Managing your business encompasses a lot of day-to-day duties that certainly pull your attention in multiple directions. But managing your business also means having the vision and foresight to grow your business through new or expanded offerings. Many landscape contractors are now offering interior plantscaping and seasonal decorating services as part of their business model. But how does one make the move indoors? To examine the benefits of offering interior plantscaping services, and the factors that go into entering the interior plantscaping market, Landscape and Irrigation recently spoke with KrisAnne Mehan, executive vice president, operations, west, for Initial Tropical Plants, a Buffalo Grove, Ill., provider of provider of interior landscaping, design, installation and maintenance services.
L&I: How have interior landscapes changed in recent years, and what are the overall benefits of interior plantscaping?
Mehan: Certain segments of the interior landscaping market are changing in the way that they specify and use interior plants. For several decades, shopping malls have extensively used interior plants as a key part of their interior design approach. In recent years, with the addition of kiosks to the corridors of malls, plants have begun to diminish in both size and numbers. In addition, most new malls being built are designed in the outdoor village style concept that is very popular with retail developers. This has created a new niche for some interior landscapers who have begun providing lush and textural containerized plantings to define and enhance the exterior spaces in these shopping-village-style retail properties.
In general, interior plants are still a vital part of overall interior design for commercial properties. But beyond the obvious aesthetic benefits that interior landscaping provides, there are many other, potentially overlooked, benefits. Plants bring life to the workplace environment and create a feeling of well-being for employees. Research studies have revealed how healthy, well-maintained plants can improve indoor air quality, reduce background noise and affect people’s behavior in a positive way.
L&I: What are the benefits for landscape contractors of offering interior plantscaping as part of their overall services?
Mehan: The process or of providing interior service is a bit different from exterior service approach. Interior landscaping allows you the opportunity to work closely with your customers in their workplace premises on a regular basis. This level of direct contact with customers provides the opportunity to build meaningful and lasting relationships, which is the cornerstone to long-term customer retention.
L&I: What advice would you have for landscape contractors who don’t already offer interior plantscaping services, but are thinking of adding those services to their business?
Mehan: When considering any type of brand extension it is important to really think through how the new business stream will impact your existing business and operating processes. Will there be synergies in the delivery of the new service, or will it function as a separate operation and cost center? It is important to develop a solid entry strategy to market. Does it make sense to acquire an existing interior business to gain some industry know-how and economies of scale? Or, do you plan to build it from the ground up one account at a time?
L&I: What factors and challenges, from design to installation, go into interior plantscaping?
Mehan: Depending on where in the country your business is located, plant procurement can add weeks to your lead time requirements for installations. All of the tropical plants grown for the interior landscaping market in North America come from Florida, California or Hawaii. If you live in a more northern part of the country, shipping costs can easily add 40 percent to the cost of the plant. To properly store tropical plant inventory, light- and temperature-controlled warehouse or greenhouse facilities are a necessity.
L&I: Please describe the process that you go through in determining the right plants for your client’s space.
Mehan: Evaluating the light level is a critical step in deciding what plants to specify for your client’s space. Most interior plants are classified into one of three light categories: Tolerant of Low Light (<25 foot candles), Requires Medium Light (25-75 foot candles), or Requires High Light (75-150 foot candles). Educating your customer about these guidelines is an important step in the consulting process. This knowledge empowers your client to make good plant choices that are compatible with their overall environmental conditions.
L&I: What recommendations would you make when incorporating color and/or flowering plants into interior landscapes?
Mehan: Blooming plants such as orchids and bromeliads, artfully arranged in decorative containers, can enhance the ambience of any interior space. Blooming displays can be an effective way to enhance overall curb appeal in public places. Flowering plants are often used to accentuate reception areas in office buildings and to create a sense of arrival in hotel reception lobbies.
L&I: What kind of maintenance and upkeep is required with interior landscapes?
Mehan: Interior landscape service contracts are typically set up to provide between 26 and 52 service visits per year. The frequency varies based on the type of commercial property. High-public-use facilities such as hospitals, malls and restaurants typically require a weekly visit, whereas office buildings can been adequately maintained on a biweekly basis. To maintain healthy and lush displays, service technicians routinely water, clean and groom the plants during each visit.
L&I: What types of training, accreditation or continuing education would you recommend before a landscape professional considers entering the interior plantscaping market?
Mehan: Networking and participation in the Plantscape Industry Alliance organization (PIA) would be very useful for a landscape professional considering entry into the interior market. PIA holds an excellent annual trade show that offers many educational classes geared specifically to the interior landscape professional [Editor’s note: see www.piagrows.org for more information about the PIA].
About KrisAnne Mehan: Mehan has worked in the interiorscape industry for more than 20 years, and is responsible for Initial Tropical Plants’ day-to-day operations for the West Coast region of the United States. Prior to assuming the role of executive vice president, operations in 2007, she was the regional vice president, west region. Prior to that appointment, she was branch vice president for Initial Tropical Plants’ Seattle office. Prior to joining Initial Tropical Plants in September 2000, Mehan was branch manager for the Seattle office of TruGreen Interior Plantcare. She earned her bachelor of science degree in Horticulture from Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. Mehan is an active member of the professional organization TEC International.