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Posted:  06 Aug 2011 00:18  
Back in the Winter and early Spring months (which is like a continuation of winter in Newfoundland), I was out trying to drum up some business.  I didn't have a whole lot of luck with it.  Most people just flat out said no, sometimes you can't get pass the receptionist, and a few thought interior plants was a nice idea, but they felt they either never had the space, or didn't want it (despite being a nice idea...)  Some places I went in to already had plants being maintained by someone else (is it wrong to try to sway this potential client to my side?)  Sometimes it was by a professional company, sometimes the staff, and sometimes a guy working under the table and charging ridiculously low rates.

So, I'm about to get back at it again.  I was waiting for my certification to come through from the CNLA and PLANET before I tried, I thought it would be a nice selling point, something to make me stand out from the others.

Does anyone have any advice?

I was thinking of dropping off a sales package.  If I actually DO get to talk to someone who can make some decisions, I don't want to take up their time and have them thinking "I gotta get rid of this guy!"  So, say what I have to say in a minute or less, and leave this package behind to do the real talking.  And if I don't get to see anyone, maybe I can get a name and mail this to them afterwards (yes?  No?)  I was thinking of including a business card, a brochure with some "to the point texts" and some pictures I have taken, maybe some technical info on how plants purify the air, and a pamphlet highlighting some of the more popular interior plants.  A testimonial from my current clients couldn't hurt either.  I was also going to leave a small plant behind as a way for them to keep me in mind.  Whenever they look at it, maybe they'll say to themselves, "oh yeah, that guy wanted to bring some plants in here...hmm...."

Unless the plant goes home with the receptionist!

Anyway.  Back to my question(s).  Thoughts?  Opinions?  Criticisms?  All are welcome.
Posted:  06 Aug 2011 01:42  
The small plant keepsake is a good idea as a reminder to the client of your meeting, but first you have to GET the meeting.  One good way is to send some marketing materials TO THE DECISION-MAKER that outline your program briefly and specifically.  A postcard can do that...and it helps to include something on it that offers something FREE (very powerful marketing door-opener!). 

Another good approach in a soft market or with recalcitrant prospects is to offer them a month of plants, containers and service FREE (that magic word again).  Brad Miller, a well-known interiorscaper and industry expert, came up with a program by which he would install, say, five or six FREE plants in inexpensive baskets in an office (maybe a 14", three 10" and two or three 6" or 8" tabletops), service them for a month FREE, and then when the FREE introductory period ended, give the client the opportunity to keep the plants and baskets and pay $$$ per month for the lease and maintenance, or upgrade to better plants and containers, or return them with no obligation to pay a dime.  He claimed that he was able to multiply his client base many times over in a very short time, using inventory he had on hand at his facility and the services of one of his techs who had a route in the prospective client's neighborhood.  It's a bold plan, and it does require some minimal investment in time and money to get it off the ground, but it could be just the thing to kick-start your business.  And word-of-mouth could generate many new, qualified leads among that first client's associates, customers and clients for you.

Posted:  06 Aug 2011 02:11  
It's a bold move... and I have to say that I like it.  I had a lady in sales mention it to me before, and I had forgotten about it until you brought it up.

I think I'll send the brochure and business card, along with an offer for the free month of plants and services.  If they bite, I would imagine they're more likely to keep the plants rather than have them removed after the free trial.  Newfoundland is WAY behind on this sort of stuff, but I do have a little bit of money to play with on this.  And, according to my business plan, I'm falling a little short on the number of clients I had planned on having by now.

I'm gonna sleep on it... but I like it so far!

Thanks, Clem.
Posted:  06 Aug 2011 14:35  
Another approach to landing new accounts is networking. Join the chamber of commerce, local commercial builders groups, property manager organizations, any organization that could benefit your contact list and put you in a position for others to recall your company name. It can take time and some cash investment for luncheons and such, but you will be more visible and accessible.

