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Inside Out with Belgard: Golden Rules of Outdoor Design with Haig Seferian  

July 26, 2022

In Episode #03 of Inside Out with Belgard, Joe Raboine, Belgard’s Director of Residential Hardscapes, sits down with Haig Seferian, Principal Landscape Architect of the award-winning Seferian Design Group. With 30 years of design experience, Haig is an expert in the industry, creating projects that inspire communities, improve lives and spark relationships. Haig provides a unique perspective on the evolution of outdoor living design from simple structures to elaborate outdoor spaces. 

The duo shares their passion for outdoor living as they discuss the importance of a well-thought-out design, the next generations of contractors and more: 

  • How technology and social media has changed outdoor spaces 
  • Advice for contractors hoping to expand or scale their design capabilities 
  • How to approach valuing and pricing your time in regard to design   
  • How COVID-19 sparked an increased desire for practical outdoor living spaces  
  • The benefits of using Belgard Rooms for templated modular designs
Inside Out with Belgard: Haig Seferian

Finally, Haig reflects on clients’ reactions to their complete outdoor living spaces and how this is his biggest motivation as he strives to continue innovating in the design world.  

Episode Takeaway: Haig reflects on the importance of learning the fundamentals of build and design, and then looking at the tools available for time savings or to increase in-house design capabilities. With tools and technology available, why re-create the wheel? 

To listen or subscribe, visit the Inside Out with Belgard Podcast page.

View Full Transcript

Joe Raboine:

Welcome to Inside Out with Belgard, a podcast made for professionals by professionals who are passionate about outdoor living. I’m your host Joe Raboine, Director of Residential Hardscapes at Belgard. I started my career as a hardscape contractor over 25 years ago. I’ve always loved creating spaces that both bring people together and connect them to the natural world. I met some amazing people along the way who’ve impacted the industry and inspired me personally.

I’m joined today by Haig Seferian, principal landscape architect from the award-winning Seferian Design Group. He has 30 years of holistic design under his belt. Hagan his team are based in Ontario, but their work can be seen across Canada and the us.

They take their landscape design seriously, and their work is truly fantastic. Their work inspires communities improves lives, sparks relationships, and fosters interaction with the environment. Haig is also the author of the book, Hardscaping: High Style, Low Maintenance Outdoor spaces. Haig, welcome to Inside Out with Belgard.

Haig Seferian:

How are you, Joe? I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

Joe Raboine: You’re more than welcome at, when we put the, the short list together of guests that we wanted in the first season. I think your name was top of the list for me. I was trying to think back, I believe I met you at least 10 or 12 years ago. It’s been quite a while.

Haig Seferian: Think even more than that, Joe, yeah. Back at the Belgard University presentations, uh, we’ve done quite a few of them.

Joe Raboine: Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure. I consider you a good friend and excited to have you on the show. I know you’re an absolute wealth of knowledge and are passionate about outdoor living design, passionate about this industry.
And I love to kind of get into that with our guests and hopefully pass along some of that passion and expertise to the group.

Haig Seferian: Let’s get to it. I’m sure everybody that is listening to this show right now, and your series all share that same passion and we’re all looking for opportunities to, how do we make this world better?

How do we make our projects better? You know, how do we make ourselves better? And hopefully let’s dive into that a little bit.

Joe Raboine: Awesome. I was reading the intro and it says, you know, over 30 years, um, I’m right there with you. And I think you may have a little bit of more experience than I do, um, not to, uh, not to date ourselves, but you know, it’s been fascinating for me, you know, being in this, this industry, my entire career.

And I’m sure you as well, just seeing the evolution of, you know, where we came from, where we’re at today, you know, where the opportunities lie ahead of. And one of the things I remember way back when I met with you, and really connected with. is that, you know, you said something to the effect that it all starts with design, right?
I mean, without high quality, well thought out design, you really, you could be the best craftsman in the world, but if it’s a terrible design, it will probably be a terrible project in the end. Right?

Haig Seferian: I don’t know of a statement that could be possibly more correct than that? Uh, it truly is. I mean, not only with landscape, but with anything in life, there has to be a plan.
There has to be a strategy. Otherwise you end up doing things twice, three times, four times often on our projects, on any given project will come up with, I don’t know, 10, 12 different ideas, directions, concepts, before we finally nail that one that is the right one for that site and for those particular clients as well, it takes work to make these things look great.

