Disrupting the free quote system

How Novascape Landscaping stopped wasting time and money quoting for free.

3 minute read

How might we break out of the free quote system so common among tradespeople? Fed up with wasting time conducting site visits and preparing quotes that would be used simply as a comparison, Novascape explored what might happen if they formalised a set of activities that they were already doing, packaged these into a service and offered it for a fixed fee.

The Client

Novascape Landscaping is one of Newcastle’s most well-respected and well-known landscaping companies. Servicing domestic and commercial clients across Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and the Hunter region, this talented team of 23 tradespeople, apprentices and support staff are changing the way trades operate.

The Challenge

In the landscaping industry, it’s standard practice to provide quotes for free. As with many other trades, customers expect to be able to collect three quotes, compare them and then make a choice about which provider they’ll go with.

Fed up with wasting time providing quotes that would be used only as a comparison tool, Novascape wanted to increase the number of jobs won and reduce the cost of quoting.

They identified that quoting was costing them a considerable amount of time travelling to and from site visits. In some cases, prospective clients were not there despite having requested the appointment. And too many jobs were too small to be viable projects.

We formulated a project question:

How might we reduce the financial impact of quoting jobs we’re unlikely to win or don’t want to win?

The Project

We began by conducting detailed interviews with Tim Helman, Novascape director, Dominic Gleeson, Domestic Project Manager and Sheridan Armstrong, Operations Manager. These interviews helped us build a picture of where time was being spent, where the most cost arose and to identify where the opportunities might lie.

We defined the problem, paying special attention to the side-effects that Novascape wanted to avoid. As a team, we mapped out the customer journey as it was.

The interview data, combined with the journey map built a really strong picture of how people were behaving within the free quoting ecosystem. It immediately became apparent that we needed to ask the question:

What if we started charging a fee for preparing a quote?

With this question, we explored what the implications of a paid service might be. We also started work designing a new service called a Site Consultation.

The Results

After initial fear about what might happen if Novascape went so strongly against the established norm in their industry, the results were amazing.

Novascape stopped offering free quotes. Instead, they offer a $77 site consultation service. This service includes:

  • attending the site at the agreed time (pretty uncommon in their industry)
  • making an accurate assessment of the complexities of the project (impossible without visiting the site)
  • discussing and determining which materials will best suit the project
  • delivering an accurate quote (also impossible without assessing access and complexity of the site)

We formulated a simple webpage that explained these activities and outlined a number of reasons why the site consultation made sense including reducing the risk of project variations as a result of unforeseen circumstances.

So what happened next?

Instead of dropping, the number of incoming enquiries remained constant. But the quality of those enquiries improved. The price acted as a filter mechanism filtering out those that were simply looking for a price to compare with other quotes.

Dominic noted an increase in the average value of projects. The fee also helped cover the cost of time spent onsite, travelling and preparing the quote.

The improved accuracy of the quotes also reduced the stress and work associated with variations later in the projects.

The site consultations were so successful, so quickly, that Novascape removed their standard contact form from their website and channelled all enquiries through the Site Consultation service.

In essence, we replaced an informal, poorly defined free service with a well-defined, predictable and consistent fixed price service.

When does this make sense?

Challenging the status quo can be risky, but it can also be rewarding. Organisations that offer free quotes, especially tradespeople such as builders, electricians, plumbers, tilers, roofers, might consider exploring their quoting service and whether or not they could charge a fee for that service.

In other organisations that deliver a service for free to try to win work, you could consider the implications of beginning to charge for that service.

Methods Used

Problem Definition - In-depth Interviews - Journey Mapping - Desk Research - Service Design - Information Architecture - Copywriting - Website Design

A quick note about Novascape

Novascape Landscaping ceased trading at the end of February 2019 having achieved annual turnover of over $1 million. Here a note from Director Tim Helman:

Fourteen years ago I started Novascape as a sole trader in my mum’s carport. I was twenty at the time.

Building one of Newcastle’s most well-known and well-respected landscaping companies has been extremely demanding of my time and energy. But priorities change. It’s time for me to shift my attention to my family. And I want to go out on a high!

At the end of February we’ll be putting down our tools for the last time.

Thank you for your support over the years. To our staff, clients, suppliers, friends and family, your belief in our vision and trust in our ability made Novascape a great company. Thank you.

Tim Helman
Director Novascape Landscaping Pty Ltd

Work with standing man
“I’m still quoting the same number of jobs, but we’re winning more of them. I think people are happy to pay the fee because they realise they are actually getting something for their money.”Dominic Gleeson, Domestic Project Manager, Novascape