When A Project Goes Sideways

by Ben Bowen

Every landscape contractor's website has the same stuff: super excited descriptions of the work they do, information about key personnel, glowing testimonials, pictures (maybe with a bit of touch up work) of great looking projects.

It makes sense to put your best foot forward, but it is also a bit disingenuous. Why?

Not our work

Not our work

Because every landscaper (and roofer, electrician, doctor, actor, actor playing a doctor...) has a bad day or week. Things beyond your control happen. People make mistakes, and sometimes they are not small or understandable.  Even the Type A Control Freak Contractor has projects that struggle.

Most landscapers can keep their customers happy on a good day. But what happens when a project goes sideways?

There are a couple common ways of responding:

  • Make excuses. Nothing is ever their fault and no actual mistakes are ever made. Things just happen to them and are not caused by them. The landscape company that responds this way may want you to just let the issue go or even pay for the fix. Even if they do plan on fixing it they also plan on making you hear them complain about it.
  • Dig in. This person who digs in views everything as a battle, and is determined not to lose. They may fix the problem, but from then on they draw a hard line on everything. With action and attitude they seem to say "You may have gotten me there, but I will squeeze every penny out of you and your project from here on out".
  • Attack. Not only is the problem not their fault but you are starting a battle they are not willing to lose because.... the problem is actually YOUR fault. Boilerplate contract language may now be wielded like a weapon, or they may just walk away completely.

None of these are pleasant. By the end of a project with these guys you are happy to see them go. When the next project comes along you look for a new landscaper. Maybe even us.

The best landscapers (and other contractors) are different. We know that we make mistakes, are willing to own up to them, and are determined to see a project through no matter how sideways it gets. For us it is very rare for the contractor/client relationship to deteriorate.

For example, in the last 5 years we have dealt with the following:

  • A work truck caught fire in a client's driveway.
  • We accidentally removed a tree that had sentimental value to a client.
  • A retaining wall project ran afoul of the city.
  • A delivery truck clipped the neighbor's house.
  • A new irrigation system sprang a leak, shooting water through an open window onto a napping client. (Yep)
  • We struggled to install a new product, taking 4 tries to get it right.

Fixing these problems may have cost us a couple hours or thousands of dollars, but either way we saw it through. And guess what? Each client was happy at the end and hired us for more work later.

Face it, there will be issues on any large project (and most small ones). Be sure the landscaper you hire knows how to handle them.