Landscaping is a visual business and it’s natural to show your clients 2D or 3D renderings of their proposed job. But you can take it one step further and help them envision their project with a showcase space on your property.
These spaces require substantial investment but for the landscaping companies that have installed them at their headquarters, they say it has paid off significantly.
Reasons to Build
In the spirit of the old adage, “Show, don’t tell,” crafting these demo spaces allows your work to do the talking for you.
For Designs By Sundown, based in Littleton, Colorado, having a landscape architectural showroom had always been in their long-term plans, it just came down to finding the right location with enough land. They had outgrown their current facility in 2010 but it took them six years to find the right property.
“The whole purpose of it was so our clients and the general public can touch, feel and see what we do in different elements of landscape architecture,” says Michael Hommel, owner of Designs By Sundown.
Designs By Sundown’s showroom includes everything from contemporary concrete walls to formal water features to natural elements tucked into various beds of trees, shrubs and flowers. The space also has a covered pavilion with an outdoor bar, TV and sound system that encompasses a half-acre of a landscaped showroom. The different elements of landscape architecture move from formal to informal and rural to urban contemporary.
“We have various patio surfaces of different types of stone, textures and colors each of which has a different price range so clients can see what material best fits their budget and liking, ” Hommel says.
Designs By Sundown has seven or eight outdoor patios, with each showcasing a different outdoor furniture line.
“Clients can come sit, touch, feel and truly experience the texture, comfort and the style of the different brands of outdoor furniture,” Hommel says.
Groundworks Landscaping, based in East Hampton, New York, decided to create their demo area to feature the work of their landscape designers and landscape contractors. It also helps create better awareness of their company’s business model.
Partner Kim Hren explains that while her grandfather started the business in 1939 as a garden center, it created confusion when Groundworks started in 2002 and offers landscape design, installation and maintenance.
Groundworks’ design gallery showcases their work through numerous pictures. Their outdoor surrounding gardens provide examples of their work and capabilities as a company with walkways, patios, gates/fencing, fire pits and pizza ovens.
“The initial outdoor improvements and project definitely has helped clients actually see the materials and how they would look in their backyards and properties,” Hren says. “It has been an amazing opportunity to be able to walk around our 2 acres with a beautiful pond and then our holding yard of plant material to actually show people the plant material.”
Similarly, Summit Hardscaping, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, created their demo area so clients could see the products in real life. The space features two pergolas, gardens, an outdoor kitchen with a barbecue and brick oven, a fire pit, a pool, and lots of hardscaping in the form of different seat walls.
“It introduces a layer of trust and allows clients before they commit to a project to see what we are capable of building,” says Cara Doyle, vice president of Summit. “It has become the ultimate referral of sorts. Clients recognize that even though their project may be completely different, they can trust that it will be well built.”
Doyle says they’ve installed a lot of the plants they use in their designs so clients can see how they look at different times of the year.
Return on Investment
Depending on the scale of your showcase space will greatly determine the amount of time and money you’ll need to invest in this project.
For Designs By Sundown, their 22,000 square foot showroom cost $1.1 million to create over the span of three years. Hommel says it was a sacrifice having crews doing nonbillable work on the site, but it’s been well worth it. He says as of March 1, they have sold $3.2 million in work from people who see their showroom.
“This space has really been the best marketing we’ve done in 36 years,” Hommel says.
Hommel says the people eating at the two restaurants next to their headquarters will often walk around Designs By Sundown’s showcase area before or after dinner and then call them up the following Monday and ask if a designer can come to look at their property.
Hommel says they track every call that comes in, so they know how the client heard about them or who referred them to DBS. Often the client saw the outdoor showroom while on the walking trail behind the property or while at one of the nearby restaurants.
“We can track that, and we can validate that our expense and effort has paid off and is going to continue to pay off big in the future,” Hommel says.
Groundworks started their demo area in December 2018. Hren says initially the costs seemed quite low around $10,000 but then it was like ‘peeling an onion.’
“We discovered there were numerous structural improvements necessary as well as changed up to more expensive materials to match the reflection of quality work we produce,” Hren says. “We live in a very high-end area and wanted to raise the standards of our offices and design gallery to match the image of our work. Bottom line? We’re now at $85K.”
Hren says the return on investment for them has been the vast improvements of the building as well as positioning Groundworks in an upscale manner.
Doyle says they started building out their demo space five to six years ago with the first covered pergola, patio and gardens and then added the second pergola, pool and fire pit in early 2020. “On pergola round 1 the cost was around $25,000,” Doyle says. “On pergola round 2 and pool area including fire pit, and all of the mechanicals for the pool, around $110,000. We have worked with our vendors and contractors along the way with materials and installing the gas lines.”
She says since adding the space it has paid off 100 percent. After adding the pool, they sold 3 pool deck and patio projects in 2021 and too many patio projects to count.
Other Uses for the Space
As if using these spaces for sales and marketing wasn’t enough, they can also serve other purposes as well.
Groundworks has used their space to hold multiple community events including fall festivals, a Lululemon sponsored Yoga by the Pond event and a Halloween event called Trail of Terror, which is a haunted walk on the grounds.
“Best of all our traditional holiday open house which entailed over 300 Christmas trees for sale, Santa visits, decorations and wreath making,” Hren says. “It was a tradition I wanted to carry on!”
In Doyle’s case since their offices are at their house, the showcase area is also enjoyed by them.
“When clients come to visit, we are essentially inviting them to our home as well,” Doyle says. “They can get a sense of who we are, and how we operate.”
Doyle will also hold employee barbecues and meetings outside on the patios and in the kitchen of the showroom.
Likewise, Hommel says they use the space for a lot of company functions and team building events. Their most recent additions to their showroom are more for the enjoyment of their own employees and networking events, as they have installed two bocce ball courts and plan to install a pickleball court in July. One added plus that was never counted on is their outdoor space has become a popular attraction for venues.
“What we’ve built has become a place that people want to experience,” Hommel says. We charge $5,500 for an event. People have gotten married here, we’ve had three anniversary parties, two high school graduation parties and a number of charity events in just in two years.”
Hommel says his daughters help with the execution of the events like weddings. They will bring an event coordinator if the event becomes too big but for the most part, they handle the venue booking, scheduling and pricing. All three companies say thanks to being outside and having plenty of space they’ve been able to utilize their showrooms even more during COVID-19.
Advice for Others
All three encourage other companies to create their own showcase space. Hren says it’s great for everyone and the change breeds new energy and growth.
“I think it’s an absolute must because how else can you spend one-on-one personal time with a client, and actually show them the quality of the work you do, and the different elements of landscape architecture that they can touch, taste, and feel?” Hommel says. “It was well worth the money spent.”
Doyle agrees it’s well worth it and to simply work at whatever scale your space allows.
“There were obvious expenses on the front end, but they have more than sold themselves,” Doyle says.
Hommel advises breaking up the project over time since you can’t shut down the business to solely focus on your outdoor showroom.
“We’re happy we did it and we would definitely do it again just like this if we had to do it all over,” Hommel says.