Good luck. Keep handing out those business cards!
Posted:  06 Aug 2011 14:56  
#2211, you grasped the tactical advantages of the one-month-free plan...first, the "foot is in the door" and you have planted your flag on the client's turf; second, the client will be much more comfortable getting to know you while knowing they have NO money at risk; and third, once someone has plants in a space that was previously devoid of life (unless you count the receptionist, and that's sometimes debatable), they are pretty likely to want to keep them if at all feasible.  Remember, they'll have that free month to "fall in love" (the "Puppy Factor") with the plants and with your service, and there is the likelihood that their staff and visitors will make many positive comments to management about the plants that will make them hard to part with. 

I think it's worth a try, and if it doesn't work the first time, you still have those plant and container assets to use on the next prospect with little additional cost except for installation and service labor, which, for five or six units, is minimal.

Posted:  07 Aug 2011 02:00  
I appreciate the input, bpartington.  I'll look into those.

Clem, with regards to the free month offer.  Do you think it would be detrimental to put an expiry date on it?  I do have certain limitations, like cash and, more importantly, space to store these plants if I have to.  So, I don't want to have too many people try the free offer (how optimistic if me!), install the plants for a month, and then get stuck with a couple thousand dollars worth of product, if they decide they don't want them.

I was thinking of sending the offers out two at a time to select potential clients, and, with the expiry date, it may encourage them to contact me sooner rather than later.  Once that expiry date passes, and I haven't heard from them, I'd feel more comfortable sending out two more offers to two different potential clients.

I don't want to run the risk of spreading myself too thin.  Also, this is only to supplement my income at this point in time.  My business isn't at the level of sophistication as the rest of you.

And is it wrong to go after a client that's already using another 'Scaper's services?

Thanks again.
Posted:  07 Aug 2011 04:35  
The idea of starting small with one or two prospective clients at a time makes perfect sense for all the reasons you gave.  Each business needs to craft this program to its own capabilities and resources or it can become more time-and-effort-consuming than your regular business.  So yes, I'd start by sending out a handful of offers with expiration dates so that you can send your second mailing to the next group of prospects within, say, two weeks if you get no response from the first batch of mailers.

It's a subject of much contention and philosophical debate as to whether it's dirty pool to "steal" another 'scaper's accounts.  We have had many inquiries from prospective new accounts for takeover service because they are either (a) unhappy with their current contractor for some reason, or (b) fishing for a lower price due to budget constraints or cutbacks in order to avoid cutting out the service altogether.  If you are solicited by such a client, it's certainly fair to respond and offer your services.

As far as actively recruiting clients with existing contractors, that's a more problematical issue.  If you were going door-to-door in a building with, say, twelve tenants (provided, that is, you could get permission from the property manager to do so), some of whom don't already have plants (perfectly okay), some of whom already have some plants that they maintain themselves (also okay), and some of whom are presently contracted with another 'scaper (maybe getting good service, maybe not), I'd opt to steer clear of the last category if at all possible.

You see, although we are all competing for many of the same accounts, there is an integrity factor involved in trying to lure away an account that is otherwise satisfied with their present contractor (or at least not actively seeking to make a change).  There may be a perception that you are a habitual lowballer, because generally the key factor in making a change would be price, unless the service quality is really horrible (inertia being the powerful force that it is in business relationships).

I have seen posts from several 'scapers, and I have done this myself, stating that they would approach this last group of prospects by asking who their current contractor is, and then contacting that company privately to give them a heads-up that they might want to check on the service at that account because it's looking shabby.  You risk ticking off a competitor who will think you're just being catty, but you are actually helping to raise the levels of professionalism in the industry by doing so...sometimes a contractor loses the handle on a few of its accounts or a particular tech is having difficulties for whatever reason, and the tipoff will help them to dedicate their attention and resources to upgrading the service quality at those accounts to a satisfactory level again.

I'm sure some folks will chime in that "all's fair in love and war and interiorscaping"...I may have said that myself at some point in the past...and that's their prerogative.  After all, in the free enterprise system, nobody ever promised us a mulligan if we slip up or fail to pay close attention to the quality of our services.  But I would prefer to give the "home team" a break if at all possible, unless they show that they really aren't committed to serving their client's needs in a professional manner.

Posted:  07 Aug 2011 13:10  
I do like the inegrity issue, but I have a few issues with some of these 'Scapers.

