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Contractor’s Corner: Tips to Elevate Your Business

February 21, 2023

The outdoor living industry has been riding a high for the past three years. While there is the expectation that there will be a slight cool-off this year, that’s not to say your calendars won’t be full. Extended time spent at home means your customers value their outdoor living spaces more than ever.  

The increased demand also means higher demand from your business. Not just from a labor perspective – but on service offerings all around. Homeowners want to feel heard and have higher expectations, but this shouldn’t be intimidating. This offers you the opportunity to learn more and truly elevate your business.  

Tips for becoming a one-stop shop  

With homeowner expectations leveling up, it’s the opportune time to reinvent yourself and your business. 

Diversify your services  

Adding to and diversifying your services can help you accomplish the goal of becoming a robust design-build firm. Having more capabilities can help you stand out against your competition, even if you just add one or two additional specialties.  

This also helps you aid your clients better in the decision-making process. You can guide them better on product selections, confirming what works well from both the design and build perspectives.  

It also streamlines the project management process. Homeowners will pay a premium to have your expert guidance to manage and execute the project, rather than dealing with multiple contacts.  

Invest in Partnerships  

Finding the right partners is also key to business development. Tradeshows are an amazing place to make connections that will impact your business years down the road.  

These events showcase a variety of what the industry has to offer, allowing you to find niche companies you can partner with to enhance efficiencies and be more successful.  

Simply networking in the industry outside of organized events also allows you to meet your peers and share knowledge. 

Learn business tips from Turf’s Up CEO Darren Gruner (and Joe Raboine) n Inside Out with Belgard

Trusting Tools & Technology  

As the industry matures, so do the tools and technologies that can help you better serve your clients. Equipment efficiencies are making jobs easier, meaning less strain on your labor force and more time to take on new projects.  

New technology, such as augmented reality, is also making the design process smoother. Being able to show a client an almost exact representation of their space means less back and forth and a better end result.  

Learn More on Inside Out with Belgard 

Want to hear more about elevating your business and the latest industry trends? Make sure to listen to episode 10 of Inside out with Belgard, featuring Turf’s Up CEO Darren Gruner.  

Inside Out with Belgard is available wherever you listen to podcasts.  

Read Podcast Transcript Here

Joe Raboine: Welcome back 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, and we’re thrilled to bring you the latest insights from some of the top experts in the industry.

Today I am thrilled to welcome Darren Gruner to the podcast. Darren is known throughout the country for his continuing efforts to help elevate and educate the green industry through his 24/7 live internet radio station, Turfs Up Radio. I had the honor recently of joining his show and looking forward to reconnecting.

Darren, welcome. How’s it going?

Darren Gruner: Hey, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It’s nice to see you again.

Joe Raboine: Yeah, likewise. It’s a pleasure having you on the show. I know you have the privilege and honor of talking to contractors in our industry throughout North America. Just give us a quick maybe history of how you came here, where you came from.

I’m sure a lot of our audience already knows who you are, but for those who don’t, I think it’s a pretty interesting story.

Darren Gruner: Oh, geez. A, a quick, quick one.

Joe Raboine: You could take a few minutes. Yeah.

Darren Gruner: I started to be a lawnmower when I was a kid, and I became a landscaper. And now here I am now. I’m just kidding.

You know, it’s the same story and it’s great to hear and you know, a lot of you know that I started a podcast in, you know, up in the northeast in the Philadelphia area called Turfs Up and just to try to help some people in the local area. And when I got done, I thought of this great idea to go out and help others throughout the country.

That’s when we created Turfs Up Radio. But I didn’t realize how many other people were doing the same thing. And how many other people had the same story, the same background from I started with a lawnmower and I did this and did that. And, you know, that’s my story. And, you know, the whole nine yards. And I got into everything and I dabbled into just about, not just dabble, but I learned and to grow in the industry and become the best landscaper I can be.

And now I want to help kind of give back. And that’s why it created Turf’s Up Radio to help give back, elevate and educate the industry and give something to the younger people in the industry that I didn’t have the privilege of having.

