If you’re thinking about a new patio, fencing project, or any other landscape construction project, there’s a lot of information to absorb and a lot of decisions that need to be made. No doubt, it can all be a bit overwhelming as you begin the planning process.
One question that I get asked quite regularly during prospect phone calls and sales meetings is when the best time of year is to undertake a landscape construction project.
Are there advantages to doing it during certain times of year? Are there times of year to avoid? Does it matter at all?
Let’s start with the third part of those questions; Yes, it does matter. But how it matters really depends on your priorities, what’s important to you during the construction process, and when you want the project completed.
First, let’s take a quick look at the calendar. Generally speaking, we’re working outside completing landscape construction projects beginning usually around the first of March, and typically ending about mid-December. Those dates can be tweaked a bit depending on how the year’s weather is behaving, but those are pretty accurate average dates.
No matter what, we won’t be out doing masonry or fence work during January or the first half of February. Even the mildest of winters can turn nasty in a heartbeat, and the last thing anybody wants is a half-completed construction project sitting idly while a foot of snow melts, or the ground heaves, or it turns into a muddy mess. Better off to wait until the winter threat has at least subsided.
So take away the winter, and you’re left with nine, maybe ten months at the most to get your project completed. Still a pretty broad range.
Rest assured, if we’re out doing a project it’s only because we’re confident enough in the weather, and are taking any seasonal precautions that need to be made. So at this point the “when” of the project is entirely up to you.
But there are some things to consider:
- When do you want the project completed by? If you want that new patio installed for your child’s graduation party, don’t call us on Memorial Day. If there’s an end-goal in play, allow enough time for all the i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed, and the project to be completed in a thorough, detailed manner.
- Are there seasonal discounts? We don’t offer seasonal discounts, but I have heard of some companies offering discounted prices to fill schedules during slower times of year. It’s certainly worth asking anybody you’re soliciting bids from.
- Are there times of year when we’ll have to wait longer for availability? Absolutely. Once the really nice spring weather hits, a backlog queue of up to four months isn’t uncommon, although we certainly try to keep that time to a minimum. Mid-to-late summer availability can often be pretty quick. There’s usually a bump in business around Labor Day, so fall availability can often be delayed but not as significantly as the spring.
- Can customers pick their construction dates? To some extent, yes. If you call us early enough and leave plenty of lead time, it certainly allows you some flexibility. Keep in mind we are busy doing other projects while your project is in the queue, and there is always some uncertainty in project length due to weather, unforeseen site conditions, etc. Scheduling for “mid-August” is realistic. Scheduling for “Aug 12th” is not.
- Do clients need to be home during the construction process? No, but it is advisable. I’ve had clients in the past want to schedule their projects for weeks when they’re away at the Shore or on vacation. First, as mentioned above, picking the exact day we begin isn’t always an option. Secondly, there are often day-to-day decisions that need to be made or approved during the construction process. Sure, it’s tempting to want to be “out of Dodge” while the yard is torn up and the driveway is full of equipment. But as I always say, the most successful projects are the ones where there is open and frequent communication. If you’re available by phone, or are simply an hour’s drive away at the Shore we can probably make it work. But if you’re going off the grid to some exotic locale, it’s probably best to wait until you return.
- Can I schedule a project for next spring? Absolutely. From a scheduling perspective, I always like to have one or two projects in the can ready to go once the winter weather breaks. And a March start date means you’ll be ready to enjoy and use the final product by the nice April weather.
- Entire process – sales cycle to final sweep. How long will it take? Wow, that’s a tough question, with a lot of factors to consider. A lot depends on your level of responsiveness. Are there multiple revisions and design changes? Are you first calling us in April or August? Are we talking about a 600 square foot patio, or a simple front entry path? There’s just too many factors to answer that question effectively, but hopefully the above points will help give you a sense of turn-around.
So, in summary, the best advice I can offer is to call us early, well in advance of the desired completion dates. It will allow you to make sure you’re fully on board with any design layouts or material selections, allow you a bit of flexibility in scheduling projects, and allow us the necessary time to complete your project meticulously to the highest standards.
For additional questions or to begin the process for your upcoming project, give us a call. We look forward to speaking with you!
My Workers ... Hard at Work
Quitting Time for Fred Flintstone
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about careers. Not my career necessarily, but just the state of the labor force and the difference between a job and a career.
