Landscaping contractor Ben Gillilian sees the same thing every year.
As winter turns to spring, the owner of Grizzly Lawn & Home in Harker Heights seeks out new customers whose yards may need some spring cleaning.
Moving brush and unclogging drains may not pull in the big bucks, but Gillilian knows starting out small and doing a great job is an excellent way to develop long-term customers. A family who needs its yard cleaned today could call back and sign a contract for a year of lawn service tomorrow.
But first he has to earn a client’s trust.
Gillilian said building trust between contractor and client is always a challenge. And, he said, many homeowners feel they have been burned by unscrupulous landscape contractors in the past, which only makes things harder.
“There are a lot of shady people in our business, unfortunately,” Gillilian said.
He said the No. 1 complaint he hears is that landscaping contractors often fall out of touch once their work is done. He said too many contractors have a “take the money and run” attitude.
“If I put a landscape in, or just work on a yard, I make sure to be available once the job is completed,” he said.
But, there is a way for consumers to find trustworthy landscaping contractors.
Richard Kitterman, outgoing regional director of the Better Business Bureau in Central and South Texas, said the first thing to do is find contractors like Gillilian who have high ratings on the BBB’s website. Grizzly Lawn currently has an A-plus rating.
“The first thing to do is get on the BBB website and do some research,” Kitterman said.
He said the main complaint he receives about landscape contractors is they don’t deliver the services promised.
“I would use the term ‘dissatisfied,’” Kitterman said. “It’s not really a business that lends itself to scam artists. The claims we get are more to do with dissatisfaction with services provided. We also get a lot of complaints that landscaping contractors did not do what they are supposed to.”
Kitterman said the common sense way to deal with this issue is for consumers to make sure they sign a detailed contract before allowing a landscaping contractor to start a job.
“It is just like dealing with any other contractor,” Kitterman said. “You have to get a written contract that specifies what services will be provided. Make sure to learn the contractor’s guarantees and refund policy. Make sure the contractor specifies the frequency of service.”
Kitterman recommended getting several estimates before settling on a landscaping contractor. Gillilian, who said he draws up a contract any time he does any landscaping, stressed it is important for consumers to not be shy during or after an estimate.
“Tell us exactly what you want,” he said. “If I suggest something, and it is not exactly what you want, tell me. And that is true when I am working on the project, too. Read over the contract carefully and make sure it is what you want before you sign it. Don’t be afraid to follow up. Call and ask questions. If you don’t hear from a contractor for a week after an estimate, give them a call.”
Kitterman said it is a great idea to get references before signing a contract. This can be done by talking to neighbors about their contractors or requesting them directly from a contractor.
“It is critical that you check references,” Kitterman said. “Talk to two or three established customers, and see what they have to say. They will tell you if they are satisfied or can’t wait for their contract to end.”
Ahmad Holt, owner of Precision Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance in Killeen, has an A-minus rating on the BBB website. He said very few customers ask for references before signing up with him.
“Maybe five people a year ask for references,” he said. “In those cases, I have them call a few existing customers. So far, that has worked very well for me. But I think people depend more on online reviews these days.”
Kitterman said the point is to make the extra effort to make sure you don’t get burned. He said another thing to check is hygiene.
“If a landscaper does not keep his equipment clean, (it) can transfer disease or fungus from one yard to another,” he said.
Kitterman recommended finding a contractor with a strict hygiene policy. One such contractor is Jon Langer, owner of Rent-A-Man! Lawn, Tree & Outdoor Services in Copperas Cove. Rent-A-Man has an A-plus rating with the BBB.
Langer said with lawns, the main problem is transferring weed seeds from lawn to lawn. He said disease and fungus come into play when dealing with trees. He makes sure his lawn care equipment is clean, but he takes extra steps on his tree equipment.
“We clean all of the equipment we use on trees ... with an anti-fungal solution that is very effective,” Langer said. “Unfortunately, a lot of landscapers don’t know or don’t care. Even if you ask them if they use them, they can say whatever they have to to get the job.”
And that is why it is so important consumers do their due diligence.
“I don’t care what business it is, the customer is in charge,” Kitterman said. “You make the decision to hire someone based on many factors. You have the ability to make the right consumer decision. But you have to do your research.”