Joe Raboine: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. It’s funny you laugh in the beginning. I think that story is probably shared with, I don’t know, a good 90% of this industry. Right? You started out doing something pretty simple, right? Whether it was mowing lawns, or might have been doing, you know, brick pavers or even plantings and evolved into something much greater.

What are some of the things you’re hearing from contractors as you talk to ’em throughout the country?

Darren Gruner: Well, I’m not hearing anything negative. I think that we are empowered with Covid. I think that we have this sense of confidence now as an industry that we can do anything.

We can conquer anything. Not like what happened back to us in 2007, 2008 with the recession. Just the housing market dropped and no one wanted to spend any money. Here all of a sudden now, the confidence is amazing. What’s really cool is what I’m finding out is that people are wanting to diversify.

People are wanting to do bolt on businesses. They want to do more, they wanna learn more, and they want to be educated, and they want to start offering their clients much more than what they’re offering now.

Joe Raboine: Yeah. You know, we’re hearing the same thing, I think. I mean, there was for a lot of contractors, I know ones that I talked to at least, you know, they’re a little tired after the last couple years.

Right. It’s, you know, they’ve been growing. It’s been great. I mean, absolutely fantastic. I think it seems like things are just settling down a bit, which gives them an opportunity to kind of maybe reevaluate and just reassess where they’re at. And I think your point is a great one.

Because everyone was so busy, they may not have had the time to take that pause and to really think about, is my business set up the way it should be? Am I doing, you know, what I need to be doing is? Are there opportunities beyond what I’m currently doing? And I would say absolutely yes. I think COVID really, I guess amplified the need to be outside and how beneficial it is and it also helped, you know, create this expectation that these spaces are, they’re not a fad. They’re here to stay. And they’re very important to people’s lives. The challenge is how do they get them right? And so a lot of our contractors, if they’ve been growing, and especially if they started in the last few years, or even the last five years, they maybe hyper specialized.

Like they do pavers, they just do maintenance or maybe they dabble a little bit in all, but feels like the big opportunity really is kind of going after that whole space, right? And making it easy. And that can be a daunting idea, right? I mean if you’re going from one or two specialties to all of a sudden you’re doing the whole thing.

That’s a pretty significant jump, wouldn’t you say?

Darren Gruner: Yeah, and it’s something funny that I, you know, I coach others about the business model that I do. The reason why I’m even doing it is because I really believe that our homeowners are dying for people that do more, that can handle the whole gamut, you know, and a lot of the big keywords now, you know, the biggest keyword right now I’m hearing is not I’m a landscaper or I’m a lawn maintenance contractor. I’m a design build specialist. I’m a design builder, and that means everything kind of puts everything in perspective. So people are, the guys and the gals are wanting to learn and do more.

Joe Raboine: It’s interesting, I started to hear another term for that, which is a little bit different. It’s design manage, right?

Where you might not even own any equipment. You’re just designing and you’re basically general contracting all of it. And I think the cool thing is, it feels like, and I think you alluded to this earlier, is that this industry has finally matured to the point where homeowners do take it seriously.

I think for many, many years, the contractor, especially the landscape contractor, was looked down upon it. It wasn’t maybe the same caliber as someone in construction or a plumber or electrician. But now I think people truly see and appreciate that and so, for those listeners out there are thinking about, you know, should I make that jump?

I would say, you know, from my perspective, you know, being at a company like Oldcastle and Belgard, that absolutely there’s a need there. That in fact there are very few companies as a percentage in this industry who actually are doing full service design build or design manage…truly are endless opportunities with that.

So having lived through that yourself, what would be some tips of advice that you could give a listener in terms of how do you make that jump?

Darren Gruner: It’s a tough one. And, you know, I work with a lot of the, you know, the people that are on Turf’s Up Radio, there’s a lot of consultants that have their own shows on our station that are doing specialized consulting for people that want to do specialty work or whatever your lawn maintenance person or if you’re a construction or paver installer, they’ll work directly with you.

And like you mentioned, I don’t own a shovel. I have a tape measure and a wheel. Cause you know, you really need to find where the money’s coming from. Right. And to me, everything’s relationships.