As a business owner I rely heavily on the labor force. I need strong and healthy workers who are willing and able to work. And when I say “willing to work”, I mean actually working, not just being employed. It sounds straight-forward enough, no doubt. Show up on time, be reliable, provide a little muscle, break a sweat, learn a few things, and grow your career.
I think for most people of my generation, that’s the way we started our careers. The stories and details may all be a little different, but the theme is the same – work hard, learn, grow.
But over the past few years, I’ve noticed that it has gotten harder and harder to sift through the pool of applicants and find workers who are willing to work hard and learn.
Don’t get me wrong – my current workers are great. I get compliments all the time from clients who tell me how pleased they are with my crew, how respectful and courteous the guys are, what a pleasure it is not to be bombarded with loud music or disrespectful behavior.
Truth be told, I pride myself on that. And I work hard at finding the right guys. But it does seem to be getting harder and harder to weed out the wannabes, the “entitled”, the lazy, the “know-it-alls”, or just the dim bulbs.
I guess my thought process began a few weeks ago when I saw an interview with Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs
. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the show, he basically travels the country looking for the sewer rats, the hog farmers, the trash sorters, etc – all the jobs most people wouldn’t want to touch.
The workers are all hard-working Americans who clock in an honest day’s labor doing often unpleasant tasks, all while taking pride in their work and supporting their families.
His travels and encounters have given him a frontline look at the state of the American workforce, and the jobs that are needed, and oftentimes available.
His take was interesting, as he argued that even though we currently hear a lot about the high level of unemployment, we don’t hear a lot about the thousands and thousands of jobs available for those who are willing to take them. And he didn’t blame the workforce necessarily. The blame, he argued, is on the disconnect between the education system that is training young people for jobs that aren’t needed, while simultaneously creating a stigma against jobs where you may get a bit greasy, sweaty, dirty, etc.
So while thousands of decent-paying, reliable jobs are available, our education system is perpetuating an atmosphere where students borrow money that they won’t be able to pay back, to train for jobs that aren’t available.
An interesting perspective, no doubt.
So what does this mean for me and you? Well I can’t speak for you, but for me it’s an opportunity to provide a bit of insight as to what I look for in an employee, and perhaps how to break in to the hardscaping or landscaping trades, if you’re just getting started.
So here’s my tips for you young’uns out there looking for a job.
Be dependable. Show up on time. If your day starts at 8am, show up at 7:55 so you’re ready to work at 8am. If you’ve spent the past few years being a lazy college student sitting on your couch watching gameshows, then you’ll know that the Price is Right rules mean you can’t go over. That means 8:02 is no good for an 8am start. Fix your alarm clock. Fill up with gas. No excuses. It’s about the easiest thing that makes the biggest impression on your boss. If I can count on you to be on time, then I can probably count on you for lots of other things too.
Listen. When I’m telling you what to do, pay attention. Boss talking is not check your weather app time. If I’m not making sense (which happens), then let me know. I’ll say it another way so I do make sense. Don’t sit there and nod and then not do things the right way because you didn’t listen. I don’t like wasting my breath. Most bosses don’t. Listen to what I say, and then do it. Another pretty easy one.
Learn. The first two items are huge, but admittedly easy. This is where things start ratcheting up a bit. When you listen to what I tell you and what I teach, hopefully you’re retaining a bit for the next time. If you’re a worker looking
to impress your boss, there is no quicker way than to demonstrate that you remember and are applying what you were told the last time. The less I have to tell you as a worker, the more value you are to me.
Treat it like a career, not a job. I get it. A 22-year-old kid is looking for beer money and wants to spend his time with his friends. Been there. I know. Remember the old intro to The Flintstones when the 5pm horn sounded and Fred threw down what he was doing mid-task to go home. That doesn’t fly these days. If you want to advance, you want a raise, you want more responsibilities, you want to be recognized, then a little extra effort is required. My day doesn’t end at 5pm, far from it. If a worker can demonstrate to me that they are more interested in getting a job done well, taking the extra time to stay organized, or getting a few extra tasks done than they are to leave at 5pm sharp, that goes along way. Plus you’ll earn a few extra bucks in the process.
Think. I’ve read a number of articles on this lately, today’s youth is losing the ability to logically solve problems. Blame it on cell phones, or video games, or today’s education – whatever. But the ability to look at a situation, recognize or assess a problem, and come up with a solution is sadly becoming a lost skill. Even though you may be able to follow instructions (ie paint-by-numbers) doesn’t mean you can create your own instructions, or adapt if something isn’t quite as planned (ie paint your own masterpiece) . It’s important, and if you can demonstrate some problem-solving ability, you’ll go far, not just in one job, but in your career as a whole.
