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No Stone Unturned

Farley_Showroom_IA super salesperson challenges hardscape producers and her designer/contractor peers to “Think outside the Segmental Unit” as the industry contends with slow recovery and moves beyond a business model hinging on producer-trained installers

 

By Charissa Farley

It seems like a week doesn’t pass that I find myself on a job with one of my peers who has his hands shoved deep in his pockets and his eyes at the dirt saying to me how difficult it is to keep the company afloat in an economy where there really isn’t much you can do in the face of limited work prospects. Okay, call me the Pollyanna of the hardscape industry, but in interlocking pavers I still hold firmly, there’s a lot for us to do right now not only to survive or even flourish, but also poise ourselves for grabbing a greater portion of the market share in the recovery.

In the Southern California region, our business model has primarily producers working with design professionals to get specifications, advertise to create demand, and try to convert small landscapers, pool companies and masons to become installers. Building supply yards distribute and do some advertising to get the residential market to walk in and buy something. Installers chase specifications for commercial/new home construction and try and kick up some dust either through advertising or word of mouth for remodeling.

Admittedly, there are fewer financial resources, employees (especially the highest-paid ones), architects drawing and builders building. But in a paver market that has more than doubled since 1999, and 76 percent has consistently been in the residential market, are there opportunities we are missing? Have we closely examined, and continued to ask ourselves what we could be doing better?

In the model described above, our company would be categorized as an installer but we attempt to push those boundaries. We create marketing plans to attack and conquer pavement segments or desired market segments. We have made a conscious decision to keep multiple plates spinning in the air, as opposed to addressing one plan at a time, so that when there are less resources available and we are unable to push one plan through, we can grab any opportunity that may work at the time in any of our target niches.

We maintain a showroom dedicated exclusively to pavers—showing every available product from all over the country so that architects and designers have a reason to want to come see us as opposed to us trying to push ourselves into their office. (We also made a conscious, and maybe risky, decision not to turn our showroom into a multiple trade company selling landscaping, artificial turf, masonry etc., so that we would brand ourselves as the absolute authority in interlocking paving.)

As a result, if there is less available work, and we cannot upsell our jobs with other products, we are absolutely forced into creating new work. In a construction environment where most companies are contracting, since we are unique, the first obvious answer is to broaden the net. If the days of being fat and happy in our own region are over, then utilizing what makes us unique and special and what we are really good at can be applied outside our area. Converting our operating systems to web and server based greatly facilitate this end. The downside of this is that it requires money.

In my opinion, collaboration between producers, distributors and serious, dedicated and specialized installers is the answer. It’s time to circle the wagons and sound the battle cry of expansion. When looking at existing markets are producers creating styles and colors based on what sold well over the past 10 years? Are they in tune with what customers are discussing with installers or retailers, or what direction architectural trends are taking for the future? Pavers are like fashion: Whatever the rock stars are wearing is popular until it hits K-Mart (despite the fact we are thrilled to be in “K-Mart”).

Are we looking at specific regions and addressing those markets that do not use our product but could? In our area most of the affordable residential products available have an “old world” or “cobble stone” feel despite interlocking pavers offering almost an unlimited design potential. Our mid-century and contemporary market primarily uses aggregate or large slabs. We have been working with local producers to create products and/or looks that are desirable to this market at costs that are reasonable at this time.

Are we overlooking demographic profiles that we could market or sell to? The LGBT community? Retirees? First-time buyers? Are we applying marketing strategies that target these profiles? Are we targeting new non-traditional industries that could be helping us sell our products? Interior designers? Realtors? Engineers? Are we educating these profiles? Are we sensitive how to fill their wants and needs as opposed to just trying to “sell” them something? Are we creating campaigns that make it instantly clear how pavers can address their needs? How do we convey that pavers can instantly add value to a “house-flipper” or a permeable interlocking parking lot could save a shopping center developer thousands of dollars?

Are we collaborating as an industry to set goals such as “every new commercial parking lot needs to be interlocking pavers” or “every residential exterior ‘makeover’ should incorporate interlocking pavers,”, or “all conversions to drought-tolerant landscaping should incorporate interlocking pavers” and then finding how each one of us in the industry can become a part of making that happen? Are we recognizing that our greatest competitive forces are vacations and not each other? Are producers, distributors and installers communicating their goals to each other and coordinating their marketing, advertising and selling resources to its best advantage?

Ultimately, to adapt to this constantly evolving landscape, the lines that divide the traditional roles of manufacturers, distributors and installers need to blur so that our companies can work together to analyze what our strengths and weaknesses are and how to apply them, and challenge ourselves to find every potential void that can be exploited to expand our market.