The landscaping business can be run in many different ways. Whether design-build construction or maintenance, whether commercial or residential – or some combination of these, the business model options are endless.

Black shadow chips surround a flagstone walkway

Details Landscape Art is has been primarily a residential design-build contractor since 1991. We do very little maintenance (we do some winter pruning for a few special projects). Maintenance involves owning, storing and maintaining a lot of equipment, constant customer service issues, and low margins. We do occasional commercial work – see our February 23, 2016 blog on ‘Quasi-Residential Landscaping’ – but find more opportunity for interesting and creative projects on the residential side.

Stone seat wall and columns

So our bread and butter projects are design-build residential, and there are dozens upon dozens of contractors in this area of the landscaping business. They range from very small, with one crew doing one custom job at a time, to very large businesses with several large crews doing multiple projects simultaneously, and everything in between. Details Landscape Art is as small and custom as small and custom can get.

We have seen these larger companies. They rent office space for their executives and secretaries, and rent space to store their equipment. They have several crews with many employees, including laborers, journeymen, supervisors and managers. They generally pay very low wages to their workers, and, therefore have high turnover. So they need a personnel or ‘human resources’ department to constantly recruit new employees and staff. All this rent, staffing, office and yard space, furniture and overhead costs money. So the pressure to keep a steady stream of work coming in to pay for all this is enormous. So they need a sales force to go out and get new business, and the salespeople need to be paid a commission. So they must recoup all these costs and the customer ends up paying for it in the form of inflated prices and fees.

Details Landscape Art believes in a different way of running a landscaping business. By remaining small we are able to devote our entire attention to one garden at a time. Therefore, the end product is gorgeous – every time. We have one very small crew. Our employees are extremely skilled, well trained and well paid. Employee turnover is rare, since our workers are satisfied with their pay and satisfied with producing a creative beautiful garden. They truly take pride in a job well done. So there is hardly any new employee training since there is hardly any turnover.

We operate out of a residence, with minimum overhead. We own basic tools, but rent larger equipment such as tractors, Bobcats, rototillers, larger jackhammers and compressors. So there is no storage or maintenance expense.

Many years ago we were watching a small front yard landscape project being installed by a large company in our neighborhood. There must have been ten to twelve workers on the job, most of whom were either standing around with their hands in their pockets or drinking coffee. It was a terribly inefficient process. We decided that day that that was not the landscaping business model for us. We wanted to be a lean mean creative efficient landscaping business!