Joe Raboine: Yeah, no, you’re totally right. People will come up, especially people who maybe aren’t necessarily are creative and they have more of a, let’s say a mathematical brain and they’ll ask you to come up with something and they think, they think you just snap your fingers and boom, there’s this incredible design and it’s beautiful.
And it’s like, to your point, it’s totally not the case. It takes real work and effort to come up with something that at the end of the day, looks really simple. Right? You look at it and go, that’s a really clean, simple design, but that actually probably took them, who knows how many days, weeks, months, sometimes to come up with,

Haig Seferian: you know, generally speaking that’s exactly what happens, Joe. You know, it applies to paintings and architecture and, you know, clothing as well. Like any of the design trades, you look at something and you think, well, I probably could have done that myself or my kid could have done that. Uh, yeah. There’s no hope in hell that they could have done that. It takes ruling.
All the possibilities that do not work first to figure out the one that will work and you’re right. It takes years of practice, uh, to be able to get there and be able to see that.

Joe Raboine: Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting. You know, this industry, as we all know, has, has evolved to a point where, it’s really its own trade, right?

I mean, it used to be 30 years ago that a, a Holland stone patio was the standard per se, right? And today these are fully blown out outdoor spaces that have all the bells and whistles of everything you could do or find on the interior. And so it’s even more critical today that the designs are well thought out because.

Even if a client or a contractor isn’t going to do every piece all at once, um, that contractor may do the hardscape or they may just do let’s, you know, let’s say a Pergola, you’ve gotta have that blueprint to work off of or you could cause a ton of grief for everyone involved, not running the right utilities, you know, making changes on the fly.

I mean, all things that lead to frustration to cost, and it’s really not needed. Right? If you spend enough time upfront, You can alleviate a lot of that headache and frustration and at the end of the day, provide a better overall space for your client, which is really the, the ultimate goal.

Haig Seferian: You’ve hit on a couple of really good points there, Joe. The first is, my career started back in the early eighties and when I look back from then to where we are now, you’re absolutely right. We were happy when we designed to build a patio and a walkway, right? You put some shrubs in and we called that landscaping.

But then, you know, we would see other consultants come in and take over that space and then start to continue the work that we had created the skeleton for the baseline work. Now, fast forward to where we are today and, you know, social media and television and, uh, you know, magazines, YouTube. Right?

If you’re still doing that type of landscape, I can’t imagine that you’re very busy because people’s expectations now are a full on outdoor living environment, right? Like, it’s not just the patio and some shrubs now. Right? Well, the patio is very complicated. Look at all the different materials that Belgard puts out, right?

Like there’s so many combinations that you can put together. You know, you can create these wonderful mosaics and patterns and textures on the ground. Now you can pick up on those same ideas in the landscaping and it doesn’t end there. Look at all the structures that we’re all implementing now. And the furniture, the accessories, the lighting, the irrigation, heating fireplaces, outdoor kitchens. It’s almost endless. And technology keeps driving this thing forward, right? It keeps getting more and more complicated every year. And the second point that you touched on was doing this over a period of time, you know, because there is so much to do now, people can get intimidated by this, not only by the vast amount of work that’s required, but the cost associated with that as well. So a lot of our projects now are master planning where we’re designing the entire property and then working with the client’s budget so that we can implement stages of the construction over coming years, which makes it feasible for clients.

Joe Raboine: It’s interesting for me being in the current position, I’m in, on the manufacturing side, working with Belgard and Oldcastle APG and having come from the field and being in the design business and the installation side of the business and seeing that evolution to where we’re at today.

One of the things that we hear from consumers is that they do want contractors who are essentially design build firms, right? Because they’re doing things like pools, fencing, pergolas different structures. In addition, obviously to the outdoor living space, obviously the plantings, but there’s still a large segment of contractors who specialize in only one of those things.

Right? So, I think a lot of contractors see that opportunity and they’re not quite sure how to make that jump. And a lot of it has to do with maybe they don’t have a design background. Maybe they don’t charge for designs because they don’t feel like they’re providing something of value. So trying to make that jump from maybe you’re a small firm and you’re doing patios, maybe, you know, occasional retaining wall driveway, but you wanna jump into that whole space. Are there some suggestions, at least from your perspective of how they could maybe make that jump? How you would approach the design part of it, or maybe connect them with a designer if they don’t feel comfortable.

I mean, I kind of threw a lot at you there, but just thinking through kind of that segment, which in some markets is a pretty sizable part of the business. You know, these smaller contractors that want to aspire to become kind of a design build partner, what are some things that, uh, that you could help them with? If you could offer some advice.