Are you looking for a job in the hardscaping industry with hands-on training? Think you have what it takes? We always keep interesting respectable resumes on file. Make yourself known to us. Always the first step.
And I'm Pretty Sure he has a Green Thumb too!
My Star Wars geekiness maxes out at about a 6 out of ten. I certainly know my way around the double trilogies, but I have yet to attend Comicon in full stormtrooper regalia. Maybe someday, but doubtful.
But regardless of your sci-fi affections, I think there is one universal truth that we can agree on – Yoda is one cool dude, and one who can teach us all a thing or two.
I remember seeing “The Empire Strikes Back” in the theater when I was 10. The anticipation mounted as our hero Luke Skywalker escaped the clutches of the evil Darth Vader and sought out the Jedi wisdom of the Jedi Master Yoda. “Wow,” I remember thinking to myself, “this Yoda guy is going to be one all-American space hero!”
The moment came when Yoda finally revealed himself to us and – wait a minute, Yoda is a little green muppet!!?? (With some serious subject/predicate sentence structure issues, I might add).
But as we got to know Yoda better through the remainder of the movie, and remaining sequels as well, we came to learn that indeed Yoda has a lot we all could learn from. If he’s not the original zen-master, he certainly at least ranks near the top.
And that’s kind of the point. Erase all preconceptions, erase what you think you know, observe and learn.
And when you think about it, isn’t that kind of what running a business is all about? Lets take a look at some of Yoda’s more famous quotes, and see how they relate to running a business.
"Try not. Do or do not. There is no try." This quote is perhaps my favorite. In current language it probably translates in to something along the lines of “Get’er done.” When my five-year-old gets frustrated at something he can’t do he always reverts to “Well I tried.” In business “tried” isn’t good enough. It’s the results that matter. Just because achieving sales goals may be difficult, or excavating into a stone hillside may seem a bit overwhelming doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It just means the methods need to be re-evaluated. Either it gets done, or it doesn’t. In the end, the effort doesn’t matter.
"Size matters not, ... Look at me. Judge me by size, do you?" As a small business owner I think we all can relate to this one. In today’s world of big box store chains and large corporations we are constantly bombarded with advertising and marketing telling us why we need the services of these chains (even if we often don’t). And as business owners I think sometimes we feel the need to grow to compete with the big boys. Personally, I like to think smaller is better. More responsive, more attention to detail, more levels of personal service. As long as we’re doing what we set out to do, does it really matter what the size is?
"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." Working backwards on this quote, as business owners we certainly don’t want to suffer. We certainly don’t want to hate what we do. And we certainly don’t want to get angry when things don’t go our way. We can’t be afraid to offer new services or new products, and we can’t be afraid that things won’t turn out the way we want them to. Be confident in what you do. If you’re not, then prepare or train more until the confidence is there.
"Always in motion is the future." I’m a big proponent of choices, in life and contracting. And I always say that the choices we make today will affect what happens to you tomorrow. The point of this quote is that we control the future through our actions, and what choices we make today. You shouldn’t choose one material or product over another strictly based on price, you need to be prepared to enjoy those materials well into the future. You shouldn’t increase your advertising budget if you’re not prepared for the additional business. You shouldn’t increase staffing if you’re not prepared for the additional payroll burden. Always in motion is the future, indeed. The good news is we have a say in that motion.
“[Luke:] I can’t believe it. [Yoda:] That is why you fail.” You never heard Steve Jobs say he couldn’t believe Apple was successful. You never hear Steven Spielberg act surprised when one of his movies cleans up at the Oscars. And you never hear Roy Halliday act surprised when he pitches a great game. Successful people and businesses expect to be successful. They’ve trained for it, they’ve worked at it, and they’ve prepared for it. Believe it.
For more Jedi wisdom, or simply to inquire about landscape construction services, please feel free to give us a call.
And if you’re looking for a quality landscape contractor, I might add one final Yoda pearl of wisdom: “Looking? Found someone you have…”
Not a Good Sales Role Model
In our house we have two basic rules. Be nice. And be a good listener.
Sure, these rules can be expanded and built upon, but ultimately when you get down to it, all the basics of good, acceptable behavior fall into one of these two categories.
We start teaching these rules to our kids from as early as we can. But the rules are applicable not just to infants or school-age kids, but to adults as well. And I think they’re also cornerstones of good business practice.