Everything is relationships. Everything. Whether it’s a relationship with your vendor or your clients or your employees is still a relationship. What’s the most valuable relationship you have at all is gonna be your client relationship. So if you have a good background in knowing how to do all of the things that you’re selling, you can manage, you can do what you’re saying, design and manage the job without doing the job. Without being there. So the thing is, again, and I talk about this with my coaching students, I talk about there, we don’t have competition. We can all, and I tell people, you know, if we get a group of guys and gals together, I’ll ask them to raise their hand.

And what is it that you like to do most out of what you’re doing? So most people, I’m telling you, if I have 30 people, not everybody’s gonna raise their hand about the same thing. So we can all work together and build a really successful business separately. You know, with your partners, but separately and be better.

And you can be the manager. You can form those relationships and be the manager and be successful.

Joe Raboine: Yeah. I love that. Life really is at every level, all about relationships. Right. And I think, you know, you said it best you know, when you’re thinking about, so your customers, you have to, obviously that’s your core relationship.

But when you think about expanding, and it can be daunting if you start to talk about adding decks and all these other features, pools, but it’s interesting because I talk to a lot of contractors as well and a lot of them would say, you know, I would love to partner with other contractors in my market.

They either don’t have the time or they feel like they can’t have that conversation. Like there was one individual actually, Joe Palimeno, I think you know well, up in the northeast, in the Philly market. He said, man, I would love to work more with local contractors, hardscape specialists, fence specialists. People don’t really ask me. I have to go look for those people, but I can’t be the best at everything. And, you know, to be able to do all that you need to partner and align with people. So I think more than anything, just start having conversations, right? Get involved in trade organizations, get involved locally. Make those connections and just talk to people who you may view as competitors.

But, I think you come to find out that there’s plenty for everybody. And sometimes when you make those relationships and those alliances, man, everybody can grow and benefit from that.

Darren Gruner: Let me tell you about the competition. So I have five or six landscapers that work under our umbrella. They’re separate businesses, but 95% of the jobs that they get are done through me, because I’m building the relationships, I’m creating the jobs, and I’m putting them to work.

Sometimes they’re on the same job. Now, they’re competition, right? And they’re on the same job. They get along like they’re brothers. They love to exchange stories, but why? Because they’re like-minded professionals. They’re gonna get along better with each other than they will with somebody that doesn’t have anything to do with this business.

So it makes sense and it really feels good when you get ’em together, you get ’em all together.

Joe Raboine: Well and you know, that idea of sharing best practices, proximity, I think like-minded people who are working towards similar goals only sharpen each other’s skills, right? And you think about, I remember when I was contracting and some of my best friends actually were competitors of mine back in the day.

But you have conversations and you respect those people because they’re good competition and they make you stronger. You know, when you look at this industry overall, I think a lot of times there’s this mindset and especially in local markets, that there’s only a finite size pie, right?

And the reality is though, the better we collectively make this experience, the broader that, and the larger that pie grows, right? So if you have a bunch of individuals who are working together independently and together, right? With their own businesses. In a given market, you should be growing that market and creating better experiences, and ultimately your customers benefit because they’re gonna get better projects, but everyone can collectively benefit.

So I think it’s a mistake to think, man, I hate this guy. I hate these guys. I mean, they’re going up against them. And when you get to know your competitors and you respect them, I think it just opens up a whole new opportunity. And you can see there’s certain markets where you can see that has happened already, where you know, people are essentially, they’ve raised the bar for that market, which is good for everybody.

Darren Gruner: I think that people are already starting, you know, kind of agree to that mindset and adopt that mindset. And we have on Turf’s Up Radio, we have a website called It’s because we believe that plumbers need hardscapers, hardscapers need electricians, so on and so forth, and other landscapers. And we created that website so you can go in, you can actually grab somebody that’s in your local market to be a partner with.

The most important thing, again, is your client. And if you made your way in the door, they trust you. You can be doing anything you want for them.

So why just be the paver guy? Why not say, instead of saying, and why can’t you do, why can’t you control the synthetic turf or the porcelain pavers or the tiles that you want to put on that? Why can’t you, because you’ve made that relationship already. So, and I think that people starting to understand that, hey, can you get me in, you know, how do I get in. You get in with other people and then you start to grow from there.

