation division of another contractor. But you have to already be established to get referals from designers. They don't want headaches from dealing with unknown contractors. It is tough.

If your lucky, you might be able to hook up with a talented mother who can not work full time and has no desire to build or manage a landscape job.

Another alternative is a designer with a lot of clerical skills, can select plants at a nursery, can schedule jobs, can keep materials ordered, delivered, and on the job site when needed, price out jobs, and whatever other loose ends you have. Not an easy find , but they do exist.

There is no easy answer.

A strategy that I would highly recommend to those who might hire a part time independent designer is this. You meet with the client. You sit down with the designer separately and give them the general layout and a good amount of direction. Have the designer develop it and then redline it for revisions. Use your title block and you present it to the client. That gives you control and still reduces the amount of time you have to spend on design. It protects your leads, keeps the designer from opening doors for your client that you don't want to go through, and it keeps the client focused on you.

There are a hell of a lot of people out there that want to be landscape designers. There are not a lot of opportunities for many of them to make a living. That sometimes gets overlooked. Even the really good ones have a hard time getting enough work. Not all of them will tolerate that relationship, but there are more that need to eat than there are who can call the shots. You might go through a few before you find one that works, but they are out there.

Think about it. In order to gross $50,000 they have to sell 10 plans at $5,000, or 20 plans at $2,500, or 50 at $1,000, or 100 at $500, or 500 at $100. Any way you look at it, that ain't easy. And there are a lot of wanna be professional designers which means a lot of competition to get those plans. You are contractors. That is the first place people look. How many job leads do you have a year? Whatever that is, it is way more than some aspiring designer is getting. Hire one on your terms, (s)he'll appreciate it.
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  #84 (permalink)  
Old 02-19-2006, 11:12 PM
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I agree with you agla but to qualify my stance is to say that I don't really have time to design but I am good at it. My plant ID is very good and I feel I have a very good grasp on texture, color, culture, etc. Having said that I know I cannot wear all hats and also be successful. Design is tedious. I have surprised myself at just how far I have taken the dream of doing design. Clients are certainly impressed with the limited number of plans we've delivered. No regrets but the issues discussed here still stand. this is really an "owner/ operator's problem".
Thanks for the astute post.

Mark
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  #85 (permalink)  
Old 02-26-2006, 12:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by agla
Design is a very tough part of the business.

My personal opinion, based on many different experiences, is that most mid sized contractors are in the toughest predicament. They don't have enough design work for a full time person, feeding an independent designer your leads is very risky (Start2finish is not the only one to have had his work fed in other directions), the contractor does not have time to sit at a drafting table, and his competition might be beating him by getting in early with a design that the client wants to see him complete.
I think that you couldn't have described my circumstances more accurately if you knew me personally.



Quote:
I know a lotof contractors that have no interest in designing. They just bid on work by independent designers.
Actually, I have an interest in designing and I'm taking classes for landscape design at a local technical college. But I'm also in the process of starting up a landscaping company and I can't even find time to do the homework for the classes. I need to learn the principles of landscape design but I just can't see myself spending hours at a drafting table on a regular basis and so I will probably continue to use independent designers as I have been so far.



Quote:
They know the designers are less likely to allow contact between their clients and a contractor who has the ability to take design work away from them.
My problem has been that the designers I use are fresh out of school (I recruit them from the same college that I am attending) and most of them are artistically talented but don't seem to understand that they need to help me get the work, not just provide the customer with a design.



Quote:
Just like you might hire an independent irrigation company rather than subbing to an irrigation division of another contractor. But you have to already be established to get referals from designers. They don't want headaches from dealing with unknown contractors. It is tough.
That's true. I'm too new at this to get those referrals.


Quote:
If your lucky, you might be able to hook up with a talented mother who can not work full time and has no desire to build or manage a landscape job.
Or you can work with someone who has a full-time job and does freelance design on the side. But you might have to have another designer as a backup in case you get calls for 2 or 3 designs in a short period of time.


