If the expression, “Hindsight is always 20/20,” is in any way true, then for hardscape contractors suitable planning for the next season should include reflection on the previous year and processing that data into a plan of action so they are ready for the new season.

As rudimentary as this may seem, an effective action plan may require only a few steps:

  • Rank your best-selling services and products.
  • Use market research to put your finger on the pulse of this year’s trends.
  • Cultivate proactive partnerships with manufacturers and distributors who are positioned to help grow your business.
  • Have a keen sense of what makes your company different than the competition and leverage it to your advantage.

1. Rank Your Best-Selling Services

When putting your paver and retaining wall best sellers in order, be sure to include shape, color, texture and patterns. “Color, pattern and texture remain at the forefront when making a design decision, and every homeowner has a wish list when it comes to their personal outdoor lifestyle experience,” explains Charles H. Gamarekian, chairman/CEO of Cambridge Pavers. “By keeping a scorecard, you can guide your homeowner customers and, at the same time, monitor inventories, availabilities and often profitability.”

2. Use Market Research

As you may well know, raising the benchmark for curb appeal and heightening the outdoor living experience in the backyard are the topics flooding the marketplace. This is measured by the popularity of these subjects on television and print media. In the arena of pavers, larger scale shapes with definitive textures, such as those with natural-looking bluestone clefts on the surface, are very popular right now. A reason for this is the unlimited pattern possibilities that can come from modular configurations.

In responding to consumer demands for items such as outdoor kitchens and fireplaces, pizza ovens, fire pits and refreshment bars, be aware that these items can also come in pre-packaged kits, which can save you research, estimating and installation time.

3. Cultivate Proactive Partnerships

In these challenging economic times, teamwork between contractor, distributor and the manufacturer is more important than ever. Stop by your favorite distributors and dealers in your area and check inventory levels of products, shapes and colors you plan to promote. “Ask whether your most commonly used items will be in stock when you need them and not subject to a lengthy, special order process,” suggests Gamarekian. Distributors are likely to cater to the merchandising wants of their contractor customers and go out of their way to support your stocking requirements because it equates to repeat business.

4. Leverage What Makes Your Company Different

Final decisions are often brand-driven. Consumers find a level of comfort when they recognize a brand that has been featured on television, in publications and at home shows.

Attendance at spring home and garden shows has risen back to 2006 levels, which means homeowners are contemplating investing money into their residences. Shows are sales venues that should not be overlooked. Many manufacturers encourage teaming up with distributors and landscape contractors. It pays to look into incentives now.

When we think of branding, we usually think of logos attached to familiar product names and large companies. However, branding also associates particular styles, visions and/or philosophies with businesses large or small. How often have you associated a particular menu item with a specific restaurant when termed “our signature dish?” With this in mind, it is important to present your personal techniques, like how you handle elevations, seating arrangements, banding, bordering, pattern inserts (circles and fans), landscape accent lighting effects and unique color pallets that will leave a mark of distinction in your design.

Remember, when designing outdoor recreational areas this year, stay on top of your game, deliver what the customer wants and add a few surprises.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2015.