But unfortunately not all business people adhere to these rules. And I have a few recent encounters that illustrate this.
As a small business owner I get calls all the time from people trying to sell me things. Advertising, processing services, staffing services, you name it. A few months back, before the season really started kicking into gear, I got a call from an online listing agent trying to sell me on online advertising. This was one of those calls where I pretty much knew from the get-go that I wasn’t interested, but the sales rep caught me at a slow time, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to take the call.
He went through his whole schtick, providing all sorts of stats as to why his service was the best. I had one question – how much? Being a small business owner this is perhaps the most important question, working on a limited marketing budget.
But I didn’t get an answer. He kept going on and on about the benefits of his service. I told him I was aware of the service, I knew they had some name recognition, but if the cost didn’t fit into my budget then we were wasting each
others’ time. I needed to know how much.
“Our listings are picked up by Google, and our clients continuously place near the top of online search results …”
He kept going on and on. “I understand,” I replied. “I need to know how much.” My patience was growing thin at this point.
I never really have the time to deal with people who don’t respect my time, but for some reason, mainly out of curiosity I suppose, I stuck with his call this time. It wasn’t until a half-hour (Half-hour!!) into the call that he finally revealed the price. And as expected the cost was outside my budget range.
I understand he might not have cared one ounce about my time. But you would think he cared about his time, right? A half-hour plus on the phone, no sale, and a potential customer who was left with a real sour taste in his mouth as far as his company is concerned. I’m pretty confident I won’t ever be utilizing their services. All because he wasn’t a good listener.
Around the same time period I got another call from a different sales rep, this one trying to sign me up for a referral service. I explained that I wasn’t really interested – thanks but no thanks. He was persistent.
“Why wouldn’t you be interested in expanding your sales?”, he asked. Again, normally my patience would have expired by now, but I thought let’s see where he goes with this.
“Well since you asked,” I replied, “I don’t really like the business model of referral services. They add costs to the projects, throw a lot of unqualified leads at you that don’t fit into my service umbrella or geographic service area, and they tend to find prospects who are more tire-kicking as opposed to be a serious prospect.”
As expected, he went on and on about how his service was different, yada yada yada.
“Not interested,” I reiterated.
“So I guess you’re not serious about growing your business?” he asked.
At this point he proceeded to question my intelligence, started raising his voice towards me and called me short-sighted and ignorant.
I hung up. I’m pretty sure that nobody in the history of marketing has ever recommended insulting your prospect as a good way to sell them something. He failed in the “Be nice” category.
I now remember why I typically don’t take calls from telemarketers.
The point here is not to vent (although it is all I can do not to include the names of the service providers these guys were representing). No the point here is to illustrate that good business practices, or specifically in this case good sales techniques, are really just good human practices.
Be nice. Be a good listener. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Respond to people’s calls. Say thank you. Heck, chew with your mouth closed for that matter.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books and articles out there on delivering good business practices. And yes, they can get into a great bit more detail. But ultimately it all boils down to the two basic rules.
Be nice. Be a good listener. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.
And So it Begins ... Day 1 of the 2013 Season
It Wouldn't be March w/o a Little Snow
If you follow us on Facebook then you know that we kicked off our season a few weeks ago with our first install of the season. If you don’t follow us on Facebook, A) You should. And B) Now you know as well.
February 27 was our official start day, diving into the 2013 season with a nice hardscaping project involving a dryset flagstone walkway and bluestone steppers.
It’s always good to hit the ground running with a nice project, and even nicer to get some of those cobwebs out and work out the kinks after a few months of office work. I have to be honest, as excited as I am at the end of each season looking forward to winter break, I’m nearly just as excited to be back at it after a layoff.
We’re fresh, we’re ready, and we’ve got a lot of pent-up enthusiasm for tackling new projects. Day 1 of this project involved hand-digging out the location on the hillside for the five bluestone steppers, and the remainder of the 225 square-foot pathway. After only two days the digging was complete, the dumpster was nearly full, and we were already moving gravel in to begin setting the steps. Nothing like being fresh!
Not that early spring work isn’t without its challenges. Once the steps were set and the base prep was complete, the forecast began calling for snow. Significant snow in the form of 6 to 10 inches. We got to a good stopping point, buttoned up the site and prepared for the worst.
