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Skaggs: Marketing is key in business of landscaping
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During the last two years, the landscape industry has suffered tremendously due to the ongoing drought, and many green industry companies have gone out of business. For those still in business, fall planting and over-seeding season is upon us, and hopefully, expenditures on such services will rebound.

Regardless of what products and services your business offers, now is a good time to refocus your efforts on marketing. In particular, landscape businesses should decide who their customers are. The businesses then need to figure out how to distinguish themselves in the marketplace.

A landscape contractor can offer a variety of services, including design, installation and maintenance, based on the specific needs of the customer. Many firms have landscape architects and designers on staff, offering the expertise to create and orchestrate the complete design, installation and maintenance of the most complex landscapes.

The following checklist for hiring a qualified landscape professional comes from the Metro Atlanta Landscape & Turf Association. Not only is it helpful for the client, but it provides landscape business owners a tool to grade themselves.

Decide how a landscape contractor can help.

A professional landscape contractor can help you improve your living environment. Landscape contractors not only install and maintain plant material, but install hardscape material, including patios, decks, retaining walls, gazebos and irrigation systems.

Ask how long the company has been in business.

Look for firms that are stable and well-established in the community. Most professional landscape companies will have employees with education in horticulture-related fields and/or several years of experience. Additionally, professional companies are most often active members in national or state landscape associations.

Select a landscape company that is licensed and insured.

This license will assure you that the contractor is accountable to you, that the company is operating legally and is demonstrating a level of professionalism. Ask for proof of adequate insurance coverage for workers’ compensation, liability and vehicles.

Decide what you want in a landscape design.

Do you want an area for entertaining, an extension of your living space, a low-maintenance landscape or a colorful, high impact design? Determine your budget before you speak with a landscape professional.

Ask for a written plan and/or contract.

Prior to making any agreement, have the landscape contractor, designer or architect prepare the details in writing. This plan can include the design, plant material to be used, all costs, a time table and the terms of payment. You have the right to amend the contract.

Know which services are provided in ongoing maintenance.

Ongoing maintenance is necessary in order to protect your investment. You can do it, or you can ask the company to do the work. Generally, ongoing maintenance involves mowing, fertilizing and pest control, among other services.

For more information, visit http://www.maltalandscape.com.

Billy Skaggs is a Hall County extension agent. He can be reached at 770-531-6988. His column appears biweekly and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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