Upselling Current Clients Outside Opportunities

In 2021, I believed facemasks would be a thing of the past, buildings would be bustling again and those client projects that have been postponed for over a year would be started again. That was wishful thinking, and wishing isn’t going to get new business. With networking groups on hold or via video calls, buildings with limited or no access, and many still working from home, I’m refocusing on outside plant designs.  It’s been my experience that companies have much larger budgets to spend on landscaping than they do for interiorscaping.  Especially now that society has encouraged us to be outside, investing in exterior spaces offers more opportunity. Whenever I search for new business, I try to find the path of least resistance. Right now, that means upselling current clients select exterior opportunities.

For months, I’ve watched a two-hundred-foot cement planter along my client’s walkway slowly deteriorate to the point of death. Half of the green hedge is completely brown eyesore and very visible from the street. I didn’t mention it to the building manager, since the landscaper handles the outside foliage. Prior years, the exterior appearance of the building has always been extremely well maintained, especially since they are in the public eye. Perhaps due to the challenges of the past year, dealing with some dying boxwoods hasn’t been a high priority. 

Seizing the opportunity, I took pictures of the walkway and created a few different before and after design ideas and sent them to my contact, explaining my thoughts for improvement. The hedges as long as I’ve been there, have always been just straight rows of dark green boxwoods.  Extremely boring, in my opinion. 

To my advantage, the operations manager agreed and ended up approving the most expensive design option which incorporates more color contrast and visual interest using shrubs like loropetalum and ixora. The other benefit of winning this installation, is the monthly service rate increase for adding this cement planter to the service contract. Even though I’d much rather be working on plants inside a building, taking on an outside covered walkway planter is well worth the extra income.  

Diversifying from inside to outside foliage installation and maintenance may seem like a simple progression. However, there’s a reason why the plant industry is usually divided by interiorscapers and landscapers. There’s a whole different range of environmental issues, foliage varieties, equipment needed and staff able to handle the rigors of each.  

In the past, I’ve done courtyards, commercial and residential landscape redesigns with installation, but I’ve never wanted to tackle the regular yard maintenance required.  

One time, I did take on weekly landscape maintenance of a small office park in the suburbs.  During the fall season when the massive southern oak trees shed millions of leaves, I thought I would lose my mind and much of my profit.  

Finding staff to handle the account was another issue.  Interior and exterior technicians are two different breeds of people, and asking interiorscape staff to work outside in the elements is a good way to get them to quit.  Any experienced landscaper knew the property management’s landscape expectations for that office park would never make the account worthwhile.  And that’s probably why they offered me the job.   

Being uncomfortable handling outdoor projects as an interiorscaper is understandable and can be a gamble when upselling current clients, as I’ve found out. I’ve learned the best way to undertake a different aspect of your business, is to start with baby steps.

Start with small projects such as smaller hanging planters for a client’s overhang. Another building area that’s more important than ever are exterior employee rest or break spaces. This is often a neglected part of the exterior that may only have a picnic table and cigarette dispenser. 

Provide the manager with a visual design of how you can transform that space with container groupings of beautiful flowering foliage, and your chances for an investment are going to be significantly improved.  

Not only can you make a profit from the initial installation, but also increase your residual income with seasonal change outs.  I do this for a nursing home that has a large porch area.  The outdoor containers not only create a nicer environment for its elderly residents, but they also make the industrial front of the building much more welcoming.  

My biggest mistake when I first started upselling current clients outdoor designs was not including sub-irrigation with the containers. You also have to be very careful depending on where the containers are located. Are they going to be in full sun all day? Is there too much shade for the foliage to flower? Are they on a large pavement that radiates high levels of heat? 

Planter areas next to driveways will dry up extremely fast and by the time you service the following week, all the foliage is dead.  Another inside tip for sub-irrigation—sub-irrigation won’t help until the plant’s root systems have developed down into the pot where it can reach the water. Be sure to build in the cost of more frequent servicing while the plant is still establishing its roots, especially during hot months.

During this time when fewer people are working inside, interiorscapers may have to get creative by upselling current clients and expanding their focus to select exterior opportunities.

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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