Outdoor Design & Business Trends

Peer-to-peer business perspective from the industry’s largest independent outdoor-living contractor, System Pavers.

by Kyle Clapham

After two years of impacts from the pandemic, homes today need to be more dynamic and personalized. It’s where our clients work, play, exercise and spend time with family and friends. With this, outdoor living design and remodeling contractors today can do a better job serving their customers.

As we navigate supply-chain concerns and labor shortages, it’s necessary to understand client frustrations. However, we’re seeing homeowners make more decisive and long-term decisions as they commit to projects regardless of the longer lead times.

In 2022 we expect the focus on outdoor living projects to continue growing. Design professionals and contractors can capitalize on the shift in home trends to guide customers as they look to upgrade their spaces. Through thousands of projects completed last year, we predict the following three trends can scale client opportunities.

Client Personalization

This season, lean on personalization to best serve your clients. Unlike customization, personalization allows you to start with a base project that your crew can efficiently design and install while still honoring your client’s lifestyle and specific needs. This is particularly important this year given delays in project timelines because of labor and materials shortages.

Start with your client’s ‘why.’ Whether it’s to create an inviting space to spend more quality time with family, a tranquil environment to unwind after long days, or a safe driveway to welcome them home, understanding their daily routine and their why will better allow you to bring their vision to life.

The trend of blending the indoors out is also important to consider when planning, as we’re seeing people prioritize their outdoor space design on par with their interior. Making your clients’ outdoor space a true extension of their home should be a top priority. This means that apart from the functionality and thoughtfulness of a given design solution, the overall look and feel should flow from inside out.

Ask your client what their lifestyle needs are and understand how they envision the design will support that. As homeowners spent more time at home, they became thoughtful about their space and how they want to use it. A good place to start when identifying what features matter most to them is with standard additions such as BBQ islands, fire features and technology integration.

From there, built-in seating and hardscaping should join the space together aesthetically while boosting the functionality. The space can still feel custom through final touches without a fully custom job’s added time and expense. With colors, shapes, fabrics, add-ons and finishes, the space can feel unique to each home.

For example, between porcelain pavers, concrete pavers and natural stone and brick, there are a variety of textures and colorways to choose from. As the contractor, it is imperative to know which products are available, what will match the overall aesthetic of the project, and what will be the most durable for the location before giving clients options that don’t meet these basic project standards.

Technology Integration

Technology continues to trend in outdoor living design for both clients and pros. Focusing on technology has not always been the norm for our industry. A vast majority of contractors (86 percent) only allocate 5 percent of their annual budgets to software. Integrating technology into your business processes could prove beneficial for long-term time and money savings.

From a business perspective, technology offers many internal and external benefits. For one thing, it can allow owners to offer professional development to your team. Continuing education may seem like a challenging tactic during your busy seasons, but ensuring your team understands the latest techniques, best practices and products will only improve your bottom line and their work experience.

For example, we prioritize a culture of learning through our System Pavers University, which includes both instructor-led and on-demand learning opportunities for sales, construction and management roles.

Software can improve your selling and closing capabilities. The ability to show a client visual representation of their project bolsters the customer journey. It can be hard for clients to imagine their future space with sketches alone. Design programs like our visualizer allow our clients to explore many remodel possibilities quickly and visually.

Design tools, too, aid in uncovering which outdoor products are a best fit for the client’s lifestyle as well as take inventory of their property for architectural style, onsite and offsite viewpoints, grading, draining and more. And a bonus is that using visual tools or augmented reality reduces the number of errors and changes needed as projects progress to completion. Seeing a project in the space before groundbreaking ensures that all parties are aligned on the plans.

Functional Spaces

Gone are the days when clients renovated their backyards solely to entertain on summer weekends. They are prioritizing for everyday and year-round use. With long lead-times and more thoughtful clients, it’s crucial to show the return on investment your clients will reap throughout the year. To do this, outdoor living designs should offer shelter, heat, lighting and easy access.

Advise your clients to identify features that will make the biggest impact on their family and know which features should be integrated into the plans from the beginning versus phased-in over time. With this comes many opportunities for contractors to expand the project’s scope.

No matter the weather, providing shelter in an outdoor design extends the possibilities for homeowners. Stormy day? An attached pergola allows them to relax to the sound of rain. Summer heat? Homeowners can seek relief in the shade of their free-standing pergola. Heavy snow? A louvered pergola protects the outdoor dining or living room from the elements.

Designing for protection and circulation is essential to creating a comfortable environment for homeowners and their guests. Designing for easy movement throughout a space is key for year-round use. An “outdoor oasis” situated in a far corner of the backyard is wonderful until it becomes inaccessible due to snow or ice.

To improve circulation, contractors should focus on areas closer to the home, locations that can be used more frequently. With a solid understanding of a client’s daily routines and regular use of the space, you can provide a personalized design for any season.

Integrate the Elements

Heating features foster a cozy environment and invite homeowners to spend more time in their space any time of year. Outdoor heaters and fireplaces are top choices in optimizing outdoor spaces for year-round use. It shouldn’t be difficult for contractors to display the value of a heating element to clients and the variety of options that offer opportunities to customize the feature to each situation.

Lighting integrations have become an expected part of outdoor living designs. While they provide heat, they do create ambiance. Custom lighting can be a psychological lift offering warmth and comfort.

Walkway lighting is a safety issue, but with the right fixtures and design, can add drama and depth. For a more dynamic design, features like a candle wall or a chandelier within a pergola or covered space can be a luxurious addition. Unique lighting applications help create a destination for homeowners, especially during winter evenings. Contractors can also impress homeowners by elevating their lighting designs to include low-voltage LED lighting, which gives ample light and reduced energy costs.

It’s no secret that being a thoughtful design partner is beneficial to your clients and business. We are currently in a cycle where homes are rapidly appreciating in value. This makes it easier to show return on investment when your clients sell in the future.

Homes with great outdoor living spaces, both in front and backyard, stand out on the market because they add usable and livable space to the home. Contractors should highlight the emotional ROI clients will reap. Spending more time outside boosts quality of life.

With the busy season upon us, now is the time to align your crews on best practices using available technology, empower your design teams to use personalization techniques to boost efficiency, and sell features that will increase your clients’ emotional and financial ROI. QR

Cassi Hallam is the chief marketing officer for System Pavers of Santa Ana, Calif. The company offers outdoor living solutions via 16 offices in the western and central regions of the U.S. The company is the No. 1 outdoor remodeling company on QR’s annual TOP 500 list, completing several thousand jobs every year.

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