Prior to coming to work at Unilock, I worked for 20 years in the green industry. Actually, I come from a family of landscapers and always knew where my career path would lead. I worked summers and weekends for a very talented landscaper during high school and decided to pursue horticulture in college. That was where I was trained in design and that training served me well both as a designer and installer over the years.
My focus and speciality within the industry mirrors that of several of the contractors I deal with today. I started my career with a very strong reliance on the green side of the business (the landscape). Over the years, the industry changed; and as my experience grew, I became more and more dependent on the hardscape side of the business. I actually spent the last 4-5 years of my time in the fields as what could be described as a “hardscape specialist”, designing and installing hardscape close to 90-95% of the time.
During this time, the hardscape industry was changing rapidly and the demand for vertical outdoor living elements grew dramatically. Seat walls and fire pits were becoming commonplace and the concept of accents and bands was gaining popularity. It was at this time that I realized that my computer-aided-2-D plan view designs were insufficient as sales tools. Although a professional-looking design helped to differentiate myself from my competition, I found that there was a huge disconnect with my clients in relation to the design they saw on paper and the design that was in my mind.
For whatever reason, most homeowners have a much easier time visualizing soft landscape elements of a design than they do the hardscape elements, especially when those elements begin to go vertical. I cannot tell you how many times I heard my clients utter the phrase, “I had no idea it would like that” during the final stages of a project. This disconnect and these reactions caused me to rethink my sales process and lead me on a quest for a better presentation. That quest would go unfinished until a couple of years into my tenure at Unilock.
I found what I was looking for at one of our Contractor Seminars, when a representative from Harmony Outdoor Living discussed Google SketchUp. He explained SketchUp and how they were using it, and I realized that this was the tool I was in need of and looking for. The only thing necessary on my end was a commitment to learn something new and willingness to take the time to learn it.
Google SketchUp is a 3-D rendering program that can be downloaded for free from Google. There is a more powerful Pro version that is available for purchase, but I have only used the free version and find that it is sufficient. SketchUp provides a designer the ability to build 3-D models that are realistic. Once a model is built, you can zoom in and out, viewing the project from several different angles, which gives you and your client a very good concept of what the finished product will look like.
In addition to simple design commands, the popularity of SketchUp has helped to create a vast warehouse of items that can easily be dropped into a model. These items include Unilock Elements, Unilock product textures, outdoor furniture, pergolas, and grills --almost anything you desire -- to build a realistic 3-D model. These options help to provide designs with the finishing touches that can help your clients truly visualize what their project could look like. With this visualization comes an understanding of the contractor’s visions and ideas.
SketchUp is a great presentation tool. I do not believe it takes the place of a plan view drawing for field measurements (due to the fact that producing scaled drawings can be difficult). However, a 3-D model can often be the determining factor in getting the job. I have spoken to contractors who have implemented SketchUp within their sales process and many have seen a great rise in their closing percentage. Although it often adds an additional step to the design process, the results often prove worth it, for both the contractor and client.
One of the great benefits to using SketchUp is the fact that it is free. I realize that we are all busy and we are all looking for quick ways to better ourselves. I personally have purchased several items and programs that I was certain would make me more productive, only to discover that these items only take up space in my barn or on my hard drive. With SketchUp, your only investment is your time. Online tutorials and books like SketchUp for Dummies can help you master the process of 3-D modeling. I found that I could make a useful model in a few weeks of spending an hour each night learning the program. Conversely, I found that those drawings that took me a few weeks early on, took me only a few hours after I made myself familiar with the tool.
Now that fall is here, and we start to look forward to the winter slowdown, I strongly recommend looking at how Google SketchUp can help you and make sure you visit Unilock’s home page where you can download the Unilock texture library for use in Google SketchUp. If you determine that it is something you could add to your toolbox for 2012 the winter months will give you ample time to become proficient. Good luck!