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Serve Clients With A Garden Concierge Program

Stonegate Gardens started out to fill a small niche in customer service. The program grew into a strong, profitable and reputation-building division.

October 22, 2012

Stonegate Gardens in the Boston area offers to coordinate its customers' various landscape needs. Some of the services are those you would expect: Revamping container gardens and weeding perennial beds. But Stonegate will also coordinate a customers' various services, acting as a liaison between all the various companies that service the customers' outdoor spaces.

Lynne Bower, Stonegate's general manager, explains the program to Today's Garden Center.

Today's Garden Center: How does the program work?

Lynne Bower: Here is an example: When a customer comes into Stonegate to select pottery, we inform them of our Container Design program. We have the initial meeting and set a schedule for quarterly maintenance to fill the pots. Once we are on their property and establish a relationship we introduce the other services we offer.

Also, when customers needing help with design, garden maintenance or plant identification approaches us, we set up an initial consult with them at their property. We meet and discuss their concerns, priorities and design styles. At this point, we usually ask who is on the property already. We then give them a written proposal of the estimated first round clean up and taming of the property with a timeline since not all initial pruning can be done immediately, depending on seasons and type of plant material. We give them a proposal of future pruning maintenance for the requested items and allow them to decide if they would like to be visited yearly, quarterly or bi-weekly.

TGC: How do you coordinate with other plant health care companies?

Bower: We like to use anyone who is already on the property, especially if things like grass, fertilizing, pest control, irrigation, etc. are healthy and being maintained properly. Our goal is to assist the customer in knowing what services they are paying for, how it all works together, and to have the parties involved doing what they do best. For instance, the No. 1 thing we are brought in initially for is “…the lawn mowing company is asked to prune and uses hedge trimmers on everything.” Definitely not best for the plants, which makes customers think maybe the irrigation is wrong or there is a bug, neither are the answer. But the homeowner is frustrated and the other companies are frustrated or blamed and it all is a vicious cycle from lack of knowledge. We provide that knowledge and communicate on our customers' behalf. This, in turn, led to us being asked to do the pruning or perennial bed weeding ourselves.

TGC: Do you have specific companies that you work with or does the client choose?

Bower: If a customer needs a service we do not provide, we will suggest someone but we do not take on any sub contracting because how that third-party company does their business would directly affect us. That being said, the very few companies we do recommend are the very best in their fields and must communicate very effectively.

TGC: How much does the concierge service cost?

Bower: We are in a very affluent area of Boston, and so our average cost of living and goods differs severely from the majority of the nation. The advice I would give if you are moving forward with this idea is:

  • Know your business, costs and customer.
  • Find out what landscapers are charging in your area.You should be charging more. You are worth it. If they are coming to you they aren't satisfied with the lower-rate quality to begin.
  • Knowing the cost of your employees.
  • Don't send your master pruner to weed.
  • Also, if you pay someone hourly, factor in insurance, travel, vehicles, tool maintenance, waste disposal, etc., then charge hourly.

TGC: How many staff members are dedicated to maintaining the clients’ yards?

Bower: Originally, we dedicated our current staff in downtimes as a means of income during early spring and late summer, doing perennial beds and pruning. We also employed one 30-hours-a-week person to keep it together year round, but there was already a customer base of 30 container clients to justify it. Now we are up to four part time (20 to 30 hours) people solely for this division and utilize current staff when needed.

TGC: How much do you charge to decorate their houses inside and out at the holidays?

Bower: There is a base cost for materials and labor for exterior holiday decorating. The process for interior begins the year prior with planning and July ordering, so the actual install only takes one day or so. We've done houses where we just install a tree for $500 all the way up to decking out an entire open house ballroom and all for $35,000. It really varies year to year, so having a flexible PT staff for this is great, because you can't compare one year's numbers to the last.

TGC: How has your business benefitted financially from these services?

Bower: I believe that anytime you can re-invent yourself — but stay true to your core customer and add new services or clients — it will benefit your business. They keep coming back and we have developed many wonderful life-long clients.