Please, someone, jump on the opportunity that is small-scale landscaping in West Philly!
Everyone loves a pretty yard. I see people stop in front of flowers, smell and take pictures of blooms, kick around fallen cherry blossoms in the spring, and point out the unexpected–a sea of tulips, an old twisted spruce, banana palm trees, a lone iris.
But here’s the problem:
- The yards aren’t big enough to justify the purchase of the all the tools you may need to revamp a yard. Especially if you’re a renter (and shouldn’t landlords take care of their properties?).
- The yards aren’t big enough for an overgrown yard to look *that bad* so owners, landlords, and renters don’t make the effort.
- Summer is hot. A lot of people would rather stay inside. Or perhaps they’re too busy. Or maybe they just don’t want to do yardwork.
- A quick search for landscaping companies in the area takes you to big suburban outfits that will probably charge a lot of money. Where are smaller local companies?
It is mid-summer and every rowhome is ready to be weeded, maintained, and shored up. The sidewalks and retaining walls could use a good power wash. And the yards are small – 16 feet wide by 5-15 feet deep. Some even smaller depending on how much concrete has been poured over the years!
I did it 2 years ago and couldn’t keep up!
I was also doing a lot of larger projects like major plantings and maintenance and hauling. I even had a school as a commercial client and I hired two people part-time to help me out. When my “real job” client work picked up, I went back to my desk. The money was good but I wasn’t in a position to scale, and the employees weren’t interested in taking it over.
I used pictures of my own house as proof for clients and advertising on Facebook. Here is a before and after of my front and back yard at 51XX Catharine Street:
Here’s how I would start:
- Grab a wagon and few hand tools to do basic weeding and cleanup of small yards (buy or rent from West Philly Tool Library). Forget the hauling and big stuff for now–unless you have a truck and want to do more intense labor.
- Make sure you’re green–that will sell well here and it’s the right thing to do. Use the paper bags and take them to the organic compost recycling center in Fairmount. You can even pick up small amounts of mulch for FREE – enough to mulch a small yard.
- Go door-to-door with an estimate pad and come to the door ready with a number. Make it hard for them to say no. I’d find the balance between the value to them and a formula (say, $0.50 / sf for a basic cleanup). Leave the estimate slip with them or in the mailbox and make sure your contact info is on it. The neighborhood is so dense and walkable that you can hit a few blocks per day.
- Nail the first impression. Make the estimate slip look good. Dress like a landscaper – sturdy shoes and pants. Set up a quick landing page. Grab emails for a seasonal updates – rake leaves in the fall, plant bulbs in December for spring tulips, plant in the spring…
- Offer bundles (1x month for 3 months), add-on services like power washing, and check the property for other quick fixes. As I look out my window, I see a neighbor that needs their mailbox set – there’s $50 to dig a hole and dump some concrete.
Go for it!
This is a wide open market and people are looking. Check out neighborhood Facebook groups and Nextdoor – people are constantly asking for recommendations, especially when seasons change. And it will only take 1 yes from a landlord who owns several properties or one of the apartment buildings that want a maintenance package for their properties.
I’m happy to talk more if you’re interested.