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Landscape Architect Bob Hursthouse on Why Client Relationships are Everything

The award-winning outdoor designer shares how he finds clients and keeps them coming back 

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For landscape architect Bob Hursthouse, a career creating outdoor spaces was a natural fit. “I was an outdoor kid looking to be outside. Rock climbing, Boy Scouts, kayaking, backpacking - all that outdoor stuff,” he says. With his Chicago-based firm Hursthouse Landscape Architects and Contractors winning a Best of Houzz award 10 years in a row, Hursthouse shares his secret to success: client relationships. 

“Our core values are very simple,” he explains. “Do the right thing for today. We make sure we're taking good care of our clients. Honor our reputation for tomorrow, because you only get one shot of creating a reputation, and have fun every day.”

Finding the right fit

Hursthouse worked in the industry for a decade before starting his own firm, and  cultivated relationships with future clients. “Repeat clients and direct referrals are the way we started and the way we still find a good percentage of our business,” he says. He also uses Houzz Pro to generate leads and to choose those that are the right fit for the landscape architectural and construction services he offers.

It’s important to make sure that your client is a good match for your business, and vice versa. “We vet our clients as we ask them to vet us,” explains Hursthouse. On his end, he tries to cover five points with every potential client. This includes the architecture of their home as well as their stage of life and family makeup. Then, he helps them fast forward to understand what kind of landscaping needs they will need over time.

“We try to be forward-thinking with our design. It's not just about what we're doing today,” he says. “I've got clients I worked with for over 30 years and the swing set that was once important that became irrelevant, is now important again, because they’ve got grandkids.” 

Standing out with a digital portfolio

With more than three decades in the business, Hursthouse has also changed with the technology to find clients, grow his  business and communicate with clients. “The games have completely changed from where they were. “Obviously, the world has gone digital and now it's time to think about, "How many platforms can you display your work on, in a professional way that people will find?" Of course, Houzz is such a great tool.” 

He has a Houzz Pro Premium Profile to help him stand out from his competitors when homeowners search Houzz for landscape architects in the Chicago area. With a Premium Profile, landscape pros can easily pull together their portfolio of stunning photography, manage their reputation with stellar reviews, and let prospective clients book a video meeting directly from the profile page. Hursthouse grabs their attention with an engaging highlight video on his Premium Profile page. Prominently displaying the best client reviews on the profile makes a greater impact for attracting new clients who can then easily contact the pro through the site. 

He is a big fan of using Houzz Ideabooks where potential clients build out their visions for transforming their outdoor (and indoor) spaces by choosing and saving photographs of projects they love, awesome products to make their dream happen and the professionals they think can get it done. “Houzz is such a great tool for clients doing a project just trying to figure out what in the world they want to do,” he says. Having high-quality visuals of completed projects is a key way to turn their heads. 

Houzz Perfect Capture helps pros populate their portfolios with the type of high-quality photographs that close deals by connecting them to professional photographers in their local area, and even scheduling the photo shoots. 

Building relationships for the long term

When clients bring their many ideas to him, Hursthouse helps them set realistic expectations by working with them to establish a wishlist and assigning budget ranges for each item. “That way they can rank order of priority. They can take things off the list, they can put things back on the list,” he says. “Every decision has a pro and a con, so let’s weigh out the pro and the con, and then you can tell us which way you’d like to go,” he says. Tools such as Houzz Pro help landscape contractors create those cost estimates quickly, and manage the project once it gets underway. 

The client relationship does not end with the project completion, Hursthouse says. “We intentionally use the word ‘client’ as opposed to ‘customer.’ We're trying to build that long-term client relationship.” His firm goes the extra mile to make sure they’re satisfied with his work. “I offer an annual walkthrough of the garden because it's organic. It's going to change. The sunny yard becomes a shady yard after the trees mature. We have to adjust some things,” he explains. “We communicate with them several times during the year,” he says. When COVID started, he sent weekly emails to clients about his own family garden, including the birds visiting and grilling recipes. “I got tons of responses from clients, thanking us for the breath of fresh air.”

A growing industry

Aspiring landscape architects will be pleased to know that the market for outdoor spaces is booming, especially with the rise of remote working following the pandemic. “If you want to flash back over 40 years, outdoor living spaces really weren't discussed. The term hardscape had not yet been coined,” Hurthouse explains. His business continues to grow. “I never thought we'd reap benefits from the pandemic, but what it's done is people's priorities have completely changed.” 

And, Hursthouse sees no sign that the emphasis on home and family will change anytime soon. “We’re not going to go back now.”

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