The first one has a really great government account.  However, this 'Scaper really doesn't know what they're doing.  They've habitually asked my employer for advice over the years on what plants to install and how to look after them.  They've even come in and asked me about plants, not knowing who I was.  And they're constantly complaining about our plant prices.  If it costs more than $15, they won't buy it.  They are undercharging, which they've even admitted to myself and my boss, and they don't have any certifications.  They continually get this account because the price they charge is low.  It's frustrating.  They wanted me to do some pruning for them... they even offered to pay me $20! Wow!

The second 'Scaper has some nice accounts, but their emphasis is not on quality and sometimes I wonder if they know what they're doing.  I've seen them place Yuccas in low light situations, and low light plants in high light situations.  I've seen some of their plants holding a 1/4" of dust on them, and I've seen some plants that should've be replaced long ago, but they just continue to sit there collecting dust and looking sickly... but as long as the client is happy, right?  Maybe their client has no idea that there's a new game in town.  I've been keeping off people's radars as much as I can for the time being.  I want to stay small at the moment and not attract attention until I'm ready to make a move and cause some waves.

This same 'Scaper is involved in exterior work and greenhouse operations, they have hortculturists on staff, but, through the grapevine I hear that their work has gone downhill.  The quality just isn't there any more and they charge very high in everything they do.  They have a take it or leave it mentality.

The third 'Scaper is pretty low key in the interior plantscaping world, but a major player when it comes to nursery stock.  Their interior accounts don't always look the best (a lot of the times, I see a stem in a pot with a leaf on it), and they are charging ridiculously low rates as well.  I speak with their tech quite often and he admits he has no idea what he's doing.  He says he was told to put water on everything when it's dry and fertilize everything with 20-20-20 every 6 weeks.

I'm all for professionalism, but when I see shabby work and incredibly low rates being charged, I just can't see the professionalism.  If the industry is going to garner respect and attention, obvioulsy you have to put in the highest quality material as the budget will allow, but at the same time, you can't give clients a deal on it, just so you can get the account, and you can't be afraid to up your fees because of fear of losing the account.  You're only spoiling the client.

One place I went into had some beautiful plants.  About 16 in all.  Mature Aglaonemas and Dracaenas, ZZ plants... some great looking stuff.  So, I found out from the manager that the guy who looks after them comes in twice a week, waters, feeds, cleans, shines, etc., and routinely moves the plants around, as some areas get more light than others.  He was doing a great job!  And for these 8 visits a month, he was charging $100 a month.  So, when this under-the-table 'Scaper left for a legitimate job, the manager contacted me, and he did not want to hear what I was going to charge to look after the plants, despite my credentials.  And, trust me, it's not like this place can't afford.  6 months later, they still don't have anyone looking after them, but I never bothered to drop in and look at their plants.  They'll never be a client of mine while that manager is around.

There's the battlefield.  Is all fair in love and war and interior plantscaping now?
Posted:  07 Aug 2011 17:38  
You now understand the predicament that thirty years of low-bid contract awards and man-with-van-and-watering-can business entry standards have wrought on our little industry!

Because there is very little in the way of expensive equipment or facilities that are needed to start an interiorscaping business (no mowers, tractors, treespades, boom sprayers, large trucks, etc.), the barriers to entry are minimal and people think that anyone can do it.  Horticultural training is not a prerequisite, and neither is experience.  I have been approached privately by numerous such people looking for all the answers to the exam, so to speak, because they needed to start a "side business" to generate some quick cash and thought "plant watering" was a great gig for those reasons.

Now, it may be true that a person such as your last example could do "side work" caring for plants and charge $100.00 a month for 8 monthly visits and be perfectly happy with the extra cash.  No insurance, no licenses and certifications, no taxes, no overhead except maybe gas for his car.  Sounds great, right?  But what it does is a pernicious thing: it establishes an artificially low price point that will tend to determine what the LEGIT contractors in that market can charge for similar jobs.  And that has been the undoing of our industry.

