Depending on which part of the country you’re in, landscaping can be a very seasonal business. When colder temps arrive and landscaping work slows down, many businesses will offer other services, including leaf removal, snow removal, and holiday light installations. The off-season is also an excellent time to catch up on training.
What if you could apply your plant knowledge to an additional revenue stream that would not only expand your business through winter, but would also have potential to generate year-round work?
An excellent way to bring your horticulture knowledge into the off-season is with interiorscaping. Many office buildings, hotels, upscale apartment buildings, and malls feature displays of plants year-round, so there’s no shortage of opportunity to pitch interior work to current corporate landscaping contracts. This opportunity also works for landscapers working in warmer climates who do not have a winter-based off-season, but are looking to expand with a new service that utilizes existing skills.
Those with experience in interiorscaping have noticed an increased interest in indoor installations for corporate clients. For example, after nearly two years of working from home, many employers are turning to living walls and indoor plants as a way to create a comfortable and beautiful environment to entice employees to return to the office.
The benefits of interiorscaping are numerous. It’s not just dropping potted plants indoors; interiorscapes help beautify indoor spaces, clean the air, and offer a calming, natural environment. Examples of interiorscaping include displays of festive holiday plants, decorative hardscapes, indoor water features such as fountains and ponds, and living walls.
For those projects that have potential to go vertical, there are companies that offer solutions to build indoor living wall installations. One such company is LiveWall, a division of Hortech, Inc., a wholesaler of sustainably-grown perennials based in Nunica, MI. “Because we’re a plant company, we focus on systems that are healthy and safe for plants,” states Lori May, sales specialist for LiveWall. “Our systems feature upright planter boxes, irrigation with spray or drip emitters depending on outdoor versus indoor installation, and drainage. Everything is designed to ensure the plants are happy.”
Many of the skills leveraged for outdoor landscaping lend themselves well to interior work, including irrigation setup, assessing light quality, and plant selection. Further, it’s relatively easy to set up the systems with basic carpentry skills and LiveWall’s assembly guides. May elaborates, “We don’t have certified installers because any contractor can install our systems. Landscapers are well suited to install them, especially since most installations feature irrigation. It’s a natural fit.” While many LiveWall solutions utilize irrigation, hand-watering is an option. LiveWall also offers solutions for outdoor installations.
Landing Interiorscaping Projects
There are several ways to land these living wall projects, and each has their merits. First, and perhaps easiest, is to pitch them to current clients. “A lot of our outdoor, plant management contracts are for property managers, so we are able to cross-sell interiorscaping with relative ease,” states Kathy Valentine, owner of The Plant Professionals, an interior-plantscape design and maintenance firm based in Lansing, MI. “It’s convenient for us and our clients because we’re already there doing work.”
The second option is to bid on projects that come via word of mouth. Consider sending a note or setting up a call with contractors and professionals in your network to inform them of your new service offering and express interest in partnering if and when the opportunity presents itself.
The third option is to bid on projects that come from general contractors in your area. “A lot of our projects have to do with the client’s relationship with local contractors,” says May. “Some landscapers might hear about a commercial project through a general contractor who is managing the installation. It gives them the opportunity to bid on plant selection, installation, and management.”
Finally, once you’ve installed a few LiveWall structures, sometimes opportunities come directly from the manufacturer.
Maintaining these contracts is relatively straightforward regardless of whether the plants are annuals or perennials. A basic maintenance contract can be set up to monitor moisture levels, fertilize, check plant health, and replace plants when needed. Additionally, maintaining great records on water-system settings is key in supporting the health and longevity of the living wall. “We re-evaluate our contracts on an annual basis,” says Valentine. “We’ll calculate how much time was spent on labor, pesticides, plant replacement, etc. and will send a letter to our clients with a proposal for the following year.” The more green walls you are able to sell, the easier it is to build recurring accounts into your business.
Tips From Living Wall Installers
Take it from the people who have done the work before—while installation and plant maintenance are relatively simple, there are some important things to consider when bidding on these projects.
“I’m all about that research before committing to a prospective client,” emphasizes Valentine. “One of the things I like about LiveWall is they have a very in-depth website where you can get all of the information you need regarding installation. You can also print out forms and checklists for the ongoing service of that wall.” However, research doesn’t stop there. Valentine continues, “I’ll get out in the industry to ask about people’s experience with a particular installation. We ask our community of peers about water quality, filtering, tubing, and other key points before we move forward.”
Having a full scope of the possible challenges is important prior to diving into an installation. Barney Naylor, founder and president of Naylor Landscape Management, a landscaping company based in Kalamazoo, MI, echoes this by adding, “I think with irrigations systems in particular, you need to make sure you understand how water is getting to the wall. If you wing it, you could be sacrificing profit. It’s best to get your pricing solid by considering something as seemingly simple as where your water is coming from.”
Additional challenges include access to the system. “You have to be careful with OSHA regulations. When working at height, cover yourself with the proper scaffolding and ladders to meet OSHA requirements,” urges Naylor. “We had to rent quite a bit of scaffolding to save time and energy for our team during installation. This was an unexpected expense because it was more than we initially budgeted for. So, consider how you’re going to access the wall to build at height and work it into your bid.”
Comments from contributors indicated that while most parts of the system are lightweight, they can be long, and thus awkward to handle. Further, going up and down ladders all day is an inefficient use of time and energy.
Similarly, consider how you’re going to maintain the wall, especially given that you’re likely to perform that work during your client’s business hours. “The client isn’t going to want you to build a scaffold in the middle of their lobby every time you come in to service their living wall,” says Valentine. “They don’t want to see the behind the scenes stuff; they want to enjoy the beauty of the wall with few interruptions. We suggest having access to a lift to do the work.” Uncovering and understanding the costs associated with both installation and maintenance are important prior to jumping into this work to ensure your time, skills, and effort are considered and priced to make a profit.
Get Certified To Work Indoors
As previously mentioned, the off-season is an excellent time to get caught up on training. It never hurts to validate your skills and expertise with certifications, especially when expanding your business to offer new services. The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) offers a Landscape Industry Certified Interior Technician program, which is ideal for professionals working inside with plants. In addition to covering plant basics, the study materials and exam address people management and customer relations, helping support the conversations you’ll have with existing clients who have only seen your expertise applied outdoors. Earning a certification like this brings credibility to the table.
This self-led program requires independent study and ends in a two-part, online exam. Additional information about the Landscape Industry Certified Interior Technician program and current pricing for members and non-members can be found at landscapeprofessionals.org.
The Great Indoors
Adding interiorscaping to service offerings is a viable and lucrative way to expand your business, not only to entice new clients, but to enhance services for existing clients. This additional work has potential to build a pipeline of clients looking for installations in the off season, and can also result in maintenance contracts for year-round work.
Duane is a freelance writer specializing in business and marketing topics for the outdoor trades and recreation industries. She is currently based in Denver, CO.
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