When you plan your driveway and paving business it's important to make an estimate of how much demand there will be. It's also important to find out as much as possible about the competition. Doing some market research will help you with this.
It's important to think about how many people are likely to use your services.
Pay attention to the type of housing in your area. For example, are houses large and expensive with reasonably-sized front gardens, or small and low cost? Are they old or new? Do they appear well kept or run down? Is accommodation mainly owner-occupied or mainly rented? Is some owned by the local authority or by a housing association? Look at front gardens and driveways - is there potential for improvement? Are there many buildings with special requirements, for example listed buildings and those sited within a Conservation Area? If so, find out details about local planning requirements.
Try to match the range of products and services that you offer to the needs and wants of local customers. Think about whether or not you are prepared to travel to other areas to do work.
Record sheet 1 will help you with this aspect of your market research.
Work for other businesses and organisations
Think about other places in your area where paving services might be required. Pubs, schools, churches, shops and offices with car parks, caravan sites, theme parks and so on may all require paving services at some point and are all potential clients. You could also consider approaching the National Landlords Association to see if you can become a recognised local supplier..
Once you have identified who your potential customers are, you can direct your advertising efforts at them.
Contract and sub-contract work
Try approaching other businesses that may need your services regularly. You could, for example, leave your details with local building contractors, property developers and landscape designers. Other large paving firms might also require sub-contractors on a regular basis. Consider approaching your local authority - these are normally major users of paving services and may be prepared to include your business on a list of 'approved contractors'. Housing associations may also be potential clients.
Large organisations who invite firms to tender for contract work may be reluctant to use a newly established business. Also, a young business may have difficulty in funding a large contract, as many things may have to be paid for well before any payment is received. But it may be worth finding out who is responsible for putting work out to tender in large organisations such as housing associations, local authorities and big construction firms. Try to find out how the tender process works and what you would have to do if you wanted to tender for a contract.
Establishing the level of competition
Once you have decided who your customers might be, you need to find out how well they are already served.
How many other driveway, patio and paving specialists are there in your area? A look on Yell.com (try classifications 'paving services', 'landscapers', 'asphalt and macadam laying' and perhaps 'garden services') and other similar directories will help to establish this. Look out for branches of large, well known, regional companies. Bear in mind that other types of business, for example general builders and landscapers, might also do paving work.
Look at some of your competitors' advertisements and websites:
- what products and services do they offer
- do they use any particular products (for example a well known brand of block or clay paviour)
- do they offer any specialist products and services, for example tennis court surfacing or pattern imprinted concrete
- are they listed as an 'approved contractor' by a particular block or paving slab manufacturer
- do they advertise any special features, for example 'no pushy sales-people', an insurance-backed guarantee, a freephone telephone number, '25 years experience' and so on
- do they belong to any trade associations, for example the Guild of Master Craftsmen or Interlay, the Association of Paving Contractors
- what sort of impression does their advertisement give you (for example, does the firm come across as small and friendly, large and efficient, good value, traditional, upmarket)
Record sheet 2 will help you with this aspect of your market research.
Remember that, unfortunately, you may also face competition from 'cowboys' and 'moonlighters' who do some paving and patio work for cash but don't advertise anywhere. These often quote very low prices but fail to match the quality of professional firms. Many have no insurance and some are blatantly dishonest.