Hear that? No, it’s not the whirring of a weed whacker four hundred feet up. It’s a drone. It’s circling your project taking photos from dreamlike angles that would have been impossible a decade ago.
We think there are good arguments to be made that drone integration is the future of landscaping, and ten years from now, doing a job without one will feel as strange as doing a job without a shovel.
While many companies have embraced the game-changing potential of adding drones to their job estimating and planning toolkit, others are dragging their feet. Many veterans of the landscaping industry have legitimate questions and concerns about drone operation, which we hope we’ll be able to answer today. But first, let’s discuss the other side of the rotor.
The Benefits of Drones
Sam Gembel, the owner of landscaping company Atlas Outdoor, said he views the use of a drone in his projects to be as essential as calling the utility company before he digs. We probably don’t need to tell you that’s pretty darn important.
Drones eliminate some of the problems that come from relying too heavily on satellite imagery. While the relatively recent integration of satellite imagery has certainly made our lives easier, it was not designed with landscaping companies in mind. For starters, satellites capture images at specific moments in time, and a lot may have happened to the property since. Maybe there was new construction, a change in the landscaping layout, a fence here, a pool there. Drones eliminate the problem of outdated photography since they are able to operate in real-time, with up to the minute accuracy.
Another area where satellites fall short is when the photos they take are blurry, unclear, or where there are other objects in the way. A satellite picture taken in July might not be as useful as one taken in November when the trees have shed their leaves. Then again, if there are leaves covering the ground, you might not be able to tell exactly where your homeowner’s paver path goes.
When you bid a residential job, you probably walk around the yard with your customer, right? Well, what happens when you bid on something bigger, say, for a homeowner’s association?
When we spoke with Jared Gilbertsen of Strauser Nature’s Helpers, he correctly pointed out that it’s hard to convince an HOA board of directors to take a five-mile walk while he guided them through his plans for their property. Jared’s solution? Fly a drone over the property and lay out his plan in the comfort (and air conditioning) of the HOA office. According to Jared, drones provide a useful perspective when bidding on jobs, not to mention a bit of a ‘cool’ factor that leads to potential customers being more open and attentive.
(Above: Drone Video for Customers from Strauser)
Getting Started with Drones In House
It’s all well and good to talk about the ways companies are using drones to make accurate estimates and close more deals, but how do you get started?
Drones can be intimidating. Not only do they require a pilot, but to be effective the pilot needs to know a few things about photography as well, how to take a clear shot, how to tell a story with a picture, and how to edit the whole thing together.
Feeling anxious? Don’t. Eric Blevins has been in the landscaping industry for a long time. He started with Ruppert in Atlanta in the late-90’s and stayed on after they sold to TruGreen. After that, he worked in both Raleigh and Atlanta until he decided to open his own shop, Evolve Landscaping.
Eric started using drones right away. He bought an entry-level drone and practiced flying it in a field close to where he lives. After a few days, he found he could actually fly it pretty well. He logged a few more hours which wasn’t all that hard because drones are actually quite fun to fly.
(Above: Drone Video from Evolve Landscaping)
He taught himself how to use it in a short period of time. He discovered some tricks for controlling the camera, such as adjusting the angle for different times of the day and how to crop areas out of his shots.
If you ask Eric, he will tell you he was able to improve a lot in a short period of time because he simply enjoyed flying his drone.
Then he started using it at job sites, and it made such a difference that he started another company, Evolve Flight Services.
Hiring an Outside Drone Service
Of course, there are obstacles when it comes to flying drones. For starters, flying drones commercially requires an FAA license. While it isn’t a difficult thing to get, it means you can’t just buy a drone and start flying it over your job sites.
Which brings us to another concern when it comes to adopting drone technology into your business, drones are expensive. We’ll discuss this more later when we talk about different brands of drones to choose from, but a drone package suitable for professional use is going to cost anywhere from $500 to upwards of $4,000. Not exactly cheap.
Once you buy the drone, however, it isn’t hard to teach yourself how to use it. Channel your inner Eric Blevins and find yourself a field and try it out. Trial and error is a great teacher because you can learn quickly and all it costs is your time.
If you don’t have time, there is another way to incorporate drones into your landscaping practice, you can hire a service to do it for you. This can be a great option since it doesn’t require any extra steps. Simply reach out to a company, and they can usually have results for you the same day. This is especially useful if big jobs are only an occasional thing for your business, and you don’t necessarily need that kind of big picture access on a regular basis.
Buying a Drone for Your Landscaping Company
When purchasing new technology, it is always tempting to start at the lowest end of the cost spectrum. With drones, this can lead to purchasing something that is fragile, unstable, and doesn’t last. Generally, we think it’s better to acknowledge that your drone is an investment and to buy something that is a little higher quality.
While there are plenty of drone companies to choose from, Jared from Strauser Nature’s Helpers recommends DJI. According to Jared, DJI produces incredible aircrafts and cameras and is seen by many in the industry as a great blend of quality and ease of use.
While it may cost between $2,000-$4,000 to get your drone program up and running, it is a smart investment for landscaping companies because it will undoubtedly win you more business.
Many people using drones in the landscaping industry wish they’d started much earlier.
Drone Integration with Landscape Takeoff Software
Many of today’s options in landscape takeoff software allow for drone integration. LandOne Takeoff allows users to mark up and measure from drone footage to create a landscape enhancement estimate and proposal on the spot.
This powerful functionality is going to affect the way we all do business. Soon, it may be that companies without drones find themselves falling behind the competition. We live in an era where adopting new technology can make or break our businesses, can open new opportunities or leave us in the lurch. At LandOne, we believe drones are one of these technologies.