Quote:
Another alternative is a designer with a lot of clerical skills, can select plants at a nursery, can schedule jobs, can keep materials ordered, delivered, and on the job site when needed, price out jobs, and whatever other loose ends you have. Not an easy find , but they do exist.
I haven't found one that can do all of that for me but I have found a man who works in a local nursery, being retired from full-time landscaping. He estimates commercial jobs for me for a percentage of the profit, and he also does some residential design for me. So you are correct, there are people who can fill some of the voids when you can't afford to hire full-time estimators, designers, or clerical workers.


Quote:
There is no easy answer.

A strategy that I would highly recommend to those who might hire a part time independent designer is this. You meet with the client. You sit down with the designer separately and give them the general layout and a good amount of direction. Have the designer develop it and then redline it for revisions. Use your title block and you present it to the client. That gives you control and still reduces the amount of time you have to spend on design. It protects your leads, keeps the designer from opening doors for your client that you don't want to go through, and it keeps the client focused on you.
These are very good ideas. Sometimes I feel as though I am running a designer referral service, rather than a landscaping business because I get many inquiries for design, but I can't do the design work myself and when I turn the leads over to independent designers, I often end up as just another bidder on the finished design. I need to take more control over the process and this sounds like a good approach for doing that.


Quote:
There are a hell of a lot of people out there that want to be landscape designers. There are not a lot of opportunities for many of them to make a living. That sometimes gets overlooked. Even the really good ones have a hard time getting enough work. Not all of them will tolerate that relationship, but there are more that need to eat than there are who can call the shots. You might go through a few before you find one that works, but they are out there.

Think about it. In order to gross $50,000 they have to sell 10 plans at $5,000, or 20 plans at $2,500, or 50 at $1,000, or 100 at $500, or 500 at $100. Any way you look at it, that ain't easy. And there are a lot of wanna be professional designers which means a lot of competition to get those plans. You are contractors. That is the first place people look. How many job leads do you have a year? Whatever that is, it is way more than some aspiring designer is getting. Hire one on your terms, (s)he'll appreciate it.
Again, I think your advice is right on target. My problem has been that I have allowed the designers to take control of the leads, when I really need to take control of the designers. I need to make clear to them (in a diplomatic and gentle way) that they are going to have to work on my terms. And I'll have to set up a process similar to that which you outlined above so that I can retain control of the sales process while also not tying myself to a drafting table or computer terminal doing design work for hours on end.
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Old 02-26-2006, 01:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by serenland
We have just recently switched from Pro Landscape to Dynascape. Still learning the ropes, but so far we're very happy with the Dynascape 2D. Occasionally we have a need for brief 3D overview to put on the customer sales presentation. I don't like the cartoonish look and am thinking about using Photoshop (where I could erase or modify existing plants/structure before dropping images in) but I need to find a Photoshop compatible library of plant and hardscape material. Any ideas?

A cheap 3D imaging application would be okay if it didn't look too cartoonish, I could import photos, and it had an adequate libray.

Got anything like that in mind?

I'm a retired engineer, pretty good on the computer, and trained in horticulture. But I'm pretty new to landscape design software, so any help is tremendously appreciated!

You might be interested in a program called Realtime Landscaping PRO by Idea Spectrum which is only about $60 and has a library of both computer models and photographic images. It also does actual 3D modeling (as well as photo imaging which is not really 3D).

Incidentally, later this year the same company is going to be coming out with a more sophisticated version of their software which will have high-quality 2D graphics similar to those of programs such as Landscape Illustrator or Dynascape. But it will also simultaneously generate a 3D model of the design allowing the user to do a virtual walk-through of the site at any time in the design process just by clicking on a tab. And they say that their price is only going to be in the $400-$500 range.
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Old 10-24-2016, 09:54 AM
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So the issue exists. I agree with Bill about this but putting this into action has been like I said, "precarious". My designs look professional. I will say that we are fastly moving away from "designing as a part of the bidding process" because the reality is that designing is involved and takes time to put out nice plans. Speaking of nice looking plans, I have a very large stack of plans in my office, drawn by ASLA certified landscape architects that graphically speaking, range from "stark commerical designs" to "horrible" and "unreadable" to "this guy obviously never set foot on this site!
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