There are many benefits to implementing design software into a landscape design/build business. Here's a look at the top 10 reasons that directly affect the bottom line.
1. Enhance efficiency. Finding a software program that boosts efficiency is critical, says Susan Schlenger, owner of Susan Schlenger Landscape Design in Hampton, N.J. "Using a computer design program can progress the job so much quicker," she stresses. "If you don't like something or need to make changes, you don't have to start from scratch. When I did hand drawings, I'd have to redraw everything, but with software I keep the original design and then make a copy of it and work off the copy. That way I always have the original. I can make changes very quickly. I'm not afraid of erasing anything because I still have the original."
2. Remember client expectations. Today, most customers expect landscape design/build contractors to be more tech-savvy. "Clients are encouraged when they select a company that uses technology because of the fresh, innovative and efficient ideas," says Anne Behner, sales manager for Visual Impact Imaging, based in Youngstown, Ohio, adding this is a popular trend on home improvement television shows where "reveals" or "instant makeovers" are always part of the plan. "Clients want the same instant gratification when they call upon their landscape professional."
Software can visualize designs for clients.
PHOTOS: DRAFIX SOFTWARE/PRO LANDSCAPE
(top image and above)
3. Boost profitability. "Good design software, especially programs tied to estimating systems, can help you realize your costs and give you confidence knowing that each job is going to be profitable," explains Len Hordyk, product manager for DynaSCAPE Software, based in Burlington, Ont., Canada. "Professional presentations will help you win more jobs and give you confidence, and confidence sells."
A software program that offers an estimating tool can be helpful in that it will generate a materials list from the design and give you an idea of costs up front while pricing the job, Behner adds.
4. Introduce consistency. When you have more than one employee handling design, design software can bring consistency. "Design/build companies looking for ways to improve their process of design, sales and estimating always look to software to help them," Hordyk says. "In a company with several designers who don't have the same hand-drawing skills, design software brings consistency and professionalism."
PHOTOS: Visual Impact Imaging
5. Ensure single-trip sales. One landscape design/build contractor Behner works with shared his sales process: "He goes to the project site for the client meeting," she says. "He takes a photo of the project site and sends the image back to his office. While the contractor shares the company's services and unique selling proposition with the client, the office returns the image via email with a few design additions using design software. The immediate design presentation results in a sale, plus this contractor is saving on fuel costs avoiding a second site visit."
Other design software programs allow users to take property photos while on-site with iPads and then drag and drop images immediately into design software programs. "It used to be that you'd have to make three or four trips before you could close the deal, but now you may actually be able to close it in the first trip," points out David Sloan, sales and marketing manager for Drafix Software/PRO Landscape, based in Kansas City, Mo.
You Get What You Pay For
The cost of design software can vary dramatically. In this economy, cost is obviously a major consideration for many landscape design/build contractors. While design packages can be pricey, many say if you're going to use them, don't skimp - invest in a good package.
On average, landscape design software can range from $1,000 to $3,500 for a single-seat license. On top of that, many come with an annual subscription fee, though others may just charge a fee for updates. "Things have definitely changed," admits Mark Soucek, owner of Ohio-based Turf Trimmers. "When I first invested in software, you could put it on as many computers as you like. Now they limit you to two computers. But I like that we only paid a one-time fee and just pay for updates when we want them."
Although design packages can be pricey, the old adage of "you get what you pay for" seems to apply. "Professional design software typically sells for more than $1,000, but don't waste your money on inexpensive packages," advises Anne Behner, sales manager for Visual Impact Imaging, based in Youngstown, Ohio. "You will quickly find these programs are limited in their function and do not offer support, diverse libraries and the ability to customize."
Design/build professionals and design software manufacturers agree that return on investment is definitely possible with a good design program. Behner recently spoke to a Gulf Coast, Fla.-area contractor who shared that from 80 designs created with design software this past season he sold 75 jobs. And Soucek attributes the 85 to 90 percent closure rate he was able to achieve shortly after launching his business to the use of design software.
6. Overcome learning curves. Look for design software that is backed by strong support, suggests Mark Soucek, owner of Turf Trimmers in Kent, Ohio, adding downtime is the biggest detriment to implementing a new software program. "With any software program, you're going to have to spend a lot of time learning it if you want to be able to use all of the features," he explains.
Landscape design professionals should seek strong technical support and additional training resources when searching for a design software company, Behner agrees. "Are the resources presented in a way that makes sense for your learning style?" she asks. "For example, do you learn best by reading a manual, watching videos or diving right in?"
Design software can help landscape professionals close a sale in just one trip.
Photo: DynaSCAPE Software
7. Design simply or elaborately based on client expectations. If you charge for design, software allows you to create simple black-and-white designs or more complex color designs, based on client needs. "We're in a time where you need to be able to sell your services and don't want to price yourself out of a very competitive market," shares Andrew Garulay, RLA, owner of Yarmouth Port Design Group in Yarmouth Port, Mass. "I often try to keep my drafting fairly simple."
He Says, She Says
Turf Design Build asked three landscape contractors to share why they love their design software program.
"It meets all my needs. It's user-friendly, has a great plant palette and is professional looking. It works well with AutoCAD as an overlay. You can also import designs into SketchUp." - Susan Schlenger, owner of Susan Schlenger Landscape Design in Hampton, N.J.
"I'm really big on doing plans in a 'plan view' format. I like to have a plan that shows where every single thing goes so you know it all fits." - Andrew Garulay, owner, Yarmouth Port Design Group in Yarmouth Port, Mass.
"We like to use the concept of looking at your landscape before you spend a single dollar on it as part of our marketing program. Clients love that they can see what the landscape will look like when we're done, and that helps us close sales. I feel our program has a lot of great features - shadow effects, layering, etc. There are a lot of things you can do with it, and over the years I've gotten very comfortable with it." - Mark Soucek, owner of Turf Trimmers in Kent, Ohio
8. Present the landscaper's vision.
Implementing design software helped Soucek achieve an 85 to 90 percent closure rate, even when he was new in the business and still learning about landscaping. That's because he was able to show prospective clients what their landscape would look like before they even spent a dollar. "I can even make the plants look more mature, so the homeowners can see what it would look like down the road," he says. "Being able to see the visual can be a huge selling point."
9. Embrace the homeowner's vision. Often, in landscape design, visually showing the customer what the landscape architect or designer has in mind can mean all the difference. Design professionals can also use visuals to make sure they're designing with the homeowner's vision in mind. "The customer has an image in their mind of what they want; using software actually saves the contractor time on the back end by making sure you know exactly what the customer expects before you even break ground," Sloan points out.
10. Involve the homeowner to close the sale. Getting the homeowner involved in the design process can actually help close the sale, Sloan suggests. "When the homeowner is providing suggestions for the design, it gives them some ownership and pride in the design product," he explains. "When it comes time to sign an agreement, the homeowner is much more likely to sign it because they can't say no to something they 'helped' with."