Thankfully, the forecast was wrong, and the temperatures were just warm enough that the precipitation was all rain. Nasty cold windy rain for sure, but at least we didn’t have to deal with 10 inches of snow!
The First Completed Job of 2013
We were back at it the next day, picking up right where we left off, and then another surprise storm hit, leaving us with about an inch or two of wet slushy snow. By the weekend temperatures were nearly 60, and everything was all-systems-go.
Spring just wouldn’t be spring without a little bit of precipitation in just about any form, and a very moody attitude in general from the weather. But it’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before. We carry on. And after just a few more days of work, the project was completed and the client thrilled to get their project finished in time for spring.
And the 1st project of the season is now under the belt. We’re now off to start a composite deck construction, and then a fence, and then a patio, and then …well there’s a whole bunch more projects in the works. Game on 2013!
The Author at Clark Kent Creations World Headquarters
A little bit of self-promotion this week …
As I’ve stated in the past, winter is the slow time for us landscape contractor types. Well at least slow in terms of completing projects in the field.
However its anything but slow when it comes to office work. Not counting the 2 weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s (total shut-down on all things work-related), I figure I have about 5 or 6 weeks to complete what seems like a year’s worth of pent-up office work.
There’s always planning and cleaning and organizing and securing and educating and researching and … you get the idea.
And it seems every year there is one overriding project that I look to get completed. Last year that project was getting my blog off the ground. The fact that you’re reading this (hopefully) tells me I was at least moderately successful in my endeavor.
This year my overriding project is introducing myself to social media.
Admittedly, I’m kind of a dinosaur when it comes to this stuff. Being of the age that falls right into the heart of the “Gen X” generation, I’m just old enough that I missed the boat on a lot of this e-media stuff. Heck, we didn’t even have email when I was in college. The kids just 3 or 4 years behind me couldn’t imagine going through college without email. And it seems like today’s kids have Facebook pages while they’re still in the womb. (Seriously. I’ve seen sonogram profile pics!)
Anyway, I’m jumping in. The Clark Kent Creations Facebook page is up and running!Clark Kent Creations on Facebook
A quick disclaimer. The point of my foray into social media is most definitely not to replace my real time experiences with colleagues, friends, and clients. As a colleague of mine put it, I still favor face time over facebook.
I plan on using my facebook page as a way of sharing project updates, posting progress photos, sharing company news, and sharing a few fun links to other pages which you might find of interest.
And as more and more people utilize facebook as their primary way of communicating, it’s yet another way that I can be more accessible to my clients and prospects.
I’ll still see everyone around town at the co-op, Henderson Field, the Crum Creek woods, the pool, the ballfields, and all the other places that make our town special. And I’ll still be out there as we complete all of our hardscaping and landscaping projects.
And as I familiarize myself with Facebook etiquette, I’m slowly getting the hang of all this. One thing I’ve learned so far, is that unlike real life where it would be rather presumptuous to show up at an event and tell people to start liking you, apparently it’s OK in the Facebook world. So, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but … Like us on Facebook!
The arrival of the new year signals a time to look forward. It’s a time for planning, and a time to get things lined up for the coming year. And if you’re like most homeowners, those plans will likely include hiring a contractor to complete a few projects around the house.
The projects may be varied. Some may be simple like interior painting or fixture replacement. Some may be involved like a new patio or addition. And some may even be somewhat unexpected, like plumbing repairs or a new hot water heater. But regardless of the project, you’ll still most likely find yourself needing the services of somebody skilled and qualified to help.
In my 12 years of running a landscape construction business, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great client roster with very few missteps along the way. But it takes work from both sides of the table to ensure a successful project, and it certainly takes an understanding of where both sides are coming from.
There are, fortunately, a few simple things that clients can do to help eliminate misunderstandings and help ensure a successful project and a pleasant home improvement experience. Here are the eight deadly sins to avoid when hiring a contractor.
1. Give Yourself Enough Time:
A successful project takes time. Time to plan, time to design, time to install. And most successful contractors will be booked out somewhat in advance, especially during the warmer busy season. Start the process early, and eliminate the schedule crunch. You don’t want to sacrifice quality or your desired design strictly because you’re up against the calendar. Don’t wait until Memorial Day to start planning that new patio you wanted for your son’s graduation party in June. And remember, a lot of work is weather-sensitive, so be sure to allow a slight cushion for everybody’s schedules.
