Mr. Hutcheson


How to Choose a Landscaping Contractor - And Knowing When it's Time to Switch

By Ken Hutcheson, President, U.S. Lawns

Creating Your Qualifications Checklist

Identifying Your Goals

Regardless of your aesthetic preferences, every hotel professional should ensure that their property is consistently maintained and kept clean and safe so that all guests feel welcome and comfortable upon arrival. This should always be a baseline goal.

However, the most successful hotels go one step further and aim to create a landscape that represents their brand. The entire exterior property serves as an extension of the look and feel of the interior spaces. To create a consistent theme from the inside out, first identify your brand's characteristics-Is your hotel luxurious? Contemporary? Traditional? Minimalist? Over-the-top? These attributes will drive the design of your landscape and the requirements of your landscaping company. If your hotel's brand encompasses a luxurious lifestyle, for example, then you would expect to invest in expensive décor, lighting, furniture, dishware, etc. The same holds true for a landscaping company - you will need to invest in a professional who can provide that same level of quality.

Finally, it's important that the look and feel of your landscape reflects the services that your hotel offers. For example, if your hotel primarily caters to families traveling on their way to a final destination, you would want your landscape to be welcoming, yet simple, with plenty of well-lit, clearly marked walkways for late arrivals. If your hotel caters to the business crowd and often hosts conferences, you will want to have plenty of outdoor seating so visitors can sneak outside and make a private phone call or have an impromptu meeting with a small group. If your hotel positions itself as a luxurious destination for a romantic getaway, your landscape should feel lush and exotic. If your landscape does not match the primary purpose of your hotel, you risk alienating visitors or attracting a customer whose needs you can't meet. The best way to avoid this is to identify a contractor who is experienced in working with hotels like yours.

Establishing Your Needs

Before selecting a contractor, hotel professionals need to determine what services they require to support their landscapes year round. Some landscaping companies only provide specific services (mowing of grass, gardening, or the spreading of mulch, for example). Additionally, if your location experiences severe winter storms, your landscaper will need to have the right equipment to protect your property before and after the storm: salt (or other melting products), plows, snow blowers, shovels, etc. Likewise, if your area is prone to hurricanes, hiring a contractor who can handle flooding, cleaning up the landscape, and replacing damaged vegetation can have a big impact on the efficiency of your storm cleanup. Figuring out what type of support service your property needs will help you identify and select the right contractor.

Developing Realistic Expectations

Before you sit down to start interviewing potential landscaping companies, you should review your budget to develop realistic expectations. Hotel professionals must ask themselves if they have room in their operating budget to invest in a landscape company and improve the overall appearance of their property.

If the necessary funds aren't available in the operating budget, hotel professionals may want to take a look at their capital expenditures account. While the capital expenditure account is typically used on a case-by-case basis, it's a good resource to consider if you know the investment in landscaping will be truly valuable.

The bottom line is that hotel professionals must accept the relationship between the landscaping budget and the quality of work. If your budget is limited, you need realize that your landscape will likely be maintained and well cared for, but not drastically improved. If you're unhappy with the quality of service that you receive, you may want to consider raising your budget.

Selecting a Contractor

Recruiting Candidates

When looking to hire a new landscaping company, the best resource a property owner and manager can utilize is their colleagues and friends in the industry. Asking other hotel professionals who have properties similar to yours in size and landscaping needs, is an efficient way to create a list of possible candidates. Hearing about someone's experience with a potential landscaper-and seeing the work that they've done first hand-is the best way to judge their quality of service.

You should also see if any landscapers are fellow members of the professional organizations you belong to. Tapping into your professional network will give you the opportunity to connect with companies who are involved with both small or large landscaping projects. The associations a landscaper belongs to can also give you a better understanding of the type of work they do and they type of clients they serve.