Joe Raboine: I think it’s a great point. And actually I’m gonna talk a little bit selfish plug for Oldcastle APG and what we’re doing with products here in a minute.

Darren Gruner: I buy all my products from you guys.

Joe Raboine: Awesome, man. I appreciate that. But you think about if you’re a designer and you said that, you know, you essentially are selling that trust, right? You’ve established this level of trust, and if this client is looking for a, especially a comprehensive plan, right? With a full blown outdoor space with plants, all of that, if you get too pigeonholed into what you’re selling, are you really working on behalf of that client or are you working on behalf of your company?

Right. I think there’s a big difference there. If we dial it back a few years ago with Belgard for instance, you know, it was all, we were all about selling the hardscapes, sell hardscapes, sell hardscape…

Belgard, which is a brand underneath Oldcastle APG. We recently, Oldcastle, in the last five years, we purchased a composite deck company called MoistureShield.

Last year we purchased a company called Barrette Outdoor Living, which makes, also makes composite decking, railing and fencing. We purchased Pebbletec, so we have all these different pieces of a space. And the reason that we did that is that the clients for one are expecting mixed materials, right?

Or they have applications that don’t lend themselves to hardscape, right? You can’t build a deck off of an exposed basement. With hardscape, really not. You can do a hybrid, but not fully, right? But more importantly, if you think about, if we put ourselves in a customer-centric mindset and you are their designer of choice, you really have to step back and look at this unobjectively, and in some cases, like I say this to even some of our contractors, look, there might be an instance where there’s an application where maybe hardscape doesn’t make sense. Maybe it should be natural stone for whatever reason. If you are the designer, you really need to work on behalf of that client. And so the same thing happens if you come there and you’re just gonna pitch, you know, a Holland Stone paver or some type of tumble product or whatever, Mega Arbell, if it’s a Belgard product and you don’t open up another option for them, you know that level of trust is somewhat broken. Correct? I mean, you think this guy’s just here to pitch me, right? Which no one wants.

Darren Gruner: Well, you gotta understand, I know the mindset you’re talking about. My mindset is I’m a designer.

You know, I’m gonna work with the client to give them exactly what they want, and it’s not gonna be the same thing as somebody else can do. I wanna do something a little bit more out of the box. Here’s a great example. I mean, I do this all the time. I use travertine, I use Belgard pavers, I use synthetics and porcelain on the same job.

A lot of the times to create just some nice features out there. And you can see that if you’re going through, and people go through Pinterest all the time. Your clients out there, they’re going through Pinterest. Oh, I love this, I love this. And if you look at all the different elements, where do I get all that stuff to be able to get it all in one place?

Oh, that’s great. That’s why I go over to here.

Joe Raboine: No, we appreciate that. I mean, we still have some work to do. I mean with consolidating, but the idea for us is always thinking about how do we make this easier for, ultimately, the end client, right? That should be all our goals, right?

But obviously for our contractors and our dealers is, can we work with product development and design to create products that are designed better to work together? The answer is yes, and that’s why we purchased these companies.

Darren Gruner: Makes sense.

Joe Raboine: And then ultimately, can we deliver it and provide it at a more cost effective, more efficient price, you know, have better service. And so a lot of our contractors will ask us, like, what are you guys doing? I mean, what’s going on here? You know, Belgard’s been around a long time. You’re, you know, well known as a leading hardscape company, and now you own all these other companies. We’re looking at this space as the final product.

That space as a product, just like you’re buying a car. A car isn’t just made up of tires and metal. It’s got a lot of other pieces in there, just like an outdoor living space. So for us, it was a big departure when we first made that jump and purchased a composite deck company. We hated decks before that, right?

I mean, we were all about the hardscape. But now you look at it, that’s what the consumer wants. They want these spaces that are complete spaces with lots of different materials.

