How to choose the right partner

by FM Media
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According to TIM BUCKLE of Landscape Solutions, grounds and gardens maintenance providers should be proactive business partners, rather than mere service providers, to gain the benefits of exterior landscaping.

There’s no doubt that a beautifully presented landscape with well-cared for grounds and gardens will put a building’s residents and visitors in a better state of mind and add value to the occupier’s business, as well as the owner’s asset.
The goal for every landscape maintenance provider should be to present their clients’ image to the best of their horticultural ability – sadly, that’s not always the case. With so many businesses – both large and small – operating in what is predominantly a price driven market, there is a very good chance that the ‘quality’ of workmanship carried out on a site is ‘hurried’ and the scope of works is ‘ad hoc’. With no long-term goal in mind, a potential shortening of a facility’s landscape’s life is a real possibility.
With more to do and seemingly less time to do it, the demand for a ‘one-stop shop’ contractor that can provide a broad range of landscape services (at a competitive rate) is increasing. You will get more from a landscape maintenance agreement when you engage a company that goes above and beyond being a ‘mere service provider’ and acts more as a proactive business partner, offering suggestions and alternative cost-effective solutions, and adding value to the facility.

CLEAR OBJECTIVES AND SPECS
Before approaching a company, think about what the prime objectives are regarding the facility’s landscape. Are there any additional services, such as landscape design and construction, required? For instance, is water conservation a focus for the facility? Landscape companies can provide added value by recommending ways to ensure efficient water use and other sustainable practices, and assist with green building certifications and irrigation programs.
Develop your own specifications when hiring a service provider. By listing the desired professional qualifications and a complete scope, you can be sure to obtain everything they are looking for in the contract.

CLEAN BACKGROUND CHECK
Not only should the ‘right’ contractor have the resources to handle and respond to a multitude of tasks at any given time, they should also be financially sound and preferably fully certified for their safety, environmental and quality management systems. A third-party accreditation represents a strong commitment by the contractor and goes a long way towards maintaining and delivering the highest management and operational standards.
To ensure you are hiring a reputable company with sound records, ask for the company’s current and previous work history, insurances, financials and relevant service awards. Find out how long it has been in business and get a sense of how it approaches customer service, quality control, safety compliance, training programs, communication methods, and responsiveness to special requests and emergencies. Also ask service providers for references of similar properties in order to review comparable work and observe their crews in action.
Make sure a company is licensed and insured to operate in the state and is in good standing. Look for companies possessing landscape industry certification and that are members of a national and/or state landscape association. These are good indicators of the provider’s obligation to quality and maintaining the most current knowledge and skills.
Enquire about the company’s safety record and what requirements they have in place for personnel and equipment. Professional landscape companies put safety first through extensive training and certification. Safety programs help companies improve their safety records by tracking and decreasing incidents, accidents and illnesses.

RELIABLE AND FLEXIBLE
Reliability is certainly another key factor when choosing a landscape maintenance provider. You need to be able to rely on your contractor to deliver programmed maintenance works without supervision or micromanagement. Third-party contractors engaged to carry out work represent not only themselves, but also the facilities management company hiring them, so they need to be dependable and highly professional, and to act with integrity.
As things don’t always go to plan, a maintenance provider needs to be innovative and demonstrate flexibility. An experienced contractor knows that problems are a part of everyday business and will work out ways to solve issues and troubleshoot with the end goal of ‘getting the job done’ in mind.
Another requirement of a prospective landscape management company should be an extensive and ongoing training program on specific aspects of their business. Knowledge of horticulture should be supplemented with understanding of operations, equipment, time management, account management and customer service. Ask the company to point to examples of existing training and development programs for its staff.

GAINING LANDSCAPES’ BENEFITS
With so many other pressing issues and challenges, landscaping around a building can be taken for granted, with most employing an ‘as long as the site looks presentable’ approach. However, there are proven operational, economic, marketing, safety and mental health benefits that can be gained from properly maintaining the landscape’s surrounding facilities. A trusted partner will add value to a property and the occupier’s business.

Tim Buckle is the managing director of Landscape Solutions, which he kicked off in 1993 armed with an education in horticulture and stonemasonry, a shovel (which he still insists was a ‘trowel’), a ute and a can-do attitude.

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