Business Operations

Keeping it Cool with Pergolas

It’s a great time to be what I refer to as a Custom Deck Specialist. With the pandemic, people are home and looking for some additional leg room. A beautiful new deck can add a tremendous amount of new floor space at a reasonable cost.

It’s a great time to be what I refer to as a Custom Deck Specialist. With the pandemic, people are home and looking for some additional leg room. A beautiful new deck can add a tremendous amount of new floor space at a reasonable cost. Last year the marketplace became overwhelmingly cluttered with builder grade bottom feeders that clogged up the market like a Washington, D.C. traffic jam.

There will always be a market for that type of builder and it’s becoming even more congested. For those of us who have found our niche on that plateau between those and the super-end market where only the rich and famous dwell, the doors are wide open. I’m talking about the projects catering to the upper middle class where the clientele is a bit more discerning in areas pertaining to quality, workmanship, value, and details; The 400 square foot (and larger) projects where attributes like lighting, patterns and substantial structure carry a higher grade than finding the cheapest guy in town, like so many unsuspecting victims found out in 2020.

The “I can beat anybody’s price in town” guy definitely has his place in the low-end discount market, but for those of us who view our craft as works of art and strive every day to be the best, we’ve carved out an untapped mine of possibilities. Many of these “Bob in His Beater” types dug their own graves last year with an abundance of poorly built projects. Not only did they validate the reasons to hire a true professional with their sub-par work, but they validated and legitimized our value-based proposals.

Today, with social media and neighborhood sharing platforms, the homeowners who got sucked into that enticing vortex of budget pricing are now not only singing the praises of the Deck Specialists they didn’t hire but are “pile driving” and destroying the reputations of the low ballers who mislead them. We’ve watched many of these companies fall off to the wayside, leaving unsuspecting homeowners with a messy pile of regret in their backyards. Prospective clients are coming out of the woodwork with horror stories relayed to them by their neighbors.
The time is ripe for the well prepared, intuitive craftsman who is amply qualified to fulfill their dreams of an expanded living experience. It’s important to provide a comfort level and assurance that your company has a complete repertoire of options, examples, and a history of fully satisfied clients to validate their decision.
Experience shows that clients don’t want to be “your first time.” They want a company that is well-positioned and remarkably trained in the caliber of work they are seeking. In past issues we discussed several options on how to turn the basic into a gem to enhance the clients’ outdoor living experience and to set their deck apart from the others.
Now we’ll discuss another basic option that’s often overlooked—one that provides shade, privacy, and increased revenue all at the same time—pergolas and patios. A majority of clients have mentioned that they traded their summer travel plans for a much safer and healthier stay-at-home option. Suddenly, unused vacation funds have become available and theese clients now want to create the sensation of relaxing at the beach or lakeside.
So even if they don’t ask, it’s our obligation to help them visualize what they want and bring it to fruition. Don’t be afraid to offer some enhancements to your proposal.
Keeping it cool under a reasonably priced, value based, quality pergola conceptualizes the perfect gathering place for some much needed, priceless fellowship time. As homeowners look to purge that relief valve from stress, their newly added outdoor environment delivers a staycation destination and a sanctuary of wellbeing.

But not everyone wants to bake in the direct sun or put their lives on full display. That’s why a well-designed and constructed pergola can be a fantastic option. And not the over-the-top options that will break the bank. Let’s keep it to the more simple, affordable designs where components are readily available.

Our discussion will focus on the composite deck with a vinyl pergola. This type of pergola can either come in a kit or be stick built like the deck. We prefer to design and calculate the pergola from scratch to make it better fit the deck project instead of building the deck around the kit. This allows for greater flexibility in laying out the posts, beam, and headers.
All too often we see a poorly designed deck with a potential resale value-killing railing or pergola post in the middle of a window. Ugh! Makes me want to poke myself in the eye so I don’t have to look at it. The true design professional has the foresight to work around such issues (obviously there are always mitigating circumstances).

The opportunities are far too great for us to overlook the addition of a pergola on any new project. Craftsmen from all over the world and right here in our communities have come up with fascinating ideas and design concepts. It only takes is five minutes on social media to verify that point. Today’s vinyl pergolas are allowing for greater creativity than ever before. Companies are slipping steel deck framing components into the hollow front beams which allows them to eliminate all the intermediate supports.

The cost tradeoff is minimal when planned and executed properly. Another good looking and functional add-on to the pergola that clients are really hot for is the addition of an outdoor curtain. By incorporating a few secondary rail components, you can add a nice curtain rod system that works beautifully. The sides of a pergola are a great tie-in for incorporating some privacy railing. The code compliant options in that category are limitless.

Because most of the components on a vinyl pergola are hollow, it’s a great opportunity to add low voltage LED lighting. Cap lights, post sleeve (dome lights), flush mount lights are all great options in and around the pergola. Clients are even bringing in electricians to run outdoor ceiling fans for those hot, muggy and buggy days.

One more extremely popular option available for clients is how the pergola makes a perfect spot for hanging up tiki style party lights. One client recently asked us to add 8-foot-tall posts on the corners of her ground level deck for just that reason-stringing up her lights. It’s actually fun to get creative and adjust your designs in order to be the “solution” to your client’s needs.
It’s important to always craft every one of your pergolas in a unique manner, but at the same time stay with a basic flavor in order to maintain productivity and profitability. When the client is given the sensation that the project was specifically designed for their unique circumstance, it develops an aura of personalization that elevates you to a level well above all other professionals. You have now “Set the Standard of Excellence.” And that’s what it’s all about.

We recently had a family with Brazilian heritage request that their pergola be constructed with real IPE and install hooks to mount hammocks between the support posts, since that’s how they relaxed back in Rio. Turned out beautiful and brought the family to tears as they visualized themselves back home. The mileage you can get by meeting and exceeding a client’s expectations can’t be purchased with marketing dollars. It’s earned by going the extra mile. That’s what Deck Specialists do.

Brandan Casey

With 35+ years experience in construction, Brendan Casey, with his wife Dianna, launched Casey Fence & Deck, Frederick, MD., fulfilling a growing need in the outdoor living market for an
innovative and creative custom builder.

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