Darren Gruner: You caught on because we were doing it years ago now. I was up in the northeast and we’re using a different product. Years ago. In the 90s and EP Henry, I was using EP Henry for a long, long time. And I know you guys acquired EP Henry, great product as well, but we would build decks too. And we couldn’t get it at EP Henry, you know? So that’s really good. But the answer to your question really is, you know when a contractor’s asking you, why are you doing this?

We’re growing, and by the way, so should you, and we’re expanding. And so should you, and do you want to stay like your competition? And be in that rut of just all you’re doing is pavers, pavers, pavers, and not really offering your client anything more.

They’re gonna leave, they’re gonna find somebody else that can do more. Right.

Joe Raboine: Yeah, no, absolutely. You know, and there’s certain markets I would say, look at Florida for instance, I know you’re down in Florida now, where there is endless opportunity to go after that type of clientele. Right.

And kind of coming back to full circle to what we talked about in the beginning, if you’re a contractor and you’re seeing things starting to soften a little bit or you’re worried that they may soften, I mean, I don’t watch the news anymore. I just read about it once in a while. Because I don’t like to have my day dictated by what I see in the news, but if you’re even concerned about it, like, look, hey, ask the questions. Go partner with local people, other contractors. But I would say more importantly, reach out to manufacturers such as ourselves. I mean, we are focused on this type of growth and we see this broad opportunity and we will do whatever we can do to help our partners succeed.

I mean, we’ve got training programs, we’ve got loyalty programs, we have teams of experts, I would say that have decades each, some of them, in the industry who’ve lived through this, that are here to help you grow. And I would say take advantage of that. I mean start watching videos, start learning and really start educating yourselves to become that expert in your market.

Right. I mean, I think there definitely are people out there, but there are not enough people to meet the demand that’s there for that type of client.

Darren Gruner: Yeah. They’re constantly growing. Talk about, you know, here in Florida. I mean, it’s constantly under construction. There’s so much work to do.

Listen, I’m telling you, I invite all of my competition to come down. There’s enough work down here for everyone without a doubt. And I would say with their second generation, we might be like the tail end or the beginning of like the first generation guys, right?

You and me. And you know, when we really got things started, I mean, pavers have been around for years and years, but we really commercialized. We really were the first generation and these second generation people that are in the industry, they’re lucky that they had us. They’re lucky. We’re gonna teach you, we’re gonna help you along the way.

We struggled, we went through all the heartaches. And again, with companies like yours making a difference to help elevate and educate, that’s such an important part of it. And that concept, if you’re with a company that’s gonna help you grow your business, why would you go anywhere else, you know?

Joe Raboine: Well, and thank you. I appreciate that. I think too, you know, I’ve never had an experience where if I’ve asked for help, people have told me no. Right? So find people that you respect that have been around for a while and just ask them how they did it. Say, I mean, I go out for a cup of coffee, you know, or hire as a consultant. Ask them to be your mentor.

I mean, like you said, I mean, I’m at the point in my career where I love doing that stuff. I love giving back. I mean, that’s part of the reason I love doing the podcast is to try to share some of that 30+ years of knowledge that I have. And there’s a lot of things I did that were a complete mistake in hindsight.

And, you know, I think people have been around a long time. Like I would love to, you know, help you give some pointers on not making some of those mistakes and setting yourself up for success. And today, more than ever, there are endless ways to connect with people and to tap into that knowledge.

I mean, you go back in the 90s for example, you didn’t have YouTube. You didn’t have anything to really pull from other than some brochures, maybe occasional video that you might find somewhere. But that was it. I mean, there weren’t a lot of resources.

Darren Gruner: No. And you’re finding a lot more people that are really wanting to help too, which is good.

A lot of people want to help. If you ask any teacher out there, they’re gonna say, you’re gonna learn more by teaching. You know, and you’re gonna learn a lot. You gain a lot that way too. So it’s good for us to be able to. To teach and consult because I’m learning more every day and I learn so much from these guys all the time.

I listen to the guys on Turf’s Up Radio every day, and Eric Jones blows my mind. I mean, these guys are just incredible, incredible guy that are, you know, things are happening differently, all over the country. And I’m like, wow, I didn’t know that I can do something like that.

Still to this day, after 40+ years in the business, still learning.

