September 15, 2013
By Arthur Skolnik

arthur skolnikOur industry is full of smart and experienced people, suppliers, contractors and designers. I’m always amazed at the end of the season by how much I’ve learned and how much learning I’ve imparted.

Did you know more than half of all immigrants to Canada settle in our most multi-cultural province Ontario? Our new growth today is almost entirely fuelled by the yearly in-flow of approximately 150,000 people. These new Canadians come from 200 countries and speak 130 different languages.

Along with the skills our new neighbours bring, are the habits and mores they’ve grown up with. Many new Ontarians come from countries where contracts aren’t typically signed, and where labour rates are a tiny percentage of what they are here.

We add value

As contractors, we begin the process of adding value to a potential client’s home by listening to needs and wishes, and then proposing functional and artistic solutions. After this process, we provide a design and cost.

In recent years, a whole new field of learning is required by contractors. One of those includes explaining to immigrants the how and why we create landscapes the way we do in Ontario and Canada, and why things cost what they do.

It’s been my experience that the best way to navigate through a potential minefield of miscommunication (and a possible disastrous ending) starts with more hand-holding. Although this is typically not required with clients who are familiar with the wood, stone, plants and designs we use, it is important with clients who have recently arrived in Canada. One important area is providing daily updates on what aspects of the job have been completed and which ones are about to be started.

Ask if they are happy

Keep good notes, and continually ask if the client is happy. If alterations or adjustments are needed, or products or materials require exchange, record it. Also, many people like to feel they’re getting something for nothing, even if it’s small. We are not from a culture of bargaining. For newcomers that aspect of life doesn’t get left behind at the airport. If a small item needs to be given away, be prepared to do it if you feel that’s what it takes to keep the road smooth. And, always make sure both parties are on the same page throughout the job.

It’s been my experience that if one plays the game to keep the road smooth, some clients will become very loyal and an excellent source of references and referrals.

It has not been my intention to insult anyone who wasn’t born or raised in Canada (both sets of my grandparents emigrated here), but with so many people moving here, the face of business, advertising and merchandising is changing, and landscape contractors and designers need to recognize that fact and adjust accordingly.

How do you keep clients happy

What has your experience been with the changing market of the landscaping world here in Ontario? What have you recognized as key elements to keep clients happy? What tools do you use to make sure everyone is on the same page? Have you had difficulty explaining something you’ve done, or why you’ve done it? Have you not been paid for work you did according to plan, but your client disagrees?

Drop me a line and I may include your comments in an upcoming newsletter. I’m at