August 1, 2014
By John Bouwmeister
There is true value in a professionally installed and landscaped pool. The same can be said for the homeowner who knows they have hired a pool contractor and landscaper who can handle the pressures and complexities of working with each other. For the homeowner, this will be one of the largest investments they will ever make with respect to their outdoor property. The productivity and delivery of a promise is expected by everyone involved. To ensure co-ordination and efficiency on the jobsite, there are a few key points to review to ensure everything goes as planned.
This author has met and worked with numerous individuals over the years, created some award-winning landscapes and has had his fair share of onsite issues with clients and employees. Casey van Maris, a well-respect landscape industry pioneer, once said in a seminar: “The customer is always right, even if you don’t think so. If you can calmly control an irate customer without raising your voice, you have mastered the art of one of the most detrimental vises in business… self-control.” Essentially, he was not saying to give up and give in but rather diffuse the situation and find an alternative resolution. By being diplomatic it will almost guarantee more work or possibly even a simple referral to make up for any setbacks, while maintaining a good reputation. Landscape contractors deal with onsite situations quite frequently, especially when working on large projects that involve the installation of a pool along with landscaping. Many issues can arise that will test each contractor’s merit, which is shown by how well they can work together as professionals. Pointing blame, rather than supporting each other, will only create a hostile environment which will deter growth and productivity.
By taking certain characteristics, anecdotes, and business wisdom from a plethora of people this author has crossed paths with over the years, the ultimate pool/landscape contractor, or superhero of sorts, can be created. This superhero would have an answer to every problem, a resolution for the most obscure customer complaints, diffuse any human resource issues, be at the shop every morning to handle daily problems, and collect the final balance for completed jobs that were overdue. Although this superhero is fictitious, he/she can unanimously inspire current industry leaders and the next generation of pool and landscape contractors. By following a few fundamental guidelines to running a successful jobsite, pool and landscape contractors can continue to gain the respect and recognition for their hard work in every related industry. Do not be afraid of challenges and step up and receive praise when it is well earned. There is nothing wrong with a little gloating.
Another fundamental rule those in the industry understand is going with the lowest bidder does not always save the customer money. As a company owner, being the lowest bidder does not always win the contract either. In fact, it may actually cost more in the long run and possibly tarnish the company’s reputation as a ‘low baller.’ Landscaping always enhances the pool’s overall look and creates an excellent portfolio picture. Always involve a landscape designer on the project and let them be creative.
Sometimes people hate the notion of investing in a plan; however, when it comes to peace-of-mind, it is human nature to invest in a professionally prepared project. Building a home is no different than installing a pool and landscaping. Yes, these two examples are on two different scales, but permits, certifications, electrical, and gas inspections are still required. Therefore, as contractors it is important to promote the benefits of having a blueprint that creates the vision of all elements in a backyard in a professional manner. Further, if there is one plan three different contractors are bidding on, their pricing should be relatively close and not all over the map. It will make the job run more smoothly between the pool company, the landscaper, and the client right from the beginning. Gone are the days of a quick schematic on the back of a pack of cigarettes. Technically, the landscape industry is unregulated, but with the inception of Landscape Ontario, the industry has grown into a professional power house, which has helped to create regulations and provide numerous tools for businesses with designations like: certified landscape professional (CLP), certified landscape designer (CLD), and certified landscape horticulturist (CLH). Not only can landscapers become certified to help run a well-organized job site, the association also provides a landscape management network to help those in the industry understand what it takes to operate a more efficient landscape company.
The same can be said for pool builders with the programs and recommended guidelines offered by the Pool & Hot Tub Council of Canada (PHTCC).
There will always be entrepreneurs with pickup trucks who say they can install a pool or create a landscape oasis at a bargain-basement price. These fly-by-night companies will be pushed out as consumers become more aware of what things actually cost and do not mind paying good money for a project that a company will stand behind, let alone remain in business the following year.
Mother Nature can be a menace to the landscape and swimming pool industries; therefore, patience on the contractor’s part as well as on the client’s end is important. All contractors know landscapers are typically sweeping the street at the end of a two-week pool and landscape project. By this time, there is a good chance neighbours have become annoyed with the noise and dust they have had to put up with. One way to avoid this is to tell clients to inform their neighbours they are having work done and maybe even invite them to a pool party when the project is finished.
Further, a key element to running an efficient jobsite is respecting not only the immediate neighbours adjacent to the job, but also the neighbourhood around the worksite. This is as simple as keeping the road clean and placing pylons where necessary to avoid any liability issues or accidents. On occasion, this author has purchased carwash coupons to hand out to neighbours adjacent to the worksite to compensate for the dust and noise that has occurred. In some instances, this generosity generated extra work from those who were affected by the project.
Another important detail is to deal locally with reputable contractors as this allows for a prompt installation and less downtime.