Haig Seferian: One of the things that we experienced. If I go back to kind of 2008, when, uh, kind of the world shook at that time. From that point, the world changed finance changed mortgages, changed interest rates changed, and our industry changed as well. So we had to adapt really quickly to a new world.

And what I found was a lot of these design build companies were starting to cut down on their overhead. For various reasons. One of the things that I saw was cut was the design end of things. And so we saw these design build companies not doing the design work themselves anymore, but then we saw this influx, this growth, of independent landscape designers, right.

That are now available. To not only one contractor, but to various to many contractors, that has stuck around still today but in having said that, you know, the industry has gotten very busy, very lucrative again. So we’ve seen a lot of these design built companies, hiring people again now. But the advantage I find for these companies that are using various designers is that you’re getting different inputs. You’re getting different styles, right? Different creativity into the projects. So I think there is an upside to using different designers on projects. Um, and let’s speak about design for a minute. It, it is very, very important.

You know, we talked about earlier that these, this thing just doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of experience to be able to draw a line, whether it’s straight angular, serpentine, what have you and what brings us to that point is someone that has the background in the basics, the fundamentals of design.

And I go back to some of the BU talks we’ve done over the years, Joe, you know, when we talk about design and creativity, there are not very many rules. Right, because it’s such a subjective field . You know, like art, you know, either you like it or you don’t, you adapt to it. But there are certain rules that have to be applied.

So as a designer, you know, some of the things that, whether you’re a designer or whether you’re a contractor or, or a client, you know, these are the things that you should. Providing and looking for and asking for the fundamentals, the principles of design, the elements of design form composition, these three things alone.

And we’ve taught this over the years, right? In an hour, we can create designers that know what they’re doing just by knowing these basics. Once that is ingrained in a designer or a contractor, that’s when the level starts to rise. Right. We start to see some really interesting design and, you know, contractors are getting savvyer too, right?

I mean, we didn’t have the social media when we were kids growing up. So people’s expectations now of what we provide are way up here. We talked, it’s not just the patio, a tree and a shrub anymore. There’s an expectation for this outdoor living. So how is it provided? Well, you know what, yeah, there’s a lot of independent designers that can provide this service to contractors or the whole design build end of things too.

But I think the bottom line to all this, Joe, is some people feel that the design is not an important aspect of the overall project. Okay. But it, it absolutely is. Of course, we talked about there has to be a strategy, a plan in place of where this is going. If there isn’t, if there’s no respect for the designer, the design itself, then you know, how, how do we end up promoting ourselves?

Um, so it’s important, you know, we know that the clients are looking for like a much higher level of design from contractors and designers and so anybody that’s kind of jumping into that game knows that, well, there’s a cost associated with that as well. It just doesn’t happen.

Joe Raboine: For those contractors who are interested in growing their businesses and becoming more of a design build firm, but maybe they don’t charge or are unsure about how to go about it.
I mean, what would, what are some common pointers that you could give to them to say here’s how we approach a client and maybe here’s how we talk to them on the phone and kind of set expectations and then from there what does the meeting look like? That type of thing with regard to that design process?

Haig Seferian: Generally, I tell these individuals I used to work for a design build firm. It was my first job in the industry and at that time it was a similar process that they had that you kind of gave away the design, but in the end we know nothing is free. So, whatever cost you had associated with developing that design ends up getting worked into the cost of the construction at the end of the day, the client may or may not know that, but you know, I think it’s important.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Nothing is free. Okay? So let’s take a look for a moment at what’s involved in creating this design. Even on a basic level, you’re going to have an initial meeting. You’re going to have a concept meeting to present a concept, then you’re going to have a final meeting. So there’s three meetings with a client that you have to have generally, you know what?

There’s gonna be one or two more for revisions and whatnot, but let’s leave that out of the equation for right now. Let’s look at the most conservative aspect of this, which is three meetings. So travel time an hour, right? An hour with the clients. So two hours per meeting, there’s six hours right there of your time.

Okay. Better part of a day. You’ve got the job, so now you’re gonna go do your base prep. Well, you’re gonna measure everything. If you got a zip line, right. You’re going to take the grades, create some benchmarks and spot elevations. Now you’re gonna take all that, you’re going to develop the base plan, whether you’re doing it by hand or using some type of software that’s available, you know, AutoCAD, Dynascape, what have you. So you’re creating the base plan now. Okay? You’re almost two days into this now. Okay. As an investment at this point, this is when the design work, the creativity actually starts. So now you’ve got the trace paper or the different layers you’re turning on. You’re trying different ideas.

