Landscape Architecture Firm Uses Design Software to Connect Companies Nationwide
The industry is creatively finding new approaches to doing business, especially amid a thinning workforce. Many groups have started working together to ease the gaps in their internal teams by coordinating with similar businesses on projects and tasks. Crossovers between design, build and maintenance groups is not new, but closer networking and communication with other landscapers is becoming easier. This is largely due to advanced technology and accessible digital platforms. Yardzen, a California landscape design and build firm with nationwide service, is embracing this idea. They are helping industry teams network and coordinate, and the tactic is helping them quickly grow to be one of the most widespread groups in the country.
Twenty-two people died, 5,000-plus buildings were destroyed and 36,000-plus acres were scorched across Northern California during the Tubs Wildfire in 2017. The disaster is one of the largest wildfires in state history. Allison Messner and her husband lived on four acres of land in Northern California at the time. They watched helplessly as flames overtook the community near their 100-year-old farmhouse. Allison says, by some miracle, the fire spared their home. But their land, outbuildings, fences and even rain gutters were destroyed.
“We basically had a patch of scorched earth that we had to had to restore and rebuild,” she says. “We had never worked with a landscape architect before, but started reaching out to find help. That is when the bids started flooding in. Many were in the tens of thousands of dollars just for a design plan. We thought, there's got to be a better way to do this.”
With no background in the landscape industry, the Messners launched Yardzen. The design company is an online service that helps ease the landscaping construction process for homeowners by connecting them to landscape architects and landscape contractors. People using Yardzen can pick a custom design package that factors in price, time, styles and location. The team uses a large network to connect homeowners to a designer and contractor that best match their needs. The goal? Optimize business.
“A lot of landscape contractors offer design services because there's demand for design services, but it might not be their core competency,” explains Allison. “In a lot of cases it's even a negative cost center for them. We have contractors that actually send their clients straight to Yardzen to come up with a design, then we all work together when it is time to build. There's a lot of nuance to the working relationships, but we make it easy for landscape architects and contractors to work together.”
Yardzen clients use custom-designed software to pick their personal design packages. They can choose to create simple botanical designs, add in hardscaping or even lay out specific details of their home to create elaborate plans—things like building swimming pools or sports courts or large patios. Clients use inspiration photos to help designers understand their tastes and even discuss maintenance requirements to get an idea of the cost commitments required after completion. Yardzen incorporates sustainability plans that are specific to the location of the project, using plant material that will thrive in certain regions and support the ecosystems there. The team uses three-dimensional technology to show renderings of the completed project during the day and at night. They say most clients communicate primarily through the digital platform, sending messages on their time and providing feedback on the project plans.
“Five years ago this wouldn’t have really existed,” says Allison.
"Now, because of all the different ways to connect with people across the country, there are so many new opportunities."
Yardzen takes on tens of thousands of projects each year using a network of principal designers, all landscape architects, with expertise on different regions. They can choose the project, location and client they want to work with and conduct business on their time. Yardzen also has a support team for contractors. During a project, they help communicate necessary changes and find solutions to any issues.
“Completing a project is a fluid process, so we want there to be a partnership,” Allison says. “We want to bring everyone to the table, including the homeowner, the designer and the contractor, so everyone has a say in where the project goes. The technology makes it easier for everyone to communicate, and the end result is that the project gets done better and more efficiently.”
The group is also committed to sustainable landscaping. They outline their efforts in what they call the “American Rewilding Project.”
“We want to help restore wildlife to the natural ecosystem,” Allison says. “This happens by planting plants that are native and climate-adapted and can attract birds, bees and butterflies. That in and of itself is a huge deal. We don’t only want successful landscapes, but ones that are helpful for the environment. It takes a little bit of effort to figure out how to do that, but once you do, you realize there's so many benefits to this. Most of our clients support the initiative as well; they just need a little bit of education and a nudge in the right direction.”
The group also uses a network of material suppliers, many who focus on sustainable manufacturing techniques and products. They know which materials will be used on a site before construction begins to be sure all costs are shared upfront with a client.
“Our bar is pretty high in every way,” Allison says.
"We want great contractors, suppliers & even clients to be sure everyone has a great experience."
Yardzen began in California, then moved to the southern regions by branching into Austin and moving east. Many of their most successful southern sites are in Texas, Tennessee and Alabama. The team only expands to new cities and regions when they have team members with expertise on the area. They want to be familiar with the plants, materials, weather patterns, even the style. When Yardzen works with clients in southern states, they often demonstrate a strong desire to gather with family and friends in their outdoor spaces —both in the back yard and the front yard. There are many requests for fire pits, pergolas and outdoor dining spaces. Some clients are also moving away from traditional lawn designs by choosing pollinator-supporting plants throughout their yard and creating functional spaces with hardscaping.
Allison says Yardzen is quickly becoming one of the largest landscape design firms in the country. She hopes to continue growing the expert, in-house network of landscape contractors and material suppliers, in addition to their client base. As the effort continues, Allison promises to find ways to elevate the service and ease the landscape construction process.
“Investing time and money into changing your home can be emotional and intense,” she concludes. “It can be intense for the teams involved, too.," says Allison.
"We hope to create opportunities for businesses by helping them connect with really great clients & find really great partners."
"I think it is working and, honestly, I think we’re doing a lot of good things in people’s lives.”
More details on Yardzen’s network and ways to engage are outlined online.