Boosting Your Business: How to Cater to Younger Generations of Clients - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Boosting Your Business: How to Cater to Younger Generations of Clients

Photo: NALP/Philippe Nobile Photography

Depending on who you talk to, millennials and younger generations can make up anywhere from 25 to 80 percent of their customer base. While no generation is a monolith and people shouldn’t be stereotyped based on their age, it is important to understand what matters to younger generations as they become a larger section of your customer base.

According to the National Association of Realtors, millennials represent 43 percent of homebuyers, the highest share of any generation. One-quarter of that group is aged 32 to 41, while 18 percent are younger millennials aged 23 to 31.

“We know that new homebuyers are especially interested in lawn and landscape services, so acknowledging how to sell to them is very important,” says Beth Berry, vice president of turf and ornamental sales with Advanced Turf Solutions. “Unlike other generations, millennials are the most likely to outsource for convenience of home services. Our customers have found that millennials create high demand for lawn care service, but do typically buy a mid-range bundle. They don’t want to get an HOA letter for not caring for the lawn, but they would prefer not to do it themselves. Our turf and ornamental business owners still see baby boomers or Gen X buying the larger bundle, higher number services per program and higher ticket add-on services such as aeration and overseeding.”

What Matters to Younger Generations

With this demographic being too big to ignore, it’s important to speak their language and focus on what matters to them. When you’re trying to attract these younger generations to work with your landscape company in the first place, visuals are critical.

“Be present on Instagram, lean into new media (TikTok, YouTube, etc.) since that is where younger generations spend their time,” says Jeff Wraley, founder and CEO of Groundwork. “Once you have their attention, make it easy for them to work with you and purchase your services. Invest in your online presence to build trust. They may want to understand more about your company, how you work, etc. – but they certainly don’t want to have a conversation around their dining room table on those topics.”

James Hopper, training officer with Yard Solutions, based in Groveport, Ohio, and Triston Parsons, owner of La Vida Landscapes, based in Birmingham, Alabama, agree having a social media presence is the main way they market to younger generations.

“Marketing isn’t a line item in your expenses,” adds Monique Allen, owner of The Garden Continuum, based in Medfield, Massachusetts. “It’s an investment in your mission and business development. You must be relentless in your messaging. You must be clear on your audience.”  

However, a focus on social media marketing doesn’t mean word of mouth will go out the window. Ivy Fischer, gardening account manager with Rocky Mountain Custom Landscapes, based in Eagle, Colorado, says millennials are often looking to see who their neighbors are using year after year.

Joe Stark, marketing director for Ground Works Land Design, based in Cleveland, Ohio, says they approach all of their brands as a fun, consumer lifestyle brand. Being hyperlocal with a younger owner also helps build traction with these clients.

“I think they feel comfortable relating to most of our sales reps who are also within that age versus talking to someone that’s been in the industry for forty years that’s 30 years older than them,” Stark says.

Aspects that matter when selling will vary from person to person and sometimes what region of the country they are located. However, some common themes younger generations care about include the cost, the speed of completion, whether it is environmentally friendly and how convenient it is. The price of projects is always a concern for any customer, but Hopper and Stark note their younger clients are focused on how fast a project can be finished.

“The millennials, I hate to stereotype because I’m one of them, but they’re just very buttoned up and they want to know when the project’s done, what’s all involved and then just get started,” Stark says.

Younger generations are also more aware of the environmental impact of their landscaping. Allen notes the challenge here is educating clients to understand being sustainable is not a product you buy or a service you hire once but a commitment.

“The pro’s job is to teach the reality of contract work and how the systems of nature operate,” Allen says. “The buzz of environmentally friendly is great until they learn it takes time and costs upfront. Low maintenance is earned, not purchased. I teach this to every single lead. Speed comes with a cost that is far-reaching and needs to be addressed upfront.”

Berry adds millennials buy on convenience, so you have to create a value proposition for them. Allen says many prefer to find a turnkey, one-stop shop solution.

“Younger generations have become accustomed to immediate satisfaction: Amazon packages delivered overnight, food ordered and delivered to your door in minutes, etc.,” Wraley says. “This group of consumers has grown up with technology in their pockets. They want their experience with service providers to be quick and easy.”

Integrating Technology

While millennials inherited the tech world, Gen Z was raised on technology. How convenient it is to work with your company can depend on the technology you choose to integrate.

“Your customer acquisition journey via a website with a handy customer communication and payment portal should be frictionless and intuitive (also secure),” Berry says. “If you force them to do business with a call center and a checkbook, you can kiss them goodbye.”

Stark encourages adopting new platforms and tools to stay relevant with the more tech-savvy generations.

