Interiorscape Proposal Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Creating an accurate interiorscape proposal can be tricky. Even seasoned designers struggle.

Although I’ve been putting together quotes for years, I still catch myself making mistakes. It’s okay when I catch them before handing the quotes to a client, but many times, I don’t realize the mistakes until after the contract has been signed and the project started. For me, one of the most difficult parts of interiorscape quotes is calculating labor time. Here are a few tips to help you create more accurate proposals.

Proposal Tip #1: Service Labor

We humans have our own individual working pace, which can make employee labor a guessing game. As a general rule, I add 1 minute of labor for a tabletop plant, 2-3 minutes for a medium floor, and 5 or more minutes to service a large floor plant. If I need a more accurate time table, I time myself walking from plant to plant around the location.

The type of plant can also make a major time difference. With more hardy species, such as dracaenas or aglaonemas, you will have a short service time. Temperamental foliage, on the other hand, like areca palms, can double the labor due to trimming dead ends and controlling spidermite.

Proposal Tip #2: Installation

It’s a rare gift,when a new design install goes exactly to plan. The larger the project, the more likely something will go wrong. I always add in the “Murphy’s Law” factor of unforeseen time anywhere from 1-5 hours. Something I tend to forget about is the clean-up factor. Any time dirt, moss, and boxes come into a building, I can guarantee something will spill, cardboard and packing material will scatter everywhere, and moss will shed over floors and carpet.  I’ve been on projects where the clean-up time took just as long as installing the foliage.

Proposal Tip #3: Mechanics

I call all the extra materials needed for designs the mechanics or the stuff we hide from sight. The mechanics include collar foam to fill in gaps between grow pot and decorative container. Collar foam is especially important when using rocks. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an ugly space between containers unless you direct plant.

One of my projects needed over 240 square feet of rock to cover four long planters with over ten inches of space between grow pots. I didn’t realize how pricey thick foam cardboard was until I started sourcing it. At first, I was tempted to guess, but I’m glad I took the time to get an accurate size and cost before emailing the finished quote to my client.

Another mechanic that’s tripped me up is riser material. If the tall planter comes with its own riser, I recommend adding that in. If not, you may be surprised to find out how expensive Styrofoam block is to make a plant taller. Not adding that riser cost in can put a big dent in your profit.

Proposal Tip #4: Replacement Factor

I provide a free plant replacement guarantee for 95% of my service contracts. From tracking the total amount of plants I lose per account, I know my average replacement factor is 10% of the total retail price. This percentage can vary greatly, depending on the technician skills, the location, and plant type. For larger interiorscape companies that have several technicians and experience high employee turnover, that rate can jump to 20% or more. 

If I put in a bid for a dealership that has ceiling high windows with great light, I can safely lower that factor to 5%.  With a tech company in a cave-like atmosphere with dark painted walls and no natural light, I have to double that factor. Plant variety also comes into play here. Hardy plants will lower the replacement rate, especially for a darker environment, while temperamental foliage increases the rate.

Proposal Tip #5: Foliage

I’ve purchased plants from the same greenhouses for almost two decades and found wholesale prices fluctuate slowly and stay consistent as a general rule. Most of the time, I doublecheck with my foliage vendor on price and availability before I submit a quote. Every holiday season, I have one of my best clients order forty Norfolk Island Pines for their annual Christmas banquet. A few years ago, I was in a hurry and quoted them last year’s price without checking my source.

It just so happened that that year, there was a severe shortage of pines due to propagation problems. This meant the wholesale price was more than my quoted retail price. Furthermore, I had to go to other, more expensive sources to find enough trees. That was an important lesson for me to realize, no matter how long you’ve been in the business, when dealing with a living product, anything can happen. Always take time to doublecheck your costs and you will save yourself a lot of grief—and time and money.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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