Spring may be king, but fall is where he made his fortune.
With the challenging weather over the last few years, fall has become more lucrative than spring for many. Hitting it hard for the last quarter is a huge opportunity to meet – or crush – those projections. It may just be the perfect fit for the missing piece in your strategy.
Yes, I get it. Spring is King. I know all too well the guiding-light mantra of the landscape industry that was pounded into my soul as a young boy starting out my career in the industry just shy of my 14th birthday. I’ve lived this mantra for most all the years that followed, both early on in my evolving positions on the design/build side, and then later as I transitioned to product and supply roles. Even since founding Halstead years ago, because all of our clients are all in the design/build industry in one way or another, we are well-versed in creating and managing marketing systems that align to Spring is King. However, my ability to ignore the changing dynamics in the industry have been challenged over the last few years and I have been advising clients to strongly reconsider getting that Spring is King tattoo on their forearm. In fact, going through some old content recently, I found a blog I wrote back in 2015 highlighting the idea that “Fall is the Second Season.” Since writing that, the idea has only become more important and relevant to year-end success for landscape construction companies.
Coming off one of the wettest years in history in 2018 with NYC’s Central Park recording over 65 inches of rain in a work-stopping deluge, I was starting to get some open ears. Then this May happened. Officially the wettest May in history as confirmed by the National Weather Service, the whopping 8.24” of rain that was measured at Chicago International Airport took the banner month.
It broke the previous record of 8.21” set in you guessed it…2018. Add in that May also had a couple record-setting cold days with May 13th 2018 reaching a high of 48 degrees in NYC – the lowest ever on record.
Funny thing about these working conditions – they aren’t exactly the things that profitable, smooth outdoor construction projects are made of. With more time spent lowering sump pumps into excavated holes than laying pavers and walls, the last few spring seasons have been a true battle to get anything done on schedule while still bringing some money to the bottom line. It’s been tough -except if you are in the gravel business ;) Those soggy subsoils like to eat clean stone for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
And that’s just focusing on the contracting side of the new spring weather challenges. What about the desire of the consumer? Anyone who has been in the outdoor living industry for any length of time knows that the biggest driver of interest – and then in turn action – for purchasing an outdoor project is, you guessed it, nice weather. We see the spikes in search volume for clients all across the country when the weather’s right. The reality is, weeks and weeks on end of sloshy, soupy, muddy, and downright treacherous wet weather doesn’t exactly scream “let’s buy a pool, honey!”
Spring is booked, but where are the numbers?
Weather is just one factor in the shifting tides of putting fall on a pedestal though. Many in the industry agree that fall is simply just the best time of year to work outside, period. The conditions are excellent for productivity; the kids are back in school so the parents feel ‘free’ and potential customers just came off a summer of realizing they really should invest in a backyard that the kids can enjoy anytime. As a bonus, with the explosion of the outdoor living industry also comes a more well-educated consumer of larger luxury outdoor living spaces – many now understanding the dangers of waiting too long to book – and begin construction on – a large scale project they would like to use in the near future. So more and more homeowners are already thinking about acting this year so they can actually use the project next year.
So how do outdoor design/builds shift their mindsets– and marketing strategies - to align to these new realities? How do we embrace the ‘spring can be good, but fall is where the money is made’ methodology?’
Many contractors are already there. This year at Halstead, I’ve had the most amount of conversations with clients and industry peers in which the owner on the other end of the phone was in total agreement – fall is literally the second season. That change has been in the making for quite a few years now.
The thing these business owners have come to realize is that they always have spring work. For any company that has had an active digital marketing plan in place for some time, a few years in business, and a good business reputation for solid work, there are projects on the schedule for spring – even if that means starting them in April instead of March like they used to be able to due to soggy ground. Many also have maintenance divisions that require more attention in these months out of the gates, so perhaps there is less company bandwidth overall. Either way, with the built-in demand of spring and a solid marketing plan—ongoing SEO so the rankings are on top for those spring searchers, and Facebook, Instagram, and Google Ads fired on in February at the latest—many companies feel good about spring demand. It’s just that the numbers are hard to drive home in the first and second quarters because of the late start and difficult weather conditions. That’s where the aggressive 4th quarter push comes in.
Quick wins and next year bookings
Ideally, the pre-fall push begins in the beginning of August. By the time September rolls around, homeowners have already warmed up to your brand. Either way, the big effort comes immediately after the start to the school season. Kids hit the bus on the first day back and BAM! Momma gets a Facebook Ad on her train ride into the city for work. The weather’s good, their tired of going to someone else’s house to swim after a summer long of packing up the car to get there, and they want a space all their own for next year. So, we hit them with all the reasons why now is the time to start that process. It’s a perfect time for design/builds to use some extra marketing dollars – cash flow is good because the season’s rolling along nicely – re-invest it back in for a strong finish of the current year and a strong start next year when cash flow may not be as strong as the rain likely will be.
It’s a win-win really. If Mrs. Jones wants to move fast and bang out the foundational elements of the project this fall, awesome. That will do wonders for making up for the projections you didn’t hit in first and second quarters. Even if the project is installed in cphases, it’s certainly more feasible to finish up the softscapes in the wet spring than it is to open up new excavation. On the other hand, maybe Mrs. Jones was motivated by your outreach efforts to plan her project for an installation next year. Well, that’s great too, right? Get them on the schedule early, document your site measurements and conditions, and design the project during the winter months. Either way, your ahead of your game and certainly ahead of the countless others who dial back their marketing spend because they think the season is over. Fall is great companies exceed projections and crush the competition who is saying “we are booked out for the rest of the season so no need to continue with the campaigns.”
Pushing the 4th quarter
When I see the back-to-school ads popping up, I think here’s the golden opportunity for outdoor design/builds. The second season has begun. It’s time to push marketing efforts hard for the next 3 months, squeezing every opportunity out of the market to finish stronger than ever. There is less competition in the social newsfeed because the competition is coasting, important keyword clicks are less expensive than in spring, and for those contractors that have seen the incredible impact that professional photos and videos can make on their brand and growth, it’s time to launch new social ads using all that new footage captured throughout the year. What?!! You still haven’t pulled the trigger on the video and photo shoots you meant to do all season long but never did? You’ve got a small, quickly closing window of time left to make it happen. Do it now, or you won’t have the content you need for your spring campaigns.
So, yes, turn up the Facebook Ads, add more fuel to the Google Ads, gather reviews from this year’s customers, and finish strong, my friend. Spring was once King – and it some regards, maybe it still is. But fall may just be where the King made his fortune.