“I think really being open to introducing new software and platforms that are really specifically digital and tech-forward is only going to push you ahead,” Stark says. “If you try to fight that and you try to deny it, I truly believe not only are you going to have difficulty communicating to that next generation from a business standpoint, but you’re also going to have difficulty recruiting.”

Parsons has found in his experience that younger generations respond better to 3D landscape designs over 2D designs, as it helps them visualize the space more.

Wraley’s software Groundwork allows for virtual site visits and he says while it was designed with the future in mind, they’ve found it’s easily adopted by anyone who can use the camera on their smartphone.

“Good technology should be easy for anyone to adopt,” Wraley says. “In my experience, companies that implement tech that may affect how they interact with non-techy customers, they realize quickly that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. It just takes a bit of training and hand-holding, which is well worth the effort.”

Preferred Communication

One big discussion point when it comes to different generations is preferred communication methods. Fischer notes that more clients are asking for clear communication, regardless of age. Yet often, younger generations are seeking out information from the get-go. Hopper suggests providing all your information upfront and being constant about your service.

“They want to know what they will get, the timing, and price early in the sales process,” Wraley says. “They have the power of the internet to figure it out if you don’t educate them. They may not get the right info from their searching, but they’ll get something. You might as well be the one to educate them and walk them down the process toward buying.”

Stark says while less than 50 percent of their maintenance clients have signed up to access their customer portal, the ones who do use the portal are millennials or younger. With the portal, they can access a dashboard and have full transparency of what’s going on. They can see when Ground Works was last at their property, any uploaded pictures of updates or problems, notes, and more.

While Gen X and boomers prefer walking a property with a technician, millennials would rather have a virtual video visit or reach out if there is a problem.

“They want more of a list in email or communication in real-time,” Fischer says. “While they would probably prefer to text on occasion, it’s something I tend to discourage; for tracking, I prefer email.”

Parsons says since they switched to SingleOps, they do all their communication via email. He says this simplifies things instead of having to go through Facebook Messenger, text messages and emails to find a previous conversation.

Allen agrees younger generations do well with email, but she also believes in making the clients wait a reasonable amount of time to get back to them.

“There is nothing instant about what we do and we need to train our leads and clients that we have a process that needs to be followed,” Allen says. “I give my clients 100 percent attention when I’m with them. That can’t happen if I’m being texted by other clients. Clients need to respect the pro. Our pros being accessible 24/7 is a hindrance to their professional and personal well-being.”

Serving Commercial Clients

In the case of commercial landscape companies, many are finding the age of the property managers they work with is dropping as their predecessors hand over the reins.

“The boomers are just getting to that age where they’re at least mentoring the next person in line or the next person is already phasing into that role,” says Chad Sikes, owner/CEO of City Green Services, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “So I would say Generation X and below are definitely at least 50 percent of our client base and probably millennials are 20 to 30 percent of our client base.”

Photo: City Green Services

Commercial landscapers can mainly serve these younger property managers by creating partnerships via education and being a resource to them.

“Their Rolodex isn’t nearly as deep as someone that’s been in the industry for several years,” Sikes says.

Sikes says this could be helping connect them with a window washing company or a parking lot sweeping company because they may not know what vendors to trust or who’s reliable. Sikes says utilizing technology is also appreciated as it can streamline processes.

“They don’t think differently because of their age; they think differently because the owners of these properties are a little scared to give a mid-20s person this asset to handle,” says Joe Chiellini, president and CEO of ASI Landscape Management, based in Tampa, Florida. “We try to help them understand the value of what we bring so they can have a professional, meaningful conversation with their regional manager, their owner, whoever it might be, so they don’t sound young. They sound like they know what they’re doing.”

Chiellini says in the past they would walk the property with a manager and educate them, but now these younger managers don’t have the time and are focused on the numbers. Sikes suggests being a wealth of knowledge for the younger generations and being proactive when caring for the property.

“When they need something, communication is key,” Sikes says. “They’re not calling most of the time to just shoot the breeze. It’s a ‘Hey, I need something and I need an answer.’ So being accessible is huge, no matter what generation you’re talking about.”

Like residential clients, these commercial clients like things right now and are very visual.

“I used to be able to sell the job and especially if they were if they knew us or knew me, they were more than happy just to do a sketch or maybe a CAD drawing,” Chiellini says. “Now they want a 3D rendering, all that kind of stuff. So those are the tools that we’re having to use now.”

While many young property managers are only focused on the financial cost of landscaping, it’s important to make them understand its value.

“I think people of all ages deem gardening and landscaping as a nonessential service until they see what it’s like without it,” Fischer says. “Then they understand the amount of time, knowledge, and care it takes to maintain areas. Often, I will see properties with younger managers saying they don’t think it’s necessary, only to get calls midseason asking about bringing back services they had previously written off.”

This article was published in the May/June issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.