It’s an outdoor living thing. Homeowners want to enjoy their yards and landscaping as much as possible. And what better way to get a good view than upon a deck, whether it’s attached to the house, near a pool or off a bit in a secluded part of a backyard? A bit of fencing provides privacy most homeowners seek.
“There is no doubt that people continue to trend towards outdoor living, and decks and fences play into the overall landscapes of their property,” says Doug Mucher, product manager for CertainTeed, a manufacturer and supplier of decks, railings and fencing. And, he added, landscaping companies can cash in on this trend by adding deck/railing construction and fencing installation to their menu of services. “By offering additional services, they can create the complete vision their customers have for their properties.”
According to the National Association of Home Builders, while decks and fencing are often components in many new homes, they are also added after a home is built. In a recent survey, 25% of NAHB remodelers reported that adding a deck to an existing home was a common project for them.
The transition to deck building and fence installation does not have to be a giant leap for most landscaping companies, especially larger ones. As it pertains to fencing, “Many of the tools needed to dig when planting trees and plants can be used to dig holes for posts,” Mucher says.
“Pretty much the only tools you need to install fencing are a single sight line, a saw, drill and a pole hole digger,” says Sean Collinsgru, owner/operator of New Jersey-based Premier Outdoor Living. “Fencing is probably the easier add-on for landscapers if they want to broaden their scope. For decks, a circular saw, a miter saw, a table saw, a nail gun, a drill and some miscellaneous tools will allow you to do the job. And you can probably get away without the table and miter saws.”
Collinsgru is an interesting case study on the matter. His company was primarily a landscaping and yard maintenance business until he saw the potential in building decks and installing fencing after fielding requests from a number of customers. “It was a big step for us because we didn’t have a whole lot of experience in decks and fencing. But I had a knack for the creative end of it, knew I liked it and jumped into it. Long term, it was what I wanted to do.”
Collinsgru had one other full-time employee and a part-timer who transitioned into their new tasks easily. Training took a few weeks and the company transitioned into full-time deck and fence installation within eight months of building their first deck.
“It all worked out well because we learned together and came at things with fresh looks,” he says. “We had no preconceived notions about how this would work.” When it did work, Collinsgru abandoned landscaping and lawn maintenance altogether.
While Collinsgru chose to switch to deck and fence installation permanently, other landscapers may opt to retain their current tasks and simply add deck and fence work. In this instance, there are two ways to go: Train and use existing employees in a cross-over capacity or subcontract deck and fencing projects out to a firm that specializes in such work.
“Landscapers may find it best to partner with a local company that can provide these services. The skills that are needed for landscaping are similar to those needed for fence/deck installation so employees could be trained. However, some installation may require more skill and using a company that is focused on these projects could be the better route, especially for larger projects,” Mucher says. “Choosing the latter route allows the landscaping company owner to continue to focus on his core business. The last thing you want to become is a great landscaping company and a shoddy deck and fence installation company.”
Mucher added that partnering with a contractor can prove beneficial to the landscaping company in that it can create a professional synergy between the two companies where they can refer business to each other.
Collinsgru believes many landscaping companies may shy away from deck and fencing projects because “they are intimidated by the work.”
“Fencing is probably the easier add-on for landscapers if they want to broaden their scope.” Sean Collinsgru, Owner/Operator, New Jersey-based premier outdoor living
“But if you are already doing hardscapes you can certainly take some of those skills and transfer them to decks and fencing,” he says. “By adding these offerings to your company it can really set you apart from other landscapers.”
And, Collinsgru pointed out, landscapers have already established trust among their customers that would allow them to tap into another desire the customer may have for his or her property.
“The customer already is familiar with your work,” Collinsgru says. “It makes the process much easier for homeowners rather than have them think about finding someone else to install decking and fencing when they already know the quality of your what you are already doing for them.”
Collinsgru advises landscapers to ensure they can handle a deck project before they jump in with both feet. Starting small can help build the necessary experience.
“I would recommend any landscaping company thinking about adding deck and fences to their business to cut their teeth on smaller projects,” he says. “Make sure you and your employees have the chops for it.”
A knowledge of various woods and “composites” is a must, although Collinsgru pointed out that 90% of his clients are younger people and they want a low maintenance deck and that means composites. “They are a little more costly up front but there is no cost for staining and the upkeep needed is a lot less,” Collinsgru says. “Wood is still prevalent in the south and in some cases in the Pacific Northwest, but composites have kind of taken over the market.”
The profit margins on decks, and fencing to a lesser degree, are enticing. “The profits are very good,” Collinsgru says. “You are using less heavy equipment, tools are cheaper, and when deck installation is priced at about $50 to $60 a square foot, that is a huge opportunity to realize a significant profit from a project.” The decks he installs can run between $20,000 to $70,000. “Something very basic can be under $20,000.”