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If you’ve been on the site lately, you’ve noticed we’ve announced the 12 finalists for Equipment World’s 2013 Contractor of the Year. I love this program. Visiting finalists is one of the best parts of my job; they always turn out to be great people I feel privileged to know. So, every year I jump at the chance to help sister magazine Total Landscape Care with their crop of Landscaper of the Year finalists, who are also amazing.
The two finalists I interviewed this year were David Adams of Landscape Associates, an Aldie, Virginia-based landscape contractor who specializes in high-end projects; and David Barglof of Mid Atlantic Enterprise, a Williamsburg, Virginia-based landscape contractor who specializes in high-end projects. Two Daves, both in Virginia, both catering to a high-end clientele. On paper, their scope of work seemed similar. Sound confusing? It was, until I met them.
There are actually few similarities between the men, and even fewer between their businesses. I spent a day with each, getting to know their personalities, business philosophies and work habits. Although both are driven, engaging professionals at the top of their game, the differences between them are striking. They have completely different backgrounds, management styles and motivators.
The disconnect between what you see on paper and what you get in real life got me thinking from a client perspective: If you’re choosing a landscaper or contractor for the first time, you’re going to narrow your choices to a small group of firms that offer the particular services and expertise you want. They’re bound to seem similar on paper. How do you choose? And if you’re the contractor in the running, how do you make sure you’re the customer’s top choice?
The answer is relationship-based. As dissimilar as the two Daves turned out to be, one big thing they did have in common was their approach to customer service. Both spend a great deal of time getting to know clients — and potential clients — and determining their needs. Each has their own highly successful approach for gaining their trust. Mid Atlantic has an open-book policy; Barglof allows his customers to see his costs and look at his spreadsheets whenever they wish. Landscape Associates offers a lengthy warranty that goes far beyond the industry standard; Adams’ customers know he will stand behind his work unfailingly.
Both landscape firms have a high proportion of repeat business, and both attribute it not only to the quality of their work, but also to their level of engagement with their clientele. My takeaway from the visit? Your client shouldn’t just love your work — they should love you. Get to know potential clients, and spend as much time with them as you need for them to get to know you. Make the interaction between you meaningful, valuable and an experience any client would be happy to repeat. Not only will the client sing your praises to others, you will have gained a customer for the long haul.