2. Licensing and Insurance:
Before you even pick up the phone to schedule that initial consultation, make sure the contractor is licensed and insured. In most states, including Pennsylvania, contractors are required by law to be licensed and to post their licensing info on any and all advertising. That means yard signage, truck signage, business cards, etc. The licensing system is in place to protect you, the homeowner. If you don’t see any licensing info, be sure to ask if they are licensed and where you can find their license number. PA licensing requires active insurance policies, which most reputable contractors will be happy to provide separately upon request. PA licensing info can be verified via the PA Attorney General Hotline at 1-888-520-6680. If the contractor isn’t licensed or insured, proceed at your own risk.
3. Collect Multiple Bids:
I’m always somewhat surprised when I quote a large project and find out the homeowner isn’t collecting at least one or two other quotes. Personally I like to think that is because the client has the utmost confidence in my abilities and practices. To which I say thank you. But even still, even if you’re nearly 100 percent certain you’re going to go with a particular contractor, it can never hurt to get an extra opinion or idea. Maybe another contractor might have an idea or two which you haven’t even considered, an idea that could possibly be incorporated into the final project. Maybe that new idea isn’t such a hot one after all, but it can’t hurt to talk about it, right? The more discussions, the more ideas, -- good or bad – the more confident you will be in your project and the more successful the project will be..
4. Don’t Shop on Cost Alone:
There’s almost always somebody out there who will do a project for less. Just like there’s always a used car out there that will cost less than that new BMW you’ve been eyeing. Maybe the lowball contractor isn’t as experienced as other quotes out there. Maybe he’s unlicensed or uninsured. Are his workers legal and on the payroll? And don’t try to hold that lowball quote out there as pricing leverage. Experienced contractors know their costs and know what they need to recoup those costs. “You get what you pay for” almost always holds true.
5. Know your Contractor’s Skillsets:
Just because a contractor does amazing finish carpentry doesn’t mean he knows squat about plumbing. Carpentry, masonry, electrical work, plumbing, tree work – nearly all the trades have unique skillsets. And true, many contractors may be well versed in more than just one area, but it’s worth asking and following up if need be. Most experienced contractors will tell you they sub out specialty work to their stable of subs, or will at least tell you that’s not what they do. But don’t just assume we all do everything.
6. Is the Contractor A Good Match:
Contractors come in all shapes and sizes. Some may have multiple crews with a number of laborers and subcontractors coming in and out. Others may be smaller artisanal outfits who do great work but may take a longer time. And others may have specific salespeople who work with you during the sales cycle but aren't involved in the field work. Be sure to ask yourself what you’re looking for and what you’re comfortable with. Just because somebody does great work doesn’t always mean they’ll be a great match with you.
7. Ask for References:
Once you’ve met with a few contractors, collected the bids, and evaluated the estimates you’ll most likely be favoring one over the others. Now’s the time to get a few phone numbers of past clients and make a call or two. If you have the time, see if you can set up a time to swing by and take a look at past projects. True, some past clients may value their privacy, but they almost always will at least take a minute or two to tell you what they liked (or didn’t like) about working with a particular contractor. Maybe the work was great, but the crew played the radio too loudly or they kept the jobsite untidy while the project was underway. And most contractors will have a few local front yard projects available to look at without encroaching on people’s private yards. Normally everything will check out just fine, but it never hurts to spend a few minutes knowing what you’re getting into.
8. Stay Involved:
It can be a fine line between hovering and micromanaging vs. being available to discuss changes as they arise. Allow the contractors to have their space while they are working, but don’t just ignore the project as it unfolds. Once the site is cleaned up at the end of the day take a few minutes to evaluate progress. The project may have a slightly different look than you first anticipated based on the drawings. If you see something you’re not sure about, feel free to ask or address it before it goes any further. Most successful contractors make a point to involve their clients in every design choice and material selection before and during the project. It’s usually pretty easy to make a minor change or two as it is occurring, but if you wait until the project is nearly complete, it may be too late, or may incur significant costs to re-do. And nobody wants to hear “I wish we had done things differently” as the projects draws to a close.
So there you have it. Eight relatively simple steps you can take to ensure your projects will be a success. No matter what projects you may have lined up for the coming year, I wish everybody a happy and successful 2013!
Well, we did it. Another successful year under the belt. And as we prepare for some much needed (and well-deserved) down time, I thought I’d take this opportunity to summarize and wrap up our 2012 season.
