How to identify and work effectively with a professional commercial lawn and landscape company
By Sabeena Hickman
Grounds and facility managers and those in procurement are often approached by a multitude of eager landscape companies who want to work with government agencies. But if you need to hire these services, how do you make sure you can find an accredited, professional landscape firm that has the reputation, experience and business acumen to maintain the property surrounding a building or in a public space?
A landscape provider should be a solid, reliable partner that groundskeepers, facility managers and procurement professionals can count on. You need someone who cannot just maintain a landscape, but also someone who can improve it cost-effectively.
While cost is a factor, you should also consider a range of criteria in evaluating and hiring a landscape maintenance company. The property surrounding a building is a valuable asset and it needs expert care from a company whose skills match the needs of the property.
PLANET, the national landscape industry association, recommends that during the bidding and procurement process, government professionals consider the following questions when evaluating a commercial lawn and landscape company.
- Do they know what your goals and expectations are? Spell out your needs and goals when posting a solicitation for bids or hiring a lawn and landscape company. A professional company should ask about your goals, because they need to know them if they are going to deliver the results you expect. That starts with a thorough understanding of your business and how the landscape contributes to achieving your goals. Make sure their bid captures your expectations accurately in the scope of work and includes a startup plan. Ask them to provide multi-year plans with designs and budgets so you can plan for the future.
- Can they meet your timeframe? Be clear about what you need in terms of landscape support. If this is a specific project with an expected completion date, e.g. landscaping design and installation around a new building, be clear about your needs.
- What is their reputation? Find out how long the prospective vendor has been in business and get a sense of how they approach customer service, quality control, safety compliance, training programs, communication methods, and responsiveness to special requests, problems and emergencies. Ask for references for work done on similar properties. Call any references they provide. Ask if they have worked with a government agency. If your locality has oversight or paperwork requirements, make sure prospective vendors understand them and have systems in place to meet them.
- Do they have accredited, licensed and tenured professionals and work crews? Make sure they are licensed and insured to operate in your state and are in good standing. Strong horticultural knowledge is an absolute necessity! The company you hire should also have formal knowledge of maintenance operations, irrigation, tree care, and pest control. Memberships in state and national associations that provide continuing education, and certifications like Landscape Industry Certified, are an indicator of the provider’s commitment to maintaining up-to-date knowledge and skills.
- How do they measure customer satisfaction? Look for a company that is honest, dependable and customer service oriented. Ask how they capture feedback on their performance from customers to measure satisfaction levels. Ask how they identify ways to continuously improve service delivery.
- If you are in a water challenged area, does the company offer water management as part of their mission? Your landscape provider should be able to offer solutions that encourage water conservation, and drought-resistant horticultural best practices. Ask for photos and case studies illustrating their work. On-site composting, water run-off management, and sustainable landscape features are just some of the services available.
- Can they help you save money for the long-term? Is your provider willing to work on helping you improve your property but offer up commonsense ways to reduce costs? Can the company show you examples where they helped other customers save money?
- Make sure the landscape company operates safely. Ask about their safety record and what requirements they have in place for personnel and equipment. Professional landscape companies put safety first through extensive training, power equipment certification, and safety meetings. Many companies participate in a safe company program called STARS. For a list of member companies go to www.landcarenetwork.org (look under safety and risk management).
- Are their workers trained beyond basic maintenance? Ask if they provide ongoing training to workers on every aspect of the business from horticulture to production, operations, equipment, time management, account management and customer service. A good provider will be able to point to examples of their training programs and materials.
Sabeena Hickman is the chief executive officer at PLANET. To find a professional landscape company near you, visit www.LandCareNetwork.org.