You know, as I said earlier, generally speaking, when I take something back to a client, I may take back more than one, maybe more than two concepts, because I feel strongly about how well these things are working. So it’s going to take me hours to develop each concept for each one that I develop, I’m throwing away four or five ideas that don’t work as.

Right? So you can’t just look at the one piece of paper. You gotta look at what’s in the garbage can too, that developed how you got to that correct solution, the right solution, the best solution. Take that back to the client, just in concept form at this point, you’re gonna have that meeting, right? And there may be some revisions. Hopefully the client sees the direction that you’re going and is appreciative of it and is supporting you on it. If not, you’ve gotta make some changes. You take that back to the office. Now you’re creating that final plan. If it’s a design build firm, which generally this is what we’re talking about.
So there’s not going to be, you know, any construction detailing or this because it’s all being built in house. So let’s, let’s rule out that additional work, right. Unless it’s going out to tender. So now you’ve got basically for the average front and back of a house, you are in like 40 hours at least. So, you got a solid week of work.

Who’s ready to give that away for nothing. And there’s no guarantees. You’re gonna get the work, right? The client may just decide, you know what, once you price it, it’s too pricey. I’ll take the plan, go somewhere else. Or, you know, you don’t give them the plan. They already have your ideas now. So they’re gonna call the next guy and say, here’s what I’d like you to do and tell them all the ideas that you put down on paper. So I think it’s important to develop a level of respect between the client and this is the way it’s done. I will ask a client if there’s any hesitation on the price of doing a design, what do they do for a living? Would they give a week’s worth of their time for free, of course, nobody will do that.

So I think once that’s established, a lot of that comes from within because there is that fear that okay, if I charge ’em, they’re not gonna go with me and then, you know, I lose this potential work. You’ve gotta get over that. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Get over it. Mm-hmm because if you don’t respect yourself enough to charge for your work, the client’s not gonna respect you. And if a client feels that they’re getting something for free, think about it. They’re gonna work you to death on it. You’re gonna build it. Well, you know, don’t really like it. Why don’t you revise this? Or can we change this? Because of course you’re doing it for free in their eyes.

Right? Versus my staff, a junior designer’s a hundred dollars an hour, intermediate at 140, my senior’s 1 75. I’m 2 30, an hour, right? A client knows that right up the right up front. So think how many times are they gonna get me to change things? If I’m telling them this is the right way to do it right.

Based on my experience, the portfolio of work we bring to the table, they’re more apt to saying, “you know what? We might not see it now, but we trust you. We’re happy to pay you for it.” Versus saying, “you know, gimme more, gimme another 10 hours of come up with another concept.” That’s another $2,000.

They’re not gonna do that, but if it’s free, they’ll work you for it. So, you know, it really comes down to this level of respect. I think one that you have respect for yourself and two respect for the client and a mutual respect there. Once that’s established people realize nothing is free, so why try and hide it? Just be up front.

And if you lose that client, and as you said, Joe, if they’re not willing to spend a couple thousand dollars on a design for a construction project. That’s a hundred, 200,000. Oh my God. I just, I can’t imagine, like, I couldn’t ask somebody to build me a house without plans. Like you’re gonna spend a lot of money. Like what if it’s wrong?

Joe Raboine: I think if you don’t have that background, there’s a progression where some of the stuff I designed way back was terrible. Like I look back on it, go, “man that was terrible.” So there is a learning curve involved. One of the things, as you know, that I’ve tried to do on the manufacturing side with Belgard is, you know, we started Belgard Design Studio 10 years ago, roughly we launched Belgard Rooms last year, where we have these templated modular designs.

So we’re trying to help speed up that process and take a little bit of that pain away for contractors out there who are listening, who are aspiring to kind of get to the next level. I think if you learn some of the basic fundamentals that Haig mentioned, what are the absolute bare bones fundamentals that you need to know?

And then you pair that up with some of the tools that are out there. I mean, you could create some beautiful designs. I mean, really lean into the experience of others in the industry and start with that and get to the point where you’re comfortable. Maybe you charge 500 bucks to start with. At least you’re charging something until you feel comfortable building up your portfolio to come in and, and charge what it’s worth to spend 15, 20, 30, 40 hours on a project to bring to life just in the design part.

Hopefully, that could be a way really to think about how to get into that and start charging for what you’re worth, as Haig said.