What do we do about it?  I don't really know.  Hope that their handful of sub-cost accounts either keeps them so busy that they don't have time to look for more accounts, or that they all eventually fail and go out of business altogether.  But the collateral damage they leave behind will be this: a market that has been convinced that $100.00 a month for 8 visits to care for plants in a commercial setting IS the right price for that service, and we're all left holding that bag.

Posted:  07 Aug 2011 23:05  
As far as I'm concerned, that client is tainted and no longer an option.  No qualified, legitimate individual will look after those plants for $100 a month.

My personal opinion on it all is this: when I see plants that aren't healthy out in the open, and someone is paying good money for it, and I think I can do a better job, it's fair game to pursue it.  To correct the predicament, I think you have to squeeze these people out of the picture.

To add to that, when I know someone is undercharging, then I think it's okay to try to take their clients too.  By undercharging, they're spoiling the client.  Eventually, that 'Scaper will leave, and the client is going to look for someone new, with an unrealistic amount in their mind as to what it should cost.

If I were a large enough business, I'd even undercut the aforementioned people, just to take the account, and when the contract was up, charge what I normally would.  The client will either accept or refuse.  If they refuse and go back to the previous 'Scaper, I don't think that 'Scaper would take them on as a client for the same rates as before.  I think they would be hurt by the disloyalty shown by the client and stick it right back to them.

Call me a jerk, or say it's bad business, but I think if you want to change the industry and the perception people have of it, you have to get these kinds of contractors out of the picture by taking some sort of action like that.

Sometimes you gotta go to the mattresses.
Posted:  08 Aug 2011 00:38  
The problem with that tactic is that it's already being done by some of the largest interiorscape companies around.  Lowball to win the account, then scale back on service visits and replacements, then hit the client with a rate increase at the first renewal opportunity.

Don't you think that will leave an equally bad taste in the client's mouth and "spoil" them forever for any future 'scaper who might try to win them over?

No, the solution is somewhere else.  The level of professionalism must be raised, but the problem is that we really don't have any viable way of making it an "industry standard" to do so.  There is no requirement that interiorscapers be licensed and qualified to do business...hell, I don't know of many jurisdictions that require that of large-scale exterior landscape contractors, so forget about us.

Education is the key, but how to accomplish education of someone else's client?  Do you try to demonstrate that the market rate for the services they're paying for is much higher than what they pay?  That will only make them feel MORE emboldened to hold out for the lowest price, believing that they have struck a great deal for themselves.  Education of interiorscapers, not so much about the horticultural aspects of the biz, but rather the BUSINESS aspects of it, would make a difference.  But you'd still have lowballers, desperate to grab business so they can stay in business.

Human nature is our biggest enemy: the nature of the client to look for the bottom line lowest price for what is almost universally perceived as a "luxury" or "frills", and the nature of some contractors to succumb to the temptation to give it to them.  It's like the "war on drugs"...it makes no difference how much we try to educate people about the evils of drug use, because if there is a demand and a supply, there is a market.

Posted:  08 Aug 2011 16:09  
Well, if fighting fire with fire doesn't work, then you'll have to take the Taoist approach and fight fire with water.

I remember a few years ago the provincial government had started a campaign to crack down on contractors working under the table (the government just wanted the tax dollars... but they never say that).  They had emphasized that if anything with wrong with the work after it had been done, you'd never find this guy, and they probably didn't have insurance to begin with, so you'd lose on that end as well.  Also, they're not qualified and certified up the yin yang, so how do you know you're getting real quality?

As I said before, this industry isn't taken seriously where I'm from.  Horticulture isn't even considered a trade.  It's viewed as something any Joe Blow can do, and it's because people really don't know the knowledge and skill that goes along with it.  They're not aware of micronutrients or soil structure and texture.  If their lawn isn't looking green, they think you just have to dump fertilizer on it.  They think a 10 kg bag of lime is enough to move a 1/4 acre lot's pH from 5 to 7, and if all else fails, you have to spray it with something... it doesn't matter what that something is, just use it and it'll work.

I've even see "qualified" employees of "professional" lawn care franchises walk through a lawn just treated with a herbicide... I have it on video, actually!

