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The Business of Outdoor Rooms
Getting the Job and Advice for Contractors

By Alli Rael, LC/DBM


The owner of this residence in Oregon approached Robert Lussier of Northwest Outdoor Living at a spring garden show with a design he had drawn on a piece of scratch paper. Three months later, his outdoor room was complete - and in almost the exact layout he had originally sketched. In addition to the pavilion and fireplace, Lussier and his crew of 9 built a fire pit and water feature area in the 2,400 square foot space.

Thirty years or so ago, when Robert Lussier of Northwest Outdoor Living got into the landscape industry, he mostly had jobs mowing lawns or installing sprinklers. But in the last ten to 15 years, the concept of outdoor living has exploded.

"I hardly do sprinkler systems or plants anymore," Lussier said. "My customer base and focus has become outdoor living."


The work on this outdoor room was done from the ground up, starting with the removal of the existing lawn and irrigation system. Next, utilities, including gas for the fire features, were installed. Above that, gravel was placed and compacted to allow for paver installation. Once the patio was completed, vertical construction could begin.

Getting the Job
When bidding a job, Lussier tries to set himself apart from the competition by providing as much information as possible.

"If someone's spending $20,000, $30,000, $50,000, $100,000 on a landscape, it's important to answer their questions, or at least try to," Lussier said. "Whenever I meet with a customer I try to put them at ease right away and I bring up the B-word, which nobody likes to talk about - the budget.

"Sometimes the customer will share their budget with you, but even if they don't, I let them know I understand budgets," he continued. "Even on big projects, everyone has a budget."

When it comes to putting a price on a job, Lussier would rather break it down for customers than give a lump sum total. Instead, he prices the main project and lists other options the customer may want to consider, such as an outdoor kitchen, fire feature, or lighting.

When submitting the proposal, Lussier recommends using many photos. "If you go in strong with lots of pictures and a good proposal, you're more competitive," he said.

He also advises using 3D software to create a design concept that allows customers to virtually "walk" through the project. "Most people are visual, and looking down on a piece of paper is challenging sometimes," Lussier explained. "When I can show people a movie of their backyard, they get really excited about it and visualize it."

All said and done, Lussier follows this rule of thumb: for every $10,000 a customer will spend, he spends about an hour working on the design or getting the job.

"Following that formula, with a $200,000 job, you might spend 20 hours trying to get that project," he said. "Then you have work for four months."


The woodwork and pavilion were built shortly after the paver installation. Plants were among the last selections to be made. When bidding a project, Lussier will not specify more than an approximate quantity and size of plants. When it comes time to select plants, he will ask the homeowner for their preferences and then combine that list with his ideas to create a suggested plant list to fit the bid.

All Things Considered
Shortly after getting a job, Lussier creates a decision sheet that he presents to the homeowners.

"It basically lists everything on their job that we need to pick or order," he explained. This lets the customer know what decisions they need to make, what decisions Lussier is going to make, what decisions they will make together. "It helps me be more organized and it puts the customer at ease by letting them know what's expected of them."

Lussier advises contractors to have employees or subcontractors with a wide variety of skills.

"Most guys can put down a paver patio no problem," he said. It's when other factors get added in - kitchens and fire features that require utilities, or any shade structure - that things get complicated.

"For me, it's a total team effort, and most of the work is done by my crews, but for a few things I have really good subs," he said. In addition to a landscape crew, Lussier employs a masonry crew and wood crew. It is not uncommon to have all three at the same job site at the same time.

"Otherwise, the job would take 6 months, and customers aren't going to be happy if you're in their backyard that long," he explained.

Lussier's last word on a successful outdoor living job was keeping the customer happy throughout the project. "Something I tell myself and my employees and my sales people is that these customers have been saving their money for a year or two or even five," he said. "They're very excited. We do this everyday, but the customer, they're finally getting their backyard that they've been talking about and saving for, and you should express some excitement too.

"It's very rewarding when you first look at a yard, and three months later you're leaving and the customer is just grinning ear to ear," Lussier concluded. "You've rocked their world with this incredible outdoor living area. It's a lot of fun."

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, June 2017.

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March 25, 2019, 6:00 pm PDT

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