Haig Seferian: Absolutely, Joe. The more of these designs that you do, you should be creeping your rate up every single time you do, because you’re getting better at it. You’re getting quicker at it.
You know, maybe instead of doing four or five concepts, you’re gonna do two or three concepts because you’ve got the experience now. Mm-hmm and I’ll touch on what you said earlier, too. Belgard and yourself, you guys have done a great job in developing the design studio. I remember when you first came out with it.

I was very impressed at that time and then the way it’s developed into the rooms. Oh my God. You’re absolutely right. Learn the fundamentals. And now look at the tools available. Like Belgard has all of these tools available to you. Why recreate the wheel? Right? If you’re looking at those outdoor rooms, albeit outdoor living kitchens, right?
Structures, etc., you’ve got all that created. It’s almost like Lego as you put ’em in and start moving things around, working out spatial areas and circulation and it’s a huge time saver starting from scratch.

Joe Raboine: I appreciate that. It is fascinating. You look back to how things used to be way back when, and, you know, hand sketching and changes and all that.

I mean, you spend hours and hours on design and basically just have to scrap it and start over. And you really had to start from scratch literally. Whereas today we’ve got this technology through 3D models and the renderings and even just a couple weeks ago, we launched our augmented reality piece with studios and Belgard Rooms where you can basically launch right from your mobile device into a full blown model that you can literally walk through. And you’re right, the technology has evolved to the point where you don’t need to recreate the wheel. We can help you create the scale and the size and add the features.

All you really need to do is understand how to connect those pieces and make it your own. So you can still end up with what essentially is a custom plan or I guess you could call the semi custom plan at least. To that client. It’s amazing. Right? And you can see it as a full through animation.

You can add lighting and sound and music and all those things that may, that really sped that process up and help make that emotional connection faster than you ever could with a hand sketch. I mean, it was impossible. Not, not in the way that you can today. It’s pretty crazy.

Haig Seferian: You know what, for me, even at where I’m at in my career, it’s a huge time saver.

That’s how I look at this because I know what I want. it’s there. How can I bring it in and just start to manipulate massage it so that it suits what’s in my head. Now I’m a seasoned designer. Let’s take it back to more of an intro level for those people. It might not be a time saver. It probably will be, but in my view, time saver in their view, all of a sudden they think they’re at a low level design, they start use incorporating that stuff in their design. It makes them look like an intermediate or a senior designer. Like it raises their level and I think it actually builds confidence in that person.

There’s nothing wrong with us utilizing all that information. Everything that we design and build today, we’ve seen somewhere in nature in our travels and books online. Right? And we saw something that worked and okay, how can I use that here? Right? And this is more we’re not engineering a new wheel here, right? Like we’re just reworking what’s already out there in nature. So I think it’s important for all levels of designer. As I said, for me, time saver. For more of like an intro beginner designer. It makes them look like an experienced designer.

Joe Raboine: Yeah. I mean, you think about the sharing of information today, as you mentioned earlier with social media and people come with certain expectations, the client does. They’ve seen things, their neighbors and they’ve seen it on Pinterest and house and you know, all over online on HGTV, all of these different sites.

So they have something in their mind. And now the contractors have the ability that if you look at some of the different social media sites, they’re sharing information and asking questions about certain things and seeing new ideas. So if you take that and you combine it with what we’re doing and on our side, all of a sudden you’ve got all these tools at your fingertips to really create powerful, current, unique designs for clients that will set your company apart, and when we look at it in the industry, homeowners, they are expecting these spaces and they are telling us that there is a gap trying to find contractors and designers who understand it all. Now they don’t need to do it all, but they need to at least be able to design it all and have somewhat of an understanding of all these different pieces and components.
And those are the contractors that, that we’re seeing who are growing their businesses the fastest. And that’s where we see the greatest opportunity moving forward with this industry. With the design build type firms going after these larger or even smaller outdoor spaces, but that are loaded with features, lighting, sound, structures, all of that.

So I think with that, and kind of as the context, what are your thoughts about where we’re at and kind of where we’re headed in this industry? I mean, what are you seeing.

Haig Seferian: I think the last two years, given what’s happened globally, have changed the way people are seeing and living. Certainly there’s been a lack of travel because of COVID so people have been cooped up, they’re working from home offices. So how has this affected the landscape industry? I don’t think we’ve ever seen a busier time for our industry ever. Right? Certainly not in my lifetime, total boom right now. But we need to be careful, because there’s a number of things going on.