Joe Raboine: Well then you look at the convergence of all the technology too, you know, in terms of design, in terms of managing your business, in terms of executing contracts and installing. I mean, it really has never been a better time to get into this business.

I mean, there’s resources everywhere and for those who wanna grow and really reach, you know, reach their full potential, the sky is truly the limit really, isn’t it?

Darren Gruner: Absolutely. You know, I heard this morning that the average career in this industry is 37 years. That’s insane. And the reason why is because once you get in it, you realize even if you fail, you can get back up and do it again and again and again.

You know, that’s what happened to me a couple times. More than a couple times. But, I mean, it’s such a great industry to be in, easy to get into. We’d love and we need more and more people in it anyway. We really do.

Joe Raboine: There’s certainly a huge need, you know, and for those listeners out here, maybe they’re working for somebody, you know, or thinking about starting, or they’re in college or in high school.

Man, I can’t say enough good things about the business, as you said it. The contractors that are in this, the people who work in this industry really are the same everywhere, right? They love people, they love being outside. They’re just authentic, genuine people. And there’s nothing better than, you know, working with your hands and creating something from nothing.

And especially creating the spaces that truly impact people’s lives that they use to, you know, connect with friends and family and neighbors and, you know, help them with their overall health and wellbeing. I mean, I can’t think of a better industry to be in, honestly. So if you’re thinking about it, jump in and ask for help.

So what are some of the different trends that you’re seeing out there? I mean, you talk to lots of people, what are they telling you? What’s cool and exciting that’s happening out there in terms of trends?

Darren Gruner: Two big things right now. I think the biggest thing right now is landscape lighting.

People are starting to realize how easy it is to do. I mean, it is easy. And if you just apply yourself. All you have to do is want to do it, right. So, and the good thing about my business is all these guys that I, all these people that work for me, whether they’re landscapers or paver installers or lighting, irrigation, whatever, they’ll give me jobs and then I empower them to do other things too.

So they love it. They love that diversification. They’re constantly getting educated. I did something this morning.

But so lighting is the biggest thing. I think that that’s gonna be the newest trend that most people are gonna be doing, are gonna find out how easy it is. A lot of people coming off of jobs that were outside of the industry, one again, and how do I get in quickly?

And they’re gonna say lighting is gonna be probably the easiest and fastest way to make some money. You can’t just be a lighting person all the time in your market. You’ll have to do other things too.

So there’s synthetic turf. That’s also a big thing right now.

Synthetic turf. I know, I know Oldcastle carries synthetic turf as well. So I mean, those are the two biggest trends I think, that are happening. Especially if you’re installing pavers, you can easily install turf. Because you do it on the same exact base.

Joe Raboine: It’s exactly the same.

With the advent of LED, you know what, a decade ago, I mean, that changed everything. It’s so easy. And to your point, I mean, that’s still I think, the number one thing that contractors omit or don’t even offer when they’re talking to their client. And you think about, that’s when 80% of the time you’re using these spaces is in the evening, right?

I mean people are, you know, back from work and it totally transforms the space. It creates something that feels magical, right?

Darren Gruner: My backyard is gorgeous at night, more beautiful than during the day. I just love being outside at night. It’s so nice because of the lighting.

Joe Raboine: For sure. Yeah. And we, as you know, we sell lighting too.

I mean, and we have some packages. We make it super easy. It’s app controlled. You’ve got spots. You can even do color changing now. So I mean, compared, again, going back to the incandescent ball, I mean that, that you actually had to do some math and figure out voltage drop it all. Like here, you just clip and go.

And that’s pretty straightforward.

Darren Gruner: I think when you talk incandecent to the younger guys, it’s like saying a rotary phone.

Joe Raboine: Oh, ancient. I know. Yeah. I’m completely dating myself. When you’re talking to one of your clients and you start talking about product, what are some insights that you could give us in terms of that?

