July 15, 2012
By Jacki Hart CLP
Prosperity Partners Program Manager

Jacki HartWhen I think back to when I started my business in 1991, I realize how much has changed in the way we now do business.

First and foremost, technology has drastically changed. Obsolescence is built into every device we buy, so that within six months or less, whatever gadget you invested in is replaced by something faster, smarter, better, trendier and pricier.

Beyond the obvious changes brought by technology, is the pace of business. The high expectations of the consumer/client are accompanied with far less patience.

In my business, I’ve moved through the growth of technology starting with everyone having a landline, and no one having a cell phone. We then embraced the newest communication tool that was a three-pound monster in a bag, and then to an analog phone screwed to the dashboard with an external antenna glued to a window. From here we began a long list of sundry cell phones, until landing in 2012 with my trusty and preferred Blackberry Torch. Yes, I am a Luddite of sorts, and refuse so far to dive into the iPhone/pad/pod pond.

Incredible changes

Similarly, there have been other business changes that have morphed the rate of communication from a week or more to instantaneous. The advent of Internet and email is the greatest example, and more recently ‘the cloud.’ When I started off, most businesses had a fax machine, and those who didn’t borrowed one to return a contract. There was no such thing as email and the average person didn’t have a home computer. There were no laptops. No tablets. No wireless. Internet was dial-up. Remember the tape back-up systems for computers? Now it’s all done daily or hourly online. Remember having reams of paper so everyone had hardcopies of everything? Now we share documents in the cloud, editing them from multiple locations simultaneously if we choose. No more liquid paper. In my office, we use very little paper, period.

Along with these changes has come impatience. At one point several years ago, I remember discussing with peers at LO how frustrating it was that a client would call me to see if I got their email. They’d call five minutes after sending it — and I was on a jobsite up to my elbows in perennials. “No, I didn’t get your email.” That was because a short eight to nine years ago I couldn’t get their email if I was working in their garden.

Instant communication

Company communication now is also instantaneous. Years ago if I wanted to talk to the crew, I had to drive there. Now we use radios and texts. Cell phone pictures are worth a thousand words when asking questions. Jacki’s quick tailgate sketches have thankfully been retired to the archives and replaced with digital information that can be shared and sent everywhere.

My oh my, how times and attitudes have changed. Now we communicate vast amounts of information, and photos in split seconds. Gone are the days where it was quite acceptable for a reply to be sent by (snail) mail. Imagine that.

Websites now are even way different than just a few short years ago. We just re-did ours, and also hired a videographer to do a time-lapse video of a project for us — moving content has become a tool to get noticed on the Internet.

So, my Prosperity question to you: How are you leveraging technology to ensure your business is up-to-date, savvy, slick, and responsive by today’s timeline standards?

I’ve done my own research on this. Of the retailers, wholesalers and contractors I’ve spoken to this year, the results are consistent. The busy ones are those who are savvy, up-to-date and communicating at the pace of their clients.

At the other end of the scale, there are those (and there are many this year) who are laying people off, shortening work weeks (yes, even as I type this in early June) and seeing sales flat or down. They are the ones with out-of-date websites, and who don’t have a system in place to respond quickly to requests for quotes or information. They are mired in their own obsolescence.

Convenient access

I’ve realized in the past year or so, and more so this season, that we are doing more and more business by being convenient to access. I have dozens of new maintenance contracts this year from clients with whom my staff never met. We’ve never spoke on the phone. Much of my landscape renovations, upgrades and even design work comes through emailing suggestions with a price – and poof. We usually get approval to start immediately. No site meeting. No appointments. No kidding.

It’s all digital, instantaneous professional communication, meeting with the clients in their realm: the Internet. We are in a whole new era of communicating without face-to-face meetings. It’s not my preference, yet I’ve flexed my style to adapt and it’s really paying off.

Perhaps it’s a bit different for me, because many of my clients are not full-time residents at the properties on which we predominantly work. I’d guess you are all finding a similar trend of developing customer loyalty by being professional and delivering information and service at their pace, in an uncomplicated, effective way to those who prefer it that way.

As an industry, we gravitate toward face-to-face networking. It’s proven time and time in seminars and conferences. The reality, relative to business style, is that we are not early adopters to the trend of dwelling on the Internet. Yet, our clients are primarily using the Internet to source all things they need.

Whether it’s your Sales system, Operations or Financial Management, technology and the rapid pace of information exchange are crucial to being state-of-the-art.
Visit www.horttrades.com/prosperity for more information on LO’s Prosperity Partnership

Jacki Hart may be contacted at prosperity@landscapeontario.com.