Yes. People’s expectations are high. They’ve become very designed savvy now because of all the media outlets that are available to them, what we’re seeing is a huge influx of requests for home offices and gone are the days at the beginning, we saw people converting bedrooms and stuff into offices. Why? When they can be working outside in the garden, right? Even in colder climates, we’re building cabanas. Now they act as work studios, art studios, and then entertaining as. So that has shifted. I mean, the number of cabanas and structures going in, I can’t even think of a project now that does not have one included. It’s not just, you know, pool, patio anymore. There is a structure in every project that we work on. The other thing is lifestyle. Certainly, let’s call them upper or lavish, you know, lifestyles creating, not only these patios and entertaining areas, but spaces that have multiple, multiple uses within it. So, you know, if you’re entertaining you’ve got more intimate spaces, you’ve got larger spaces. What about the whole idea of outdoor kitchens? Right? Like this is just exploded. Right. And the bells and whistles and the toys that are available now, right. The whole idea of creating.

And water outside is monstrous as well. So these are all things that we’re creating. It’s basically taking the inside of the house, moving it to the outside of the house, treating the floors, the walls, the ceilings, exactly how you would on the interior of a house- is what we’re doing outside. And this is, I don’t see anything changing in the near future.

I think it’s only going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. I think people are going to start looking for larger properties to incorporate more of these ideas in them because it’s kind of nice. The convenience of being at home, certainly here we’re seeing people selling off properties, cottages and cabins up north, taking that money and investing it here in their own backyards where they can enjoy it every day. I don’t know. How are you seeing it, where you are, joe?

Joe Raboine: It’s exactly what we’re seeing really throughout North America, hearing kind of similar things and even talking directly the consumers, is that they understand more of what is available and what they want.

You know, outdoor living is no longer a trend. It’s really an expectation.

Haig Seferian: A hundred percent.

Joe Raboine: People are planning for these, they’re budgeting for these spaces, and they really have an idea of at least the core pieces they want in the space. So it’s a huge opportunity. I mean 20, 30 years ago, it was a challenge trying to talk them into a $3,000 paver patio, whereas today they’re coming and going, I know this is gonna be expensive, but here’s what I want.

And they just run through the list and is almost regardless of demographic, even if they’re in a middle income home, they have an expectation that they want a space outside. It may have a fire pit, maybe a grill island may not be as elaborate as someone who lives in the largest estate, but they at least have that expectation going into it, “this is what I want.”

So, it really has changed in our mind, the way people perceive these spaces and the value that they place on it. You know, we talk a lot about, you know, the shift in thinking that these spaces are almost more important for health and wellbeing than they even are for entertaining.

A lot of that has to do with what you said. They’re like a sanctuary, they’re a respite, their place to get away, to work, you know, quietly, remotely, totally different than, you know, having a space that someone entertains on, you know, once a month in the summer for you know, barbecue. Right? But they’re used for the same thing.

So as a designer, you have to think through that and really dig at those questions and try to understand what their lifestyle is or their desires are. But for us, you know, looking at where do we go from here? Yes, there will be economic challenges. There always are. Things can, they’ll go up and down a bit, but we believe that I guess the pause in the last two years has almost shifted the baseline.

If you look back, maybe 20% of the public was planning on investing in an outdoor space. Today, if it even shifted 5%, if you look at North America, all of a sudden you’ve got 20 million new customers. Right? So if you look at the number of contractors we have, there’s a shortfall, right. And there was a shortfall before COVID, there’s gonna be one projected after, it’s just the way trades are in general.

So, you know, one of the things we look at is recruitment and engagement and, you know, trying to draw that next generation. I know, design is one way to do that. I mean, the projects that we build are beautiful. They do change people’s lives and they’re exciting, they’re creative, you know? So us as an industry, I think if we can start there and attract the next generation and through that process, um, it’s just a good tool to bring them in for every aspect of the business and provide really endless opportunities for anybody who’s thinking about joining this industry. I mean, the sky’s really the limit.

Haig Seferian: Again, the last two years, I think have opened people’s eyes to, “what is the landscape industry?” Albeit design, construction, maintenance, you know, lighting, irrigation, it goes on and on. Whereas people may not have known, certainly they know the word landscape, but you know, if they didn’t know exactly what we did they do now.

Right? For many, many reasons. And even more so than that, Joe, they realize the value of what we bring to them. A, in terms of lifestyle and B, in terms of resale. There was a time, and again, I go back to the eighties when somebody spent money on landscape, generally speaking, if you saw 10% of that, 15% of that in resale down the road, you did okay.