Thanks to an incredibly mild winter last year, we were able to kick off the season about 3 weeks earlier than our typical seasonal start-up. We started in about mid-February with a sidewalk replacement project and never looked back. Our early-season included a number of exterior landscape carpentry projects, including several fences and a number of deck projects including both new decks and extensions and a number of wood step projects.
The 2012 crew -- Nick, Russ, and Josh
By the end of April we were full into hardscaping mode, including a few paver stone walkways, several stone step projects and a few more sidewalk replacements.
And once Memorial Day hit we were fortunate enough to work on a couple of really nice, large (700 sf+) flagstone patio projects to complement some grand residences.
The large patio projects carried us straight through the bulk of the summer, with some more large patio projects coming together as the kids went back to school. We sprinkled in a few more walkways, fence projects, a nice modular block wall project, and finished the year off strongly with a stone veneer wall project and flagstone walkway project, which we were just able to squeeze in before the Holiday break, wrapping things up earlier this week.
On the business side of things, the company has continued to grow, maintaining three full-time workers for the bulk of the season.
And so, as we wrap things up for the year I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a few pictures of a sampling of our projects from the year, and offer a few quick “thank you”s to everybody who helped make the year a success.
First I’d like to thank my crew of Josh, Nick and Russ for working hard to turn the designs and concepts into reality. It was your manpower that made it all happen. I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish Josh farewell and best of
luck as he prepares for the next chapter of his life when he reports to Ft. Benning GA in March to enlist in the US Army and begin Basic Training. Josh has been with me nearly three years and has been a key player in all of our projects during that time. I know he’ll do just fine as long as he can still keep up with his beloved Flyers (if the NHL lockout ever ends). Stay safe my man. (continued below)
Composite Deck Steps
Wet-set Flagstone Patio -- Linear Design
Paver Walkway with Bluestone Steppers
Dry-set Flagstone Patio with 6' Bluestone Steppers
I’d also like to thank my valued suppliers, most notably the crew at Galantino Supply Company. I’m not sure just how much business I did directly with Galantino’s this year – I’ll tally the numbers come January -- but it was a sizeable amount and Carl, Anthony, Vince and the rest of the crew over there have always been a sincere pleasure to work with.
And most importantly, I’d like to offer a HUGE thank you to each and every one of my clients for the year. Whether your project was a small sidewalk replacement or an enormous patio install, I can’t thank you enough for your business. Without your business, none of this would be possible. I’ve enjoyed getting to know each of you during the course of all of our projects, and I look forward to continuing seeing you around town, at the Co-op, the pool, school events, little league, and all the other opportunities we have to see each other here in and around Swarthmore.
"Overflowing Vase" Fountain with Rock Garden
Terraced Hillside -- Modular Block Walls
Wt-set Flagstone Patio -- Irregular Design
Stone Veneer Wall, Bluestone Steppers & Belgian Block
So again, thank you to all who helped make 2012 a success. I’ll be taking a week off next week from my blogging duties as I spend some downtime with family and friends, but I look forward to returning in January with more weekly blog posts and beginning to gear up for the 2013 season.
Happy Holidays to everyone, and best wishes for a happy, healthy, safe and prosperous new year!!!
I walked out the door the other morning to go to work, and I quickly did a 180-degree heel pivot to return inside and grab my hoodie, which had been laying untouched in my workclothes pile since about mid-April. Yup, the first of the fall chill had moved in, and while my hoodie ended up being shedded pretty quickly in the day, it was a surefire reminder that the fall season is upon us.
The sales and business end of my business tends to go in ebbs and flows throughout the year, and I’m experienced enough to know what to expect and when to expect it. And once we get past labor day I typically experience a significant bump in new calls coming in. Homeowners are back from vacation, the kids are back in school, and people start looking at the calendar and realize that winter weather is just a few months away (AARRGGHHH!). Limited time to complete those outdoor projects they’ve been putting off.
And, true to form, the calls started coming in a few weeks ago. It’s a busy time of year for me, between after-work client meetings, estimate preparation, and of course managing my projects during the bulk of the work day. All simultaneously while getting the kids off to school in the mornings and shuttling them off to extracurricular activities like soccer and Cub Scouts.
Fortunately, we still have some scheduling availability remaining for the fall – plenty of time left to get that new fence installed or hardscaping project completed before winter truly moves in.
We typically work straight through until about mid-December, give or take a week or two depending on when Old Man winter wakes up.
