Based in Delaware but close enough to also serve Pennsylvania clients, Kevin Shackleford, president of Shackleford Landscape Group in Bear, Delaware, assumed he could get the best of both worlds by reaching out to clients over state lines. But what he found was that serving two entirely different markets posed challenges, and he’d have to alter his approach to bids to succeed.
The biggest difference in the Pennsylvania market was the size and scope of projects. Shackleford found that HOAs had larger budgets and in many jobs seemed more committed to appearance than most of his Delaware jobs.
“Instead of just fertilizing the front entrance like we’d often be contracted to do in Delaware, we saw that jobs in Pennsylvania fertilized all common areas of an HOA,” Shackleford says. “That was intriguing to me and we began going after those jobs.”
But Shackleford says there was a learning curve.
“I’m used to jobs that are simple and done on a very tight budget,” Shackleford says. “I quickly learned that my approach in Pennsylvania had to be a lot more creative. The expectations are a lot higher. I also found that Pennsylvania is more stringently regulated so we’ve had to be a lot more diligent in terms of adhering to regulations.”
Shackleford says the solution has required a willingness to learn.
“It’s easy for landscapers to get stuck in their ways,” he admits. “But if you’re going to service multiple markets, you need to be open to differences. That’s even a good lesson for servicing different kinds of clients. In the end, it really does come down to being able to read their wants and needs.”
Shackleford has been bidding on more and more jobs over the state line but has also realized the grass isn’t always greener.
“The jobs are bigger but there are a lot of factors we hadn’t originally considered, such as the fact that we don’t know the area as well so we don’t always know where to get materials or even where to dump waste,” Shackleford says. “Plus you have to factor in the drive time.”
Going forward, Shackleford hopes to find a good balance between both markets. This is his first big year going after a new market and he says that reviewing the success at the end of the season will help future decisions.
“I think if we can strike a balance between nearby jobs and bigger projects in the Pennsylvania market,” Shackleford says, “we really will be able to have the best of both worlds.”
Our Like a Boss series highlights some common business challenges landscape professionals face and how they conquer them.