Safety has to be one of the most critical components of any job site as there are no second chances—especially when it comes to kids. With recent tragic events of drowning and near drowning in pools under construction, landscapers and pool builders can never make the jobsite too safe.
The more accountable a company is with regards to safety and accident prevention, the more others will want to work with them. To do this, it is important to become familiar with municipal bylaws for each jobsite, e.g. with respect to diving boards, pool fences, and property or structure setbacks. In these cases, landscapers who want to work with a pool builder should connect with a reputable company, and vice versa, as both companies will respect each other’s professionalism, hard work, and creativity. Typically, 75 per cent of a landscape company’s projects involve work with and around swimming pools; therefore, it is important to get involved with other trades and companies in the business. Share and learn from each other’s experiences as both trades are in this together and neither should slander or belittle one another should problems arise on a project that is under construction. Should this happen, it can cause unnecessary tension on the jobsite and loss of respect from the client.
Landscapers and pool builders should have basic knowledge of each trade not only to promote a particular project, but also to help the client understand all of the available options. For example, when it comes to a pool and deck renovation, on the pool side of things, options such as coloured light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, automation systems, and the installation of new plumbing can be discussed. On the landscaping side, when reinstalling interlock, landscapers should be accountable for their work. For instance, there should not be any settling in the patio as long as it has been compacted properly, but if there is long-term concern, present the option of using dry concrete or dry-pack as this is a stabilized base material for interlocking, concrete and retaining walls. A five-year old project that looks the same as it did when it was first completed reflects well on both companies in terms of workmanship, quality, and pride.
That said, it is important to reinforce the significance of a professionally and efficiently run jobsite when it comes to company owners involved in the pool and landscape construction industry because each will reflect on one another.
In general, the most important step is the initial site visit with the client; therefore, it is important everyone involved on the project is there. In terms of the homeowner, it is critical both spouses are present for this meeting as well so any chances of miscommunication can be avoided. Confusion can be detrimental as a project starts moving along. During this first meeting, determine the client’s needs versus wants, and ultimately their budget. Having a knowledgeable designer who is fluent in both pool and landscaping techniques is critical and will actually eliminate misunderstandings and costly job errors.
After the pool has been selected and a landscaper has been lined up, it is essential for all parties to pay the homeowner another visit to review the plans, as well as go over the site access, grading, obstacles, and general expectations from all involved. This is the defining moment where everyone will figure out who is responsible for the different aspects of the project. One of the most overlooked items on a landscaping and pool installation job is site access restoration and who will be responsible for fixing everything to the way it was before the project was started. This author recommends having the landscaper handle this restoration work, and when doing so use a budgeted amount in the contract rather than a set amount. There are too many variables when it comes to pricing site access repair as it can become very subjective and costly if not handled properly. Lastly, scheduling is another key item that has to be taken care of. There must be constant communication between crews to run an efficient jobsite. Decreased waiting time between trades will increase customer satisfaction. Remember, a happy customer tells one friend, while an unhappy customer tells everybody.
This is the premise for most of the reality shows on HGTV, which have helped stimulate the home improvement market. That said, there is nothing more exhilarating and satisfying than landing a huge contract—selling is half the battle. More importantly, however, is making sure crews show up on time and follow through with their scheduling promises.
During peak business season the minds of some landscape contractors, and pool builders for that matter, are running on overdrive. To avoid forgetting or arriving late to an onsite meeting, the best remedy is to double-check daily appointments every night and morning, and confirm with a member of the crew that he/she can physically fulfil these obligations. Even if they are running late, one rule of thumb crew members should follow is to call the client or contractor they are scheduled to meet. This is not a good start when attempting to build a rapport with the client, especially if they have rushed home from work to make the appointment.
Once the project starts moving forward, after the pool and landscape design has been approved, make sure to leave a lasting impression by thinking outside the box to create a unique backyard oasis. By thinking beyond the steel or concrete pool frame, clients will be ecstatic about the end result. Some distinctive ideas include: running water over a tiki hut into the pool, creating unique soundscape opportunities by having a water feature shooting out of the outdoor kitchen, as well as creating exclusive focal points, lighting vistas, and swim-up bars. Give the client some bragging rights about their backyard.
In essence, the true value of running an efficient jobsite, which involves a landscaper and pool builder, is simply peace-of-mind for the client. All parties know their roles and honour the client’s needs and wants, while at the same time respecting the neighbourhood. Ultimately, it is up to the contractors to leave a positive impression with their clients while respecting all of the trades involved in that particular project. An efficiently run job site between a landscape contractor and a pool builder is not only well-respected, it is priceless.
John JJ Bouwmeister is a partner at Bouwmeister Inc., and Botiki Inc., in Stouffville, Ont., He has 20 years’ experience in landscaping technology and landscape design. He holds diplomas from Humber College’s horticultural program, Ryerson University’s landscape architecture program, and the Toronto School of Business. Bouwmeister can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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