Contractors Challenge: Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
Updated: Mar 24
Social Media provides countless opportunities to get a feel for community. For us at PAVERART, we try and stay dialed into:
* Home Owners, particularly Outdoor Living "inclined" and considering projects in this area
* Landscape Architects & Designers
* Hardscaping installers, otherwise known as "Contractors"
Each one of the above holds the key to a successful outcome for PAVERART fulfilling its mission of beautifying the world of Hardscapes. This post we'll zone in on Contractors.
I love the various communities that have formed online in the world of Hardscaping Contractors. They ask questions, post project pictures, debate, compare notes, tools of the trade and generally look to lift each other up. Recently I received great feedback and questions from a simple post, which were pictures of a gorgeous backyard and happy PAVERART client. 3 photos showcasing the project where our Compass Rose Crystal Band was incorporated.
I HAVE noticed an alarming trend however with the advent of 24/7 social media. The REDUCTION or RESISTANCE to real time "live" conversations, whether that be zoom or the good old phone call. More on that at the bottom.
A few areas that caught my eye in the world of Hardscape Contractor Forums....
"Is being ICPI (Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute) Certified WORTH IT to your business?"
Every industry has a governing body or "trade association" that people look to as "the gold standard" for how things should be done. Most provide education and/or Certification for their proven/preferred methods. The ICPI is that standard in the world of Hardscaping. Many have it, some do not. Some are considering it. Clearly this contractor is in that stage of figuring out the investment and possible return, and soliciting feedback from his peers on their perspective. A strong majority encourage it.
Our position? This is the "price of admission." If there ever was a badge that says you're qualified from a THIRD party, this is it. OBVIOUSLY your own body of work is probably more important, but in a round of proposals from multiple contractors (all things being equal), does it not make sense that the one that is NOT ICPI certified has a strike against him?
"Are any of you losing jobs to "low ballers" in your market.....getting under-cut by double digit?
In nearly every market there is somebody that is willing to do something for less money. But are they doing the SAME work, in the same WAY? In other words, the price is different, but is the product directly comparable? This becomes a major communication challenge for the contractor and the stronger the body of work the better.
By the way, what are the odds of the "low baller" ALSO being ICPI certified?
Sometimes the "lower cost option" takes the form of an entirely different product, so not apples to apples. There's a saying we love:
When Cheap Becomes Expensive
Here's a streetscape. Decorative/Stained Concrete (translation "painted"). This may have been "cheap" when comparing alternatives. How did that work out? Hopefully the Landscape Architect multiplied the price by 5x's for re-application or recommended paving over a few years (or less). Unfortunately, this has looked like this for a period that is now measured in YEARS.
I HAVE to imagine that there is a break-down (no pun intended) from Project Specification and the lifetime expectation and cost on a project like this. This video is 55 seconds, you'll get the gist.
Finally, couple of questions/responses we hear often:
Response to PAVERART posts of designs
"I'm interested, send me over your materials and price list!" Great, when can you jump on a call? I'm on the road, send over your info (in other words, RESISTANCE)
First, we are thrilled when people would like to see our materials. We are proud of our body work over nearly 18 years. We talk freely about our pricing too and have a very firm handle on our price for standard designs (although a large % of our work is CUSTOM).
What we are NOT thrilled with and we are actually starting to RESIST? The people (fill in the blank on role) that "just want the information" but won't get on a zoom or conventional phone call to review, even if for 15 minutes, or in some cases, pull together the appropriate people that are critical to the project. Why?
Over 18 years and thousands of designs completed ranging from Municipal Streetscapes to small 4' diameter Residential paver design kits, we've learned a few things:
99% of all our sales required a conversation, sometimes < 5 minutes. No matter how good our websites, communications, etc.
The contractors that engage live vs the ones we have simply "sent the information." The results between these two groups of people are not even worth comparing. It's remarkable how BAD (like ZERO) the results are when we fire off pricing and material vs the group of people that actually choose to engage and go a bit deeper.
I often say, "facts are stubborn things" and when people want it "their way" and I know it won't be successful, does it not make sense to gently push back? We are even toying with the idea of "if you can't chat for 15 minutes, can you really understand a six figure (or fill in the blank) proposal, so why don't we just pass?
Note: This goes beyond contractors, Landscape Architects & Designers have the same dynamic: Those that choose to fully understand their PAVERART proposal are DRAMATICALLY more informed for THEIR clients (and we have to think successful overall).
Last, and this is a big last. PAVERART gets asked the following from Landscape Architects & Homeowners on too many occasions to count:
"Do you have any contractors you can recommend?
This is a flattering, but also a potentially dangerous question. IF we decide too offer up a contractor to do the job, we are putting OUR reputation on the line when we will have zero control over the final outcome. So we need to be smart about this. Here's how we think through it:
1) Have they installed PAVERART designs for us in the past? If yes, how was our experience? Did we get great photos, follow up throughout and AFTER the project? Did we have challenges and if so, can they be improved on a new project?
2) If they have NOT installed a PAVERART design in the past, that's OK, but what do we know about the contractor, beyond the basics of their website? Have we had conversations with them? Have we sent them materials and followed up with a conversation, or was that too challenging to get done?
Every piece of material we've ever sent out, every job we've completed has a record.
# 2 is NOT a show-stopper to providing a referral. BUT.......when we engage with a contractor (eg. send them materials) and can't seem to organize a live conversation, for all intents and purposes, that's a NON-STARTER. Why? Here's someone that (on the surface) expresses some level of interest. But they resist engaging, can't find the time, get too busy, etc. Lets call this Contractor X.
What do you think goes through our head when Landscape Architect A asks us, for that referral and Contractor X is in their backyard? MASSIVE hesitation, if not FULL STOP. If I can't get them to engage, what happens when a major opportunity is at their doorstep, can we trust them to get it done? That Landscape Architect has likely specified PAVERART into the job, and may have done that multiple times over our 18 years in busy.
People get busy, we get that. But the best of the best are able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Get your projects done AND build new relationships.
Just "getting the number and sketch" may seem like the more "efficient" route to go and the quickest path to a "transaction." But there is a MAJOR difference between a transaction and a relationship.
Note: What this post really talks about is the challenges associated with live, human interaction.
The start of that is accessibility.
Like your certifications and body of work, being accessible in business is the price of admission, especially for those that aspire to grow. Being "open for business" means just that, being accessible.
My cell is (908) 873-7522. Text works great (especially since I'm in bed by 9 and up at 3am) and I have 10 hours of windshield time a week, so ZERO excuses FOR ME not to make myself available for WHATEVER the topic is. I look forward to hearing from you!