Turf Design Build Magazine - November, 2012
Temporary show landscapes can create a lasting impression
In this increasingly "virtual" world, where communication and marketing seem to be taking place mostly through social media, it's good to know there's still at least one venue where human interaction takes place. Trade shows (garden expos, home shows and the like) give landscape contractors a chance to meet potential customers face-to-face and, with the help of displays, actually show off some of their creativity and craftsmanship. A lot of effort and expense go into creating displays at these types of shows, but for some companies it pays off.
The Greenskeeper's show displays often flow over 2,400 square feet and require four long days to construct. Most shows allow equipment to be brought in, but cutting hardscape materials must often be done outside.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE GREENSKEEPER.
"We do two home shows every year, one in late winter and the other in early spring," says Luke Snyder with Clear Creek Landscapes (www.clearcreeklandscapes.com) in Omaha, Neb. The company started in 2006 and has been doing the shows since 2007. "We jumped right in with a big display," Snyder recalls. "We buy a 30-by-20 booth space, and in fact, the last two years we've actually bought the booth space across from us as well. Then we laid pavers all the way across the hallway so people had to walk right through our display." Being able to see and inspect the materials and the workmanship makes people more likely to initiate a discussion about a project on their property, says Snyder: "It's our best lead source because people get to see what we're doing."
Clear Creek Landscapes' displays are almost exactly like any other landscape project. "We'll spend at least a month working on the design - a couple hours here and a couple hours there. We then build the design a couple of times in a 3-D program to be sure everything fits and works," says Snyder. "Our budget every year for the show is between $12,000 to $15,000. ... The bulk of that is labor. We'll have 10 to 15 guys doing the installation from Monday to Thursday, and then the show starts Thursday night. We'll run the booth for three or four days, and then have the same 10 to 15 guys come back to tear it down on Monday."
The company tries to craft a different design each year. "We try to morph it to match the trends we see in what people are asking for," says Snyder. Over the years, Clear Creek has constructed outdoor kitchens and living areas complete with appliances and TVs mounted in the walls, pergolas, patios, fireplaces, fire pits, even waterfalls. "We've done different types of waterfalls, and those can be a little tricky because everything has to be elevated up," says Snyder.
In many cases, Clear Creek works with its local vendors, distributors and manufacturers to get materials for the displays. "Most of the hardscape materials that we use are loaned to us by our vendors and we give them back after the show is over," Snyder explains. "The distributors are usually eager to provide materials to anyone who wants them as long as you put up a sign about where they came from." In cases where the materials need to be purchased, some suppliers will offer a discounted price in exchange for some sort of promotion within the display. "If we have to buy something, we can usually spec it into a job later on," Snyder points out.
Plants and other nursery material usually have to be purchased outright, he adds: "It's sometimes too early in the year here to get anything that looks really good, so we sometimes have used fake flowers, just to give the impression of a finished landscape with the color."
The process of constructing a temporary landscape indoors usually goes pretty smoothly, according to Snyder. "The concrete on the floor is pretty smooth and level, so we just lay the pavers right on the concrete. And it's pretty easy to build up walls with freestanding block," he says. "Each show is a little different, but at one show we do we have plenty of room to bring our equipment into the building: skid loaders, excavators to lift things up and our trucks," says Snyder. "That helps us get a lot done quickly."
The most difficult thing is often getting all the work done in the allotted time. "An outdoor installation like this would probably be a $60,000 to $80,000 project and might take us three to four weeks," says Snyder. Even eliminating things such as grading and irrigation and drainage, there's plenty of construction work that needs to be done to create the display.
One limitation within the show setting has to do with lighting. Snyder says they've installed landscape lighting in displays, but the light just doesn't show up very well in a large show building with overhead lighting. Other landscapers have actually built whole rooms that they've tarped off in black so the landscape lighting will show up, he notes.
Clear Creek Landscapes changes its display each year to showcase current trends. It takes a crew of 10 to 15 people four days to build the temporary displays.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CLEAR CREEK LANDSCAPES.
For Clear Creek Landscapes, bigger is better when it comes to show displays. "We've always decided that if we're going to do a show, we're going to go big. That kind of multifaceted display attracts the kind of clients we're looking for," says Snyder. "We get a lot of referrals. At every show we probably get about 50 different leads to chase." That means the weeks following the show are very hectic as Clear Creek works to follow up or meet with potential clients. "It's hard to keep up with that pace meeting with people, providing estimates and so on," says Snyder. Not all the leads pan out, but it's important to follow up with each one, he notes. "The closing ratio might be a little smaller [than with other referrals], but the volume is very high," he says.
Over the years, The Greenskeeper's show displays have included everything from driveways to patios to outdoor kitchens, fireplaces and more.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GREENSKEEPER.
The Greenskeeper (www.lawnsbyeric.com
), Palmyra, Pa., is another landscape firm that creates large-scale show displays. "We've been involved with the Pennsylvania Garden Expo for at least eight years," says owner Eric Allebach. "I got my foot in the door the first year and just did a small 10-by-10-foot display, but it's kind of evolved over the years and really gotten bigger. It's been pretty beneficial for us." The Greenskeeper received the show's top award for landscape displays at the 2012 show.