Right now, you do something really well, you’re guaranteed a hundred percent return. Like if you’re dropping 100,000 K in your backyard, you’re getting that back when you resell the house, right? It’s not depreciating at all. And if it’s done really well, if peoples come in and their eyes just go, wow. They will bid on it. Like you’re gonna get more than a hundred percent for that. Right? What is a bigger compliment than that to the designer, the contractor and the homeowner that they nailed it? Whatever they did there, they nailed it. And it’s not going to go away. Will never have to be redone, right? So the value is there now.

You talk about recruitment as well. Yeah, this is a big issue. As much as the clients have now seen the value in what we do. I think the younger generation. Their eyes have been open to saying, wow, what is this whole industry that, you we really didn’t learn anything about in high school?

It’s now presented to them that this is an occupation, right? This is an entire industry worth billions of dollars every year. It’s creative, you’re outside. I mean, that’s what drew me in initially. I had no idea that I I’d be doing this when I was back in school, but you know, when I started reading about, well, “what is landscape?, what do you do?” Creativity, using your hands, being outside, I’m thinking, “oh right, I don’t want to be in an office all day long.” Right? Like I wanna be out communicating with people, building things, creating things. This is what drew me, and this word is slowly getting out. We do a lot of work up here with students and colleges and universities, and you know, we’ll go in- I certainly go and do my fair share of presentations to them too, basically to introduce this world to them. It’s interesting how many people are coming on board, but they require some guidance too. So I think that’s where I know Belgard is doing it. We really need to bring these people into our fold because there is, you are 100% right, a shortage right now. A shortage in labor, a shortage in creativity. In design, a lot of our trades up here, we’re already lost for this year. Like we’re booking well into next year. Now I’m telling clients like, “Yeah, you’re not getting anything built this year.” We just started june, like what year could we have said this in the past, right?

Where we’re booking, years into the future. But anyway, this is it. This is the future of where we are. I don’t think anything is changing. If anything, it’s only gonna get busier because we keep coming up with new materials, new ways of doing things and look at what we’ve done. It’s not just stone and plants anymore, right? It’s an entire lifestyle that we’re creating with them.

Joe Raboine: It is interesting when you take a design driven approach versus, just kind of a features and benefits or a product driven approach, totally different conversation, because you’re right. If someone comes in and just shows them the catalog -and we do a ton of catalogs, we love our contractors that use them -but if you don’t explain in context to the design, the first question out of their mouth is, “well, which one’s the least expensive?” or, “What’s the difference with price point?” And if you start a conversation there, it really has nowhere else to go. Right? You think about it and in the context of the project, you know, I’ll use the analogy- it’s kind of like if you’re gonna buy a Cadillac and you ask them to pull the power windows off to save a thousand dollars, right? Yeah. It’s a hundred thousand dollars car, whatever the number is, you know, at the end of the day, the materials are an insignificant, really a part of the overall percentage.

I mean, a lot of it’s labor. And other aggregates that go into the projects, but to shift from a standard paver to like a porcelain paver for a typical project might only be a couple thousand dollars. So in the context of that project, it might be 1- 2% of the project costs, 3%.

So, what I always tell our contractors we’d love to sell you any of it, we don’t care which one it is. They all have different value proposition, but don’t make that decision for the client really make the best decision for their lifestyle, for their budget, for their home and go from there. And don’t, don’t sell it just purely on the price. If most people are honest, the price is usually third or fourth on their list behind quality, behind great design, you know, workmanship, all that.

Haig Seferian: And that’s a change that we’ve seen Joe over the years, because if I go back 30, 40 years, It was generally price that drove everything, but because of all this public education now, and obviously the quality of materials going up every year. That price point drops down to number three or four on the list of what people are looking for. It’s much more attainable now, so they wanna see great design. And I think for the most part, people expect to pay for that now, too. Hey, you know what I’m gonna encourgage everyone and anyone who is listening, you’ve gotta go see what the design studio, what is there for you for your use. It’s an incredible resource for everyone. A lot of time, a lot of energy has gone into creating this, and I gotta tell you, I’m a fan of it. I love what they’ve done.

Joe Raboine: Awesome. Appreciate the plug Haig. We’re gonna continue to invest in it. We’ve got, I think around 120 rooms now, we’re gonna double that by the end of the year, and we’re just gonna continue to plow resources into it. And again, our goal isn’t to take away the creativity of the designer. Our goal is to just provide the tools that can really elevate that overall design and speed it up to deliver a better overall project.