So at the risk of sounding too “advertising-y”, I want to remind people that if you’re thinking about completing a project before the advent of winter, now’s the time to contact to us to get the project ball rolling. Whether it’s a new deck, flagstone walkway, paver stone patio, garden walls, or custom-built wood fence, fall is a great time to get these projects completed, so they’ll be in place and ready to go come the first signs of spring next year.
For a free project consultation and estimate give us a call and we’ll be happy to see what we can do for you.
A Tidy, Well-Organized Jobsite at the End of the Day
There’s an old adage that states that in order to get a job done properly, you need the right tool for the right job. For a landscape construction contractor, that means we need to have a lot of tools. Carpentry tools, Stone mason tools, concrete finishing tools gardening tools, basic electric and plumbing tools, hand tools, power tools, small engine tools – I won’t bore you with the complete list – you get the idea.
And indeed, my arsenal of tools has grown considerably over the years. Some of my tools are the bread and butter of what we do, they get used on a near daily basis and we couldn’t even begin to think about starting a job without them. Things like shovels, wheelbarrows, mattocks, and digging bars to name a few.
Other tools may have been purchased at one point to complete a specific job, but now sit idly in my garage waiting for their next opportunity.
As you may imagine, I have a sizeable amount invested in my fleet of tools. It’s a necessary cost of doing business, and quite frankly I have no problem whatsoever investing in tools that will help me get the job done right and my business grow.
What I do have a problem with however is when tools get misused for the wrong job or not taken care of properly.
Let’s take the shovel for instance. I’ve had shovels that have lasted me 10 years plus, getting used on an almost daily basis. I had one square shovel in fact that I finally had to replace only because the metal “scoop” part had worn down so much that I was left with just about 4” between the end of the shaft and tip of the blade.
A shovel is meant to be used for digging. Not chopping roots, not prying up large boulders, and not as a hammer. I don’t care how high-end your shovel is, a $30 shovel will break just as quickly as a $10 shovel if you don’t use it properly. If you’re digging and come across a large stone, go get your digging bar and pry it out using the right tool. If you come across a large root, go get your mattock. A few basic handtools can expedite any job and last for a long time as long as you’re using each one for the correct application.
A screwdriver is not a chisel. A pipe wrench is not a hammer. A level is not a concrete screed. You’re not going to be able to make clean successful finishing cuts with a sawzall. Not only is using the incorrect tool a potential safety hazard, the job probably won’t get done as well using the wrong tool, and the risk of damaging the tool is quite real.
And yes, sometimes when you’re in the throws of completing a job, it can be a pain to stop what you’re doing to walk over and grab the correct tool, and certainly tempting to use that shovel as a pry-bar. Until it breaks. And now not only do you still have to get your pry-bar, you also have to grab another shovel, or worse yet leave the site altogether and go spend money that shouldn’t be being spent on a new shovel. Time and money out the door. Use the right tool for the right job.
And speaking of time, keep your tools organized. There is nothing more infuriating than being on a jobsite, identifying the correct tool for a project, knowing you have the tool, and then spending 15 minutes looking for it. I like to keep all my tools organized by task. I have a toolbox with all the basic everyday tools we need – hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc. I have a bucket specifically for concrete finishing tools. Another one for chisels and stone hammers. Another one for levels and string lines. And a few other buckets and boxes for other various specialties.
When we’re done with the tools, they go back in the correct box or bucket. That way we’ll know where they are come the next time we need them. Larger handtools like shovels and rakes get stored together, in a neat and orderly fashion, so when we need them the next time they’re easily accessible without disturbing a pick-up-sticks-style pile just to get that bow rake on the bottom of the pile.
Hoses, extension cords, and ropes should be coiled or reeled up neatly when not in use. There’s nothing worse than spending 15 minutes or more of your valuable time trying to make sense of a rat’s nest mess of tangled up cords or ropes. Or plugging in a 100’ extension cord only to realize that it’s now about 60’because of all the tangles and knots.
Tools that are used for concrete or mortar work should be rinsed and cleaned thoroughly following each job. A $100 concrete bullfloat can be easily ruined simply by not wiping the float clean. One little concrete bump, one little knick in the surface, and you’ll never achieve a smooth finish. Trowels, floats, finishing tools, levels and any other tools that may get a little“mucky” during the course of a concrete or mortar job should all be thoroughly cleaned following each job. That way they’ll be ready and functional the next time we need them.
Follow these basic precautions, take a few extra minutes to grab the right tool for each job, take the time to keep tools organized and cleaned properly, and you too might just get 10 years’ plus service out of a shovel.