Darren Gruner: As far as product is concerned, usually, people have an idea of what they want by looking at pictures, right? So there’s a difference between the products that they’re seeing online or wherever, and then what they actually have, what’s good for them at their house, right? Like you can look and see a beautiful driveway. I love this Napoli Catalina driveway by Belgard, and it looks great at that house. I want that on my property. Someone like me that comes in as a designer that brings value. And I can say, well, that product doesn’t work though. Amarado would look better with your, the color would look better with your house.

So that’s the thing. So because you have to consider, you know, as designers, what we do is we consider the environment in which your house is sitting. That’s what brings value to the clients. Talk about project management. Homeowners see what they like and it’s our job to convey that message to them to say, look, what you’re looking at is everything.

It’s a compilation of everything there. So what we need to do is we find the pieces and parts of that, and we can incorporate that into your home. So the value of a designer and someone that actually project manages is someone that can actually do something like that for wake them up and help them understand and then implement it and put it into the job and make it work, and there’s a lot of value there for the client.

Joe Raboine: I love that. I’ve heard the analogy that a good designer is kinda like a chef, right? I mean, anybody can buy ingredients to make something, right? But that doesn’t always taste great until an experienced chef puts it together with the right ratios, the right combination, to make something that truly is amazing, right?

And it’s kind of the same thing, right? You’ve gotta take all these different pieces into consideration when you’re trying to create something that really is perfect for that client.

Darren Gruner: I created a logo and a podcast called The Landscape Hero. And I say to people all the time, I ask them if they’re landscape heroes.

I didn’t have time to actually start the show. But the reality is that we all need to be the landscape hero. And what I mean by that is that our clients will ask us to do something for them. We can’t be the “yes ma’am, no ma’am,” you know, person, we have to be the, well, let’s see how we can do this.

How can we make this work? That’s what they need. They’re begging you to do that. You don’t know that, they might not be asking you directly, but they need you to be the landscape hero. Someone that could actually take what they’re asking for and turn it into something that they really want.

That’s the key.

Joe Raboine: It is interesting, just thinking back to when I was contracting too. Someone may have an idea and if you, you know, for whatever reason that you mentioned, like, you know what, I hear what you’re saying, but I really don’t think that’s best for you. I think this would be a better way, 99.9% of the time, to your point, they totally embrace that.

Like, oh, okay. Well I wasn’t sure. I just thought it looked cool, but yeah, that makes sense. Right. And I think sometimes when you’re starting out, you’re afraid to have that type of conversation.

Darren Gruner: Absolutely, don’t be afraid of that. And by the way, it’s hard to, you know, we talk about charging for designs, a lot more people are doing that.

And you know, we’re not charging little for designs. Our time is worth money. You know, I’ll tell you right now, I get $1,500 minimum from my design. I give ’em a little break and I say, listen here, this is what I can do. If you hire me to do the job I’m gonna create a design for you. If you hire me to do the job, I’ll take some money off so you don’t feel like you spent too much money.

At the end, they usually don’t care and never even ask me for the discount at the end because they love it, but they feel comfortable and they want, I said, the reason why you need to design is cause we wanna see that we’re on the same page. You and I are in the same room at the same time.

We’re experiencing something completely different. Whether you think it or not, we are. You know, you’re looking at me. I’m looking at you. You know what I mean? So we have to figure that out. We have to convey that to our client and let ’em realize we need to be on the same page in order for you, talk about apples to apples.

That’s how you derive to that. That’s how you come to that.

Joe Raboine: Yeah, no, a hundred percent agree. Yeah, you can’t have a high quality project without a high quality design and absolutely need to charge for that. Your experience and knowledge is invaluable, right? It’s gonna cost you no matter what.

Whether you say you charge for it or not, it still costs you something. Nothing’s free.

Darren Gruner: Let’s just imagine I did a design for, I have 52 weeks outta the year, right? I mean, really less because you need to take a vacation, you have to have some time off. I got 52 weeks out of the year. Well, let’s just say I did a design that took me 30, 40 hours for each person.

I make nothing. I have to charge, and I explain that to my clients all the time, but you know what? There’s other ways, you explain the value that you have that you can offer. For me, I’ve done everything that there is. I’ve built pools, I’ve done irrigation, light, I’ve done everything. I know how to do everything.