Haig Seferian: You’re making my job easier honestly, because I can just take these rooms and then it’s not me just copy and pasting, it’s me bringing in what you’ve done and you’ve developed all of those based on actual scenarios that do work. So there’s nothing in there that doesn’t work. And then I’m taking that and massaging that into what I feel is gonna work best for the site. You’re just saving me a whole lot of time and putting all this stuff together.

Joe Raboine: Awesome. Well, that was our hope. We can actually help create those visual presentation tools. We can provide some of the models, materials, all of the backend as well, that, I mean, you think about if after you do a design, you have to do a breakdown, try to pull all the materials out and then create a list and order and all that. We can really boil that down for them as well. And just speed that process up. So it’s exciting I can’t believe where the industry has come to it’s a pretty cool time to be in it.

Haig Seferian: Absolutely. And you know what, you’ll see some creative reuse of some products that you may not have thought of. You know, you may think that stone is meant just to go on paving or, you know, building up sides, but you’ll start to see different ways that they’ve incorporated using their materials into many, many different, you know, ARBs, pillars, planters, columns, etc., ways that you would not have thought of perhaps in the past and it’s all drawn for you. It’s a great resource.

Joe Raboine: I appreciate that. Well, I’d like to thank you again for joining us. I do have one last question. I think it’s the last, at least for now -you’ve been in the industry for quite some time, as I have. I mean, what is it about this industry that you find most fulfilling? What is it that drives you? And I guess when you kind of look toward the future, what is it about the future that you get excited about?

Haig Seferian: It’s one of those things. I love what I do. I do love getting up in the morning. I love going to work. I love seeing my staff, seeing the inspiration on their faces. I love looking at the projects that they’re creating, the creativity involved, the ideas that are coming out. I make it sound like it’s this wonderful world, and it is to me, but you know, there’s headaches and problems along the way where you get into construction, you know, but at the end of the day, what drives me is when a project is done, if you followed all of those rules, the guidelines of getting there, you’ve created a wonderful design. You’ve built this fantastic product, the clients come out and it’s just that, it’s that first couple seconds where you can see it in their eyes that, “Oh my God, this is what we envisioned.” Just think. And you could see the two of them talking to each other, thinking, “Think of all the years of enjoyment we’re going to have in this space, ourselves, our family, entertaining,” Right? Like that makes it worthwhile.
And constantly learning along the way. Travel is good because you see things, you see how people use spaces, but even in our own designs, watching families use the space, I’m constantly learning too. So for these reasons, it never gets boring for me. It’s exciting. As I said, I’m not really stuck behind a desk, you know, so yes, there’s desk time, but then there’s, you know, most of it is on site. You’re dealing with construction and directing surprises coming up when you dig a hole, right?

And, coming up with solutions and let’s not overlook that Joe. During construction, the difference between a good contractor and a bad contractor, a good one knows things are gonna happen. You can’t really allow for it, but you know, something’s gonna happen. But the difference is a good one comes up with solutions, right?

Before I get the call saying, “Hey, look, uh, we dug this thing up and, uh, but here’s what, how we think we should deal with it.” Alright. We’re well, on our way in resolving it versus maybe a more inexperienced contractor may go, “Okay, well I gotta call the client for an extra and you know, no, you will most likely get an extra, but that’s not the way to approach it.”

Right? Solution-based designs, right? Everything should be solvable. So, anyway, I know I’ve listed a hundred things there, but every aspect of design and construction, I find exciting.

Joe Raboine: No, I love that. I mean, well, number one, I share the same passion as you know, and there is nothing better really than, than creating something from nothing.

There’s lots of trades. My father was a carpenter and there’s lots of different ways to, I guess, get that fulfillment. I just look at, in the outdoor living world, I mean, what a cool industry to be in. You think about it. You’re creating spaces that people. Love that they’re creating memories in that are truly enjoying and they’re outside and I mean, to me, it doesn’t get any better. So I think if we can share that passion with our contractors in the next generation, and like I said, the sky’s really the limit and there’s just unprecedented opportunities out there.

Well, awesome. Well, thanks again for joining us. It’s always a pleasure. I know you and I could probably talk for days and I know that we have, throughout the years.

Haig Seferian: Thank you, Joe. It’s a lot of fun, always fun chatting with you, but most importantly, teaching people, right? Letting them know these resources that are available to them. So yeah, a lot of fun. I look forward to doing more of these with you.

Joe Raboine: To learn more about Haig and Seferian Design Group, visit or Seferian Design on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter.
Hope you enjoyed listening today. For more details about today’s episode or to catch up on other episodes, head over to

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