I think that educating people is a good approach, but sometimes I just get tired of educating people.  Most times when I explain how lime works, and how much lime they'll REALLY need for their lawn, they think I'm just trying to sell them something for commission... and I'm always sure to point out I don't get paid a commission.  I tell them to go to Wal-Mart if they want, just use more lime.  That's when they decide to buy TWO bags of lime instead of one.  That always cracks me up!

But, back to the topic of conversation:  As I said before, I think these 'Scaper's clients are fair game if they're doing the work for too low of a price, or if the plant material looks like crap.  It'd be difficult to win those clients who are paying a low price, but the one's with poor looking plants, they may welcome the change (unless they're paying low rates for crappy plants and they're happy with the cost).

Poor plants on display do nothing to benefit or promote the interiorscaping industry.
Posted:  08 Aug 2011 23:02  
Bottom line: you usually get what you pay for.

Posted:  09 Aug 2011 13:24  
I agree with you on that.
Posted:  10 Aug 2011 17:30  
Just a few thoughts. First, there's no reason to feel like you shouldn't try to take someone else's customers, as you know very well they would do the same with yours. If you can offer the client something better, why not? Second, perhaps it would make sense to look for clients who need more serious skills than someone with a watering can could offer, which brings things back to networking. I think that was the best suggestion offered so far.
Posted:  11 Aug 2011 00:57  

I've decided to go the route of offering the potential client a free trial for a month.

A few questions.  Should I hold them responsible if the plants and/or containers are damaged or destroyed?  Or should I eat the loss if that should happen.  Do you think putting that stipulation in would turn them off?  If so, should I get them to sign a contract stating so?

Also, should I tell them beforehand what the monthly rate might be, or wait until the end of the trial period and they're interested?  Obvioulsy, the benefit of waiting until the end of the trial and they're interested is that they're more likely to think the rate is fair.  On the other hand, by telling them upfront, I could be saving myself time and money by not wasting the effort on someone who might not want to open their purse strings.

What do you think?

Thanks a lot!
Posted:  11 Aug 2011 02:03   Last Edited By: Clem 
I'd certainly be up front about the rate.  I think Brad Miller's lowest-cost package was around $85.00 a month for six plants in baskets, nothing exotic, and a mix of 6", 8" and 10" (maybe a 14", not sure).  But that was in the 1990's...times and prices change.  That way you don't waste time on looky-loos.

I would have some sort of agreement about security of your products while on the client's property, as well as a clause stating that the plants remain your property during the introductory period and that the client grants you express permission to repossess the plants and containers at the end of the free trial if the client opts not to contract with you.

Any reasonable business person will understand the need for such language.  If you feel unsure, consult your attorney and get a legal opinion on how to craft the agreement for your jurisdiction.

Posted:  18 Sep 2011 04:42  
Did Steve Foster not have a similar plan???
Posted:  18 Sep 2011 15:27   Last Edited By: Clem 
I don't think so, Carol.  We discussed this topic and Brad Miller's program on the other forum, but I don't recall Steve saying he did anything like that.

In fact, here's Steve's take on it from a thread where I brought it up:

http://interiorplantscaper.com/greenchat/inde ...

Posted:  21 May 2012 12:38  
Hello Friends !!!
You can get client from Social network, You design a web page on Facebook of your required business and then spread in peoples, after do it all you provide a different sale package which is beneficial for peoples, then peoples get moved toward you for purchasing your product as a reliable client. I hope it is better.
Posted:  16 Jul 2012 13:12  
You can follow the direct marketing methods to attract the clients towards your business. You can mail business postcards and brochures. You can organize business promotional seminars.
mailing services Toronto
Posted:  16 Jul 2012 14:58  
Spam, spam, spam, spam....
Posted:  28 May 2013 11:13  
Hello Every One !!!
It will take time period and a few dollars investment regarding luncheons as well as these kinds of, yet you'll be much more visible as well as readily available. Also, this really is simply to dietary supplement my cash flow on this era. Our organization is just not on the level of sophistication because the remainder regarding people.
Posted:  29 May 2013 01:55  
When did Borat become an interiorscaper?  I guess the job market in Kazakhstan is as soft as it is here...

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