Now The Greenskeeper utilizes a 40-by-60-foot area. "We work on the design over the winter. We try to make it elaborate, but as practical as possible. For example, some companies do really large water features, but many people can't envision that at their home. We try to do things that people can imagine at their property," Allebach says. That list has included everything from driveways to patios to outdoor kitchens and fireplaces. "Last year, we built a fireplace and we sold that at the show; we delivered it to the guy's house once the show was over," he notes.
Building these features takes at least four long days leading up to the show. He usually brings his hardscapers in first, followed by the landscapers. "The biggest challenge with the hardscape is that we're not allowed to cut inside, so we have to measure everything inside and then take it outside to cut," says Allebach.
The Greenskeeper also does a smaller display at a home show, and Allebach notes that the hardscape supplier they work with often provides products for both shows. "They really help us out. They often give us materials to use, and the stuff we have to buy we usually can get at a discount," he explains. "It's a win-win, because it helps them get their products and catalogs out there."
"We buy a 30-by-20 booth space, and in fact, the last two years we've actually bought the booth space across from us as well," says Luke Snyder. "Then we laid pavers all the way across the hallway so people had to walk right through our display."
PHOTO COURTESY OF CLEAR CREEK LANDSCAPES.
Modern Landscaping (www.modernlandscaping.com), North Easton, Mass., has had a display for many years at the Boston Flower & Garden Show. Manager David Marathas says the company opts for a relatively simple display, but one that shows the different landscape elements the company can install.
"We'll use plywood and 2x4s to create a backdrop, and then build a stone wall in the front. We'll put different pavers down on the ground so people can feel them and see what they are. They provide electricity at the show, so we'll incorporate some landscape lighting. We'll even put some fountains in," explains Marathas. "Beforehand, we'll also go to a nursery and see if we can push some stuff a little and get it inside and heated up so we'll have some plants in the display, and we'll put in some mulch to tie everything together." In some cases the materials are provided by vendors in exchange for displaying a product brochure.
Modern Landscaping opts for a relatively simple display booth at shows. Manager David Marathas says the goal is to draw people into the booth and direct them to the company's website.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MODERN LANDSCAPING
The company brings a laptop to the show and the goal is to draw people into the booth to check out the company's website. "The next step in the sales equation is obviously to try to set up to go out to their house to talk with them there," he says. "We want our booth to make people think, 'I want this in my backyard.' Being able to actually see and touch the materials really helps them to imagine that more than looking through a magazine."
Modern Landscaping puts a price on an installation exactly like the display. "We could say to them, 'This will cost $10,200, depending on whether we can get equipment in there.'" Being able to provide an idea of the cost makes it evident which show attendees are truly potential customers, he explains.
The company also displays at a home show in Boston, but with a less elaborate booth because there's a high percentage of DIY'ers at that show. He advises researching who the typical attendee is before creating a display. Some shows might attract higher-end customers, while others are looking for more simple landscapes. "All of our marketing is very targeted and we look at a lot of demographics," Marathas adds.
Being able to see and inspect the materials and workmanship makes people more likely to start a discussion about a project on their property says Clear Creek's Luke Snyder.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CLEAR CREEK LANDSCAPES.
Home and garden shows aren't the right answer for every landscape company when it comes to reaching the right demographics. After taking part in a large area home show for the past three years, Color Landscapes (www.colorlandscapes.com) of Burlington, N.C., opted not to take part this year, says Vice President of Finance Pam Jordan. "Part of our process of tracking leads is to ask new customers how they heard about us, and basically the return on investment of doing the show wasn't there," she explains. "We'd make one or two small sales off of the show, and that wasn't enough even to cover our costs."
The Greenskeeper displays at the Pennsylvania Garden Expo. "It's been pretty beneficial for us," says owner Eric Allebach.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GREENSKEEPER.
Even giveaways designed to get contact information for follow-up didn't generate sales. "We'd get 700 email addresses, but we wouldn't get responses," says Jordan. Preparing for the show took a week's worth of labor to get the display built each year, and then the time of the sales staff to work the show. "We've even had our office administrative staff there, because on a busy Saturday you don't want people to walk through the booth and not have somebody to talk to," she explains. While the show happens at a time of year that's not super-busy, those costs are real. Then there is the cost of materials for the display. Even materials donated by suppliers come with freight charges, Jordan points out.
Color Landscapes' show displays were designed to show the full range of the company's capabilities. "We had a pizza oven, an outdoor kitchen, a fire pit; we did large, large displays," says Jordan. "People would 'oooh' and 'aaah' and take pictures, but then it would seem like they would use those ideas and photos to show their own landscape company or to try to do it themselves on a smaller scale."
She adds, "One thing it did for us was to show people that we are a big company capable of doing large things, but I think that might have hurt us with the average homeowner who thought, 'That's great, but I don't have $40,000 to spend on my backyard.' It might have put us in a category where people thought we were too expensive and couldn't do the $5,000 projects."
If the company were to do another display in the future, she says they might opt to go smaller to better target those customers. When designing a show display, it's important to research the demographics of attendees, "that way you'll get the best results from the show," she says.
Patrick White has written about hundreds of landscape installation and maintenance projects with an eye on documenting the tools and techniques used and spreading the word about innovative ideas. He is always on the lookout for unusual stories and cutting-edge installations.