What landscapers want in 2022

Features - Selling to landscapers

How can you strengthen relationships with your landscaper partners? These insights from leading landscaping firms hold the keys.

March 21, 2022

Having solid partnerships with successful landscaping firms is a cornerstone of any greenhouse business. But keeping the “partner” in partnership strong requires commitment, understanding and communication, especially when pandemic pressures enter in.
Photos courtesy of Bland Landscaping and Curbside Landscape & Irrigation

Two years ago, Greenhouse Management reached out to several of the country’s premier landscaping firms to ask what they want and need from greenhouse partners like you. We decided to check in with landscapers again this year and see what they want in 2022.

Bland Landscaping Co., Inc.

North and South Carolina, Southeast

When Bland Landscaping president Kurt Bland talked with Greenhouse Management in 2020, he said, “Our floriculture is one of the calling cards of our company.” Floriculturist Louise Licata fills the floriculture and design management role Bland’s father foresaw more than 30 years ago.

Licata oversees twice-yearly custom designs for every commercial property Bland serves, from creation to installation. “For a company of Bland’s size and scope, communication and partnership are very important to us when we are working with our growers,” she says.

Licata typically sends orders to greenhouse suppliers six months in advance. Still, pandemic plant shortages have impacted availability. Swift communication from greenhouse partners allows Licata to contact property managers in advance. “The earlier that greenhouses see problems and can let us know, then we have more time to adapt,” she explains.

The pandemic hasn’t changed Bland’s high expectations, including on-site, pre-sorted deliveries aligned with crew schedules. Quality and service, like communication, are critical.

“Price is not as important as having a good plant show up at the job site, so I’m really relying [on greenhouse partners] that what’s going to the job site is up to our standard,” Licata says. “That saves me more time and energy than just a good price on that plant.”

Good communication goes both ways. If your greenhouse has special procedures, Licata wants to know. “Knowing that on the front end, before the busy season happens, is helpful. And we can be flexible if they can be flexible,” she says.

“We’re in the same industry at the end of the day, and we want to have a well-functioning industry. We want the green industry to look good. So, I think the better that we can work together, then we can get a great landscape project out there.”

Curbside Landscape & Irrigation
Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro, Minnesota

As manager of Curbside’s annual flower department, Brianna Wenner oversees four seasons of designs, bids, property manager and greenhouse relationships, deliveries and scheduling for the company’s commercial clients

Communication tops her list of greenhouse requirements. “I like to be organized, and I like to know what’s going on each step of the way,” she says. Healthy, full-looking product is next.

“Communication and the quality of the product are more important to me than the [price]. We’ll pay more for the plant that looks better — if the person is good at getting back to me and that kind of thing,” she says.

Curbside’s commercial clients want instant color and fullness. “We’re looking for a nice full flower on these plants, so the client sees that instant fullness in their flower beds,” Wenner says, noting that Curbside hasn’t experienced plant availability problems.

Timely deliveries matter. “We get the plants delivered to most of our job sites, so we plan our whole day around being on site and then being ready for that product to be delivered and ready to install immediately,” she explains. If you’re running late, a call goes a long way.

Minnesota’s unpredictable cold and rain can delay job starts and greenhouse deliveries. “That’s where communication comes in, too — me reaching out to them,” Wenner says. “With last-minute decisions like that, flexibility is awesome.”

Though Wenner tries to get plant lists to greenhouses by year’s end, that doesn’t always happen. She wishes greenhouses better understood that property managers can drag their feet on bids — and she can’t do much to speed up the process.

For Wenner, it circles back to relationships. “Communication is key to a good relationship between landscape company and greenhouse grower. To me, that’s the main thing that will improve that relationship, and so that’s the most important thing.”

Level Green Landscaping

Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia

As branch manager for Level Green’s D.C. branch, James Kole oversees relationships with the company’s greenhouse growers. He says flexibility from greenhouse partners carries weight in D.C. High-profile, unusual jobs are common in the market, where annual color is the biggest component in commercial landscapes — and tight security means orders and event details involving embassies and heads of state come at the last minute.

“Flexibility goes a long way,” Kole says. “Just having somebody that’s flexible that can jump on things as quickly as we do.”

Pricing is also a key factor for Level Green. “In the commercial market, costs just keep increasing, but we’re not getting the same increases from our customers,” Kole shares. “Having a greenhouse grower that will work with us to keep the costs low — whether it’s a prepaid discount or a bulk ordering discount, some kind of pricing structure that gives you a break after a certain quantity is ordered — is really important to us.”

Kole is also looking for plants that can stand up on sites, especially plantings clients maintain in-house. For example, he’s transitioning away from sweet potato vine to creeping Jenny because of the lower maintenance costs. He shares those trends with his growers so they can meet demand. And while he’d have orders in greenhouse hands six months early “in an ideal world,” commercial property managers are more likely to give final approval one or two months out.

The pandemic’s primary effect has been reduced face-to-face visits with growers to see inventory. With COVID supply chain issues, including shipment delays in plastics and plug shortages, Kole appreciates his growers’ honesty about what’s going on. When he knows what’s happening, he can be honest with Level Green’s customers. “The more honesty we have, the better our relationships are,” Kole says.

Jolene Hansen is a freelance writer specializing in the horticulture and specialty agriculture industries. Reach her at jolene@jolenehansen.com.