Narowing It Down

After you've created a list of potential candidates, it's time to interview them. Bringing in 2-3 candidates at one time is not only an efficient use of your time, but is also a great way to compare the candidates - by weeding out the ones who don't align with your business goals.

Ask yourself these questions as you're vetting contractors:

1) Do they understand your business?
2) Have they completed jobs of similar size and scope to yours?
3) Do they have the resources to do the type of work you need done?
4) Do they understand the needs of your brand?
5) Do they speak like a hotelier?
6) Do you connect with them on a personal level?

By answering these questions, you can be sure you're hiring the right partner to join your team.

Reference Calls & Certifications

Even if a colleague or friend referred a contractor to you it's still important to gather additional research. Ask the contractor for a client list and set up reference calls. This will help you independently verify their services and accurately gauge their familiarity with landscapes of similar size and scope as yours.. After these interviews are complete you will be able to determine if the company has the experience level and capability to service your property. Hotel professionals also need to verify the contractor's license and certifications to protect their businesses from any potential legal issues.

The Proposal Stage

Once you've created a short list, it's time to answer the last question: which potential landscapers sent you a unique, tailored proposal and which sent you a canned, generic one? A contractor who took the time to listen to your business needs during the interview will submit an authentic proposal. On the other hand, if a contractor submits a cookie-cutter proposal, consider it a red flag that could indicate that they weren't truly listening. It's important to hire a landscaping contractor who is going to genuinely be an asset to your team and support your brand.

Once you've you made the final decision on which company you want to hire, be upfront about your budget. Being on the same page about your resources and limitations will help the contractor better service your needs. Transparency is an important factor when working as partners in the process.

Understanding Proposal and Fees

Before signing and dating the necessary dotted lines, read over the proposal in its entirety. Yes, proposals can be long and redundant, but you want to make sure that you are paying for the right services that are being provided. Reading it over is also the best way to ensure that you're not paying for additional fees that you weren't expecting - like additional charges for snow removal or storm cleanup. It's also a good idea to have another colleague review it as well.

Knowing When It's Time to Change

Common Pitfalls

Throughout the course of a year, it's not uncommon for a property owner or manager to express his or her concerns with the contractor if something isn't going well. Every customer needs to keep their contractor on their toes, but if you're finding yourself having the same conversations over and over again, and the level of service isn't improving, it's time to make a change.

A number of recurring issues can be signs of a larger problem. If you find yourself dealing with any of the following common landscaper issues, you should start looking for other options:

  • Unresponsive Contractors - A hotel professional cannot carry out his or her work efficiently when they're wasting time trying to get in touch with their contractor.
  • Disconnect Between Management and Crew - If the landscaping company's management team isn't properly communicating your instructions and design goals to the crew, errors will be made and you'll end up spending a lot of time repeating your needs to the crew.
  • Lack of Strategy - Haphazardly making changes to the landscape-piecemeal planting, inconsistent maintenance schedules without any overarching strategy, can have significant long term consequences on the health of your landscape and your budget.

Selecting the ideal contractor and ensuring that their work continues to meet expectations can be a resource-intensive process. It can be difficult to let a current contractor go and hire a new one in a short period of time, especially if your business has worked with the same crew for over 10 years, or if you have a large property to maintain. But the benefits of working with a contractor you can rely on and who is responsive to your business needs, will far outweigh the initial investment of time.

Ken Hutcheson is President of U.S. Lawns. He joined the company in 1995 and has grown the organization from a regional 18-franchise network to a national network of over 250-franchises in all 48 contiguous states. U.S. Lawns is nourished by the values and passion of family-owned and operated franchise businesses. Mr. Hutcheson champions an entrepreneurial spirit and a teamwork culture. He’s skilled at developing employee, franchisee and customer bases that are anchored on a commitment to long-term relationships. His focus on the company’s Franchise Development and Support is central to the company’s steady national expansion and consistently high rankings on industry lists. Mr. Hutcheson can be contacted at 407-246-1630 or Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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