February 15, 2014
By Dave Braun
LO President

Dave Braun Have you ever been asked by a customer to match your price to a competitor who is selling a lesser product? I have been asked to lower my price countless times.

I understand the mindset behind the request. From time to time, I visit Walmart, Costco and similar stores because of the low prices. We live in a Rollback pricing culture.

Customers have been well-trained to find products at the absolute lowest price and enjoy buying items with deep discounts. But as LO members, we’re different. Or are we?

I think to avoid succumbing to the pressure of cutting costs to retain customers, we must first remind ourselves how our industry is unique. The products and services that LO members provide are living and leave a legacy of beauty. A quality landscape will outlast every car or kitchen remodel.

Our industry serves not only to beautify the landscape, but to enhance people’s lives and add value to their properties. There is no way to quantify what it means to the residents of a nursing home to have beautifully landscaped grounds. What decision do you then make when the nursing home property manager calls and asks you to cut your price by 15 per cent to match your competitor? I think that many of us feel the need to match that lower price to keep our employees working and cash flow positive.

But we can’t sell ourselves short. We need to take pride in what we do.  And we can’t be afraid to walk away. Sometimes, your best customer is one that goes away and then comes back. When you’re forced to bring your price down to the lowest price of all your competitors, you’ve already lost. If we continue to cut our prices, it is inevitable that they will only continue to shrink. At our company, we used to bid on every city contract, but found that it’s usually a waste of time to bid on a tender that someone is inevitably going to underbid.

Even if we win a bid under these circumstances, we lose, because our margins are pushed to the absolute lowest limits.  

The question becomes, what can you offer that your competitors can’t. Is it you? Is it your quality, your service, your attitude, your integrity, the way your crews clean up at the end of the day? What is your company’s secret sauce? Discovering the heart of what your customer is looking for, will lead you to your answer. If we legitimately feel that our product or service is the best available, we can more easily demonstrate our value. Our passion energizes our customer; their eyes light up because of our passion, not because of price.

The Zappos online shoe company is often studied for its bold decisions and exceptional customer service. It doesn’t offer shoes any cheaper than the brick and mortar stores, but it has unrivalled customer service. Zappos offers a straight commodity, but has developed a relationship with its customers. Shoppers could easily get cheaper shoes, but because of Zappos’ exceptional service it has created incredibly loyal customers. Finding an answer to why customers come back to our own businesses can lead us to strengthening our own relationships with them and creating even greater loyalty.

The often quoted, “If you buy quality, you only cry once,” exists for a reason. In the face of an increasingly competitive market, we need to ensure that we are communicating the true value of our products and services. If someone asks to match a competitor’s price, we should be armed with other questions to separate ourselves from our competitors. Differentiation with quality is where value is created, and where our margins are made.
Dave Braun may be reached at dbraun@landscapeontario.com.