So I tell them, you don’t, do you know how to do? You ever put pavers down? Do you know how to put pavers down? You ever put lighting in? Do you know what that is? You need me to make sure it’s being done properly and then I’m gonna do the design and I’m gonna do that at the same time.

And then they see the value.

Joe Raboine: And the sequence of how to do that, right? It’s one thing to know bits and pieces, like you could Google anything, right? We were talking earlier and say, you know, I think it should be installed this way, but what is the right sequence to do that? When you’re talking about pools and hardscape and fencing and all of lighting, electrical, plumbing, there’s a certain way that it needs to be done properly, and that only really comes from experience.

You gotta have the trust that you’re gonna have the right people that are putting it together that way or things can go horribly wrong, right?

Darren Gruner: I totally agree with you and I gotta tell you something. The more you know, the more valuable you’re gonna be to your homeowner, the more valuable.

So plumbers and electricians, they’re only required by the city to perform at minimum standards. Their minimum standards might, might not, you know, fess up to be your standards. You wanna be quality person. So for you to be able to say, look, I can run these guys and I know that we’re gonna do this, so it’s gonna last forever.

I’m gonna watch these and I’m gonna make sure it’s being done properly for you. The more you know, the more empowered you are to be more valuable for your clients as well.

Joe Raboine: Yeah, that’s what they’re paying for. I mean, a lot of contractors, especially if they’re just starting out, would be, man, it’s all about price.

They only care about price. The reality is those types of clients, price is third or fourth on their list behind design, quality and installation. Right? And it should be, right, if it were purely about price, they would never buy, you know, Mercedes or a Range Rover. They would buy, you know, a Chevy, right?

So it’s the same mindset. If they see something that’s valuable, that’s of quality, that gives them the aesthetic that they want, they’re willing to pay for it. So it’s just make sure when you’re speaking to them that you’re framing up your value and you know, not fixating on the price piece. Like I used to approach the design itself first, and the idea of talking about the budget was kind of fluid and feel that out because if you come in there like hammer on it. What’s your budget? Right? It’s like, I don’t even know what I wanna spend, like just, I wanna talk about the space. But if you start out the conversation that way, right, and again, there’s different ways to approach it. You can take it down a rabbit hole that is hard to get out of, right, instead of focusing on the space and the quality and the design.

Darren Gruner: Yeah, I have a method of when I go to my job, we talk about budget, but we talk about it after. I wanna get an idea, I wanna learn them. I’m earning their business. As soon as they call me, I try to earn their business. I let them know who they’re talking to and what I could do for them.

And then I learn, wanna know about what they want, so on and so forth. So, and then we can get to budget.

Joe Raboine: I’m gonna leave with this, a question that I ask a lot of the guests. What is it about what you do that really drives you? I mean, what’s that purpose that gets you up outta bed every day and gets you excited?

Darren Gruner: Well, sharing and giving back. You know, I’m part of a steering committee with Project Evergreen. You know, I always talk about, how do you give back? And a lot of people say, well, I don’t want to go to, during the wintertime, go to a soup kitchen or give coats to the homeless because it just doesn’t feel right.

And to me that didn’t feel right. What feels great about if I know how to do landscape, I know how to put pavers in and I know how to do all that stuff. So I joined up with Project Evergreen. We now, we go around the country and we improve parks, we get landscapers together.

It feels so good. We do it for free and we get to meet a lot of people. So I love giving back. To me that’s the most exciting thing, is sharing and being able to help people, you know, in the industry.

Joe Raboine: I love that. I’m not familiar with that. With that organization. I definitely need to check it out because it seems like it aligns with my values and Oldcastle’s values for sure.

Darren Gruner: I know Cindy Code very well. We’re very good friends. I can introduce you to her. It’s easy to get signed up. You can, it’s a great write-off thing for the guys that are out there already doing what they love to do. It’s a lot of fun.

Joe Raboine: Yeah, I’d love that.

Well, it’s been a pleasure as always.

Look forward to keeping in contact and can’t wait to talk again. Darren, appreciate it.

Darren Gruner: Yeah, absolutely. My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on.

Joe Raboine: Thank you.

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