June usually has the distinction of being the most popular month of the year for weddings. Of course, the pandemic has changed all that this year, even in North Georgia, where we’re widely recognized for our many outstanding wedding venues. While the nuptials are being postponed and rescheduled, the first month of summer needs a new signature relationship to hang its hat on. Since we’ve all been looking for ways to make staying at home more appealing and enjoyable, I propose that June be devoted to creating fine outdoor spaces.
Before you run out and start courting companies to make your dreams come true, please allow me to offer some advice that could save you from heartache down the road. Here are 8 qualities, characteristics and other must-haves to look for in a landscaping company before you say “I do.”
As you’ll see, some of these are transactional, down-to-business traits, and others are more about personalities and relationships. I find the very best companies offer the best of both.
1.Finding the right match.
First, know what you’re looking for in a match. Do you want someone to design, plant and maybe even maintain a garden? What about hardscaping? Are you considering a new stone patio, custom water feature or outdoor kitchen? A full landscape design company marries natural elements, like flowers and other plants, with existing or new structures, like your home, or a pergola or swimming pool area, to create beautiful and functional outdoor spaces, If you just want someone to keep your manicured lawn perfect, a lawn care company is probably all you need.
Be sure the company’s legitimate. Does it have a business license from the county or city of its address? Every company should have liability AND workers compensation. Workers comp, required for any company with at least three employees, protects you and your home if a worker suffers a work-related injury on your property. Make sure any company working at your home has it, so you won’t end up paying the medical bills if a staffer gets hurt.
Here’s a tip for you: Don’t settle for a copy of the policy from the person you’re thinking about hiring. To be sure the company’s policy is paid and up to date, ask that the insurance agency send a copy of it directly to you. That’s how we always handle it. A good company shouldn’t be offended that you asked. It’s good business.
Depending on the work to be done, other licensing might be required, too. For example, a company that will be selling you plants needs to have a live plant license. The company that moves dirt as part of your project must have a soil erosion and sediment certificate. If spraying pesticides is going to be part of the agreement, they’ll need to have a pesticide contractor’s license and have a certified applicator on staff.
What about the company’s staff? Since they’ll be working on your property, you might want to ask about things like how long they’ve been with the company, what training they have, and what the company’s standards and hiring policies are. We’re proud to tell potential clients that we require hard references from every employee—and we do check them before hiring. We’ve found a lot of clients are glad to learn that we drug test our employees, too.
You want to choose a company that has experience—especially experience in the kind of project you’re thinking about. Sure, it’s nice to give a new company a chance to prove itself and get some experience. Just make sure the experience level is appropriate for the job. A less experienced designer or design company may be fine for smaller projects, but for bigger, more complex jobs, you’re going to want that been-there, done-that expertise that comes with practice, repetition and yes, even the occasional mistake over the years.
A reliable company—even a relatively new one—is almost sure to have a website, or at least a Facebook page, where you can get an idea of the kind of work they’ve done, the level of complexity of the jobs they typically do and how long they’ve been at it. Certifications and licensing credentials of the company’s principals should be available, too. We’re proud to list ours on our website. Beware of any company that tries to inflate their level of experience.
I’ll also point out there’s more to experience than technique and expertise. Generally, a company that’s been around for a long time has survived because they’ve taken care of their clients. When occasional mistakes occur or problems arise, the best landscape design companies do everything possible to make things right. They have a reputation to protect.
By the way, this year marks Art of Stone’s 20th year of designing, growing and building fine outdoor spaces. We’ve put our signature on more than 1,200 projects in Dahlonega, Dawsonville, Gainesville, Lake Lanier, White County and all over Northeast Georgia. We’ve been successful not only because of our design and construction experience on the ground—and in it—but also because we make sure our clients are happy when our projects are complete, and they know where to find us down the road if any issues come up.
Change and unforeseen developments are bound to happen on the job as in life. Like any good partner, a good landscape design company will be flexible. Good communication skills, creativity and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances help ensure project challenges are met promptly with good solutions.
What do your friends and family think about your suitor? There’s no substitute for word of mouth. Listen to what others are saying about companies they’ve worked with. If they’ve been happy and the results have been impressive, that’s a great place to start your search for Mr. or Mrs. Right, Inc.
If you’re not lucky enough to get any introductions from friends or family, ask the companies you’re considering for references from satisfied clients. Verified reviews can help solidify your decision, too.
One great source for reliable reviews of landscape design companies is Houzz, a website and online community of (mostly) homeowners and professionals that is an extraordinarily popular resource for people considering home projects, including landscape design and garden projects. Art of Stone earned our second Best of Houzz Service Award this year based on the number of qualified, 5-star reviews we received from our customers in 2019. The verified reviews and “badges” companies earn on Houzz are a reflection of professional credibility and integrity, excellent reputation and a high level of client satisfaction.
It’ll make creating your outdoor space an even happier experience if everyone has a reasonable degree of patience. Unforeseen, unavoidable circumstances happen from time to time—to clients and vendors—and when they do, it’s so much better if you’re working with people who can take it all in stride.
7. Investments in the community.
Memberships in industry associations can indicate that a landscape design company stays up to date on new information, keeps up with the latest trends and follows industry best practices. Participation in business and civic organizations and sponsorship of charitable activities show the company is invested in local communities, so it’s in their interest to maintain the highest level of integrity in their operations. Most landscape designers highlight their memberships on their websites.
8. Sense of humor.
Trust me. Everything goes better when we all have a sense of humor. And you’ll know it when you see it.
By this time, you’ve gotten to know the company or companies you’ve been considering pretty well. You’ve shared what you want from your project and you’re ready to entertain a proposal that addresses your wishes. The proposal is a presentation of what services the company intends to provide, including a detailed scope of work, outlining everything from what plants will go in the flower beds to where boulders will be placed. Materials will be specified, a timeline laid down and costs and terms of payment spelled out. You can accept the proposal as is, discuss and make changes to it or decline it.
Once you’ve kissed enough frogs and accepted a proposal from THE ONE, it’s time to engage the company to implement your project. Be sure everything that’s been agreed on is outlined in a contract and signed by both parties. The agreement doesn’t need to be long or complicated. It just needs to memorialize all the details set forth in the proposal.
The Installation and the Honeymoon.
You may have the jitters as the project actually gets underway. But if you’ve followed this advice and done your homework, the installation phase of getting your new outdoor space should be pretty fun and exciting, and you should be enjoying the good relationship you’ve developed with the landscape design company you hired. The honeymoon phase will take you from your project’s completion—on time, on budget and fabulous, of course!—to many years of blissful enjoyment and wonderful memories!