Stay busy during the holiday season.
As winter approaches and business naturally slows, adding holiday lighting installation to your company’s services can keep maintenance crews busy, attract new clients and increase profits.
But maybe not right away.
If you decide to purchase seasonal strands, wreaths, mesh wraps and other decorations made with LED lights to lease to customers, plan for a lean two or three years before you see a good return on investment, says Abhi Sharan, manager of Southern Irrigation.
“There’s an upfront cost,” he says. “Realize that for the first few years you won’t make a lot of money, and don’t rush the service by cutting corners.”
His company has been decorating buildings and lawns in the Nashville, Tenn., area for the past five years. About 60 percent of his holiday lighting clients are residential and 40 percent are commercial.
Beaver Creative Environments charges an hourly rate to decorate 50-60 residential properties in the Kansas City-area each holiday season. “I’ve always enjoyed doing my own home and we had some requests,” says Jon Beaver, company owner. “It’s just one more way to offer a creative service and it’s always an introduction into people’s homes. Once we get on a property, we want to take care of all their needs.”
Since Beaver began offering holiday lighting almost a decade ago, he has seen more than 80 percent of his customers transition from incandescent lights to LED, which use much less energy and break less often. The newer lights work especially well on older homes which are not wired to handle a lot of wattage, he says.
Both Southern Irrigation and Beaver Creative first meet with clients on their properties to discuss their vision and determine color preferences. Homeowners often prefer warm, white lighting, while many commercial customers like a mix of colors that attract attention. The layout of the structures is noted, and light strand footage and other materials are estimated. At Beaver Creative, crews start installing decorations by the second or third week in October and usually finish by Thanksgiving. Southern Irrigation keeps a later schedule with installations beginning in November and even more following in December.
Beaver says he purchases and stores decorations for 80 to 90 percent of his customers, documenting each design with photos. He starts contacting past clients to confirm their interest for the coming season as early as August.
Southern Irrigation advertises its holiday lighting services by mailing 15,000 to 20,000 flyers each year. Sharan says he keeps up with lighting trends by reading trade journals, since every year there’s a slightly different style. String lights with bulbs spaced every 12 (rather than 18) inches are the most common, with a recent upswing in crisp, blue lights. Some unusual requests have included lights wrapped around various unique structures.
Teardrop lights have been popular in Kansas City, Beaver says, and he predicts a big item next season will be moving lights that look like they’re dropping through the trees.
Both companies cite annual revenue in the neighborhood of $2 million. Holiday lighting contributes to less than 5 percent of that figure for Beaver Creative. Southern Irrigation considers landscape lighting one of its core services, and brings in a higher profit on holiday decorating jobs.
Gary Fouts, owner of Christmas Décor by Principle Lighting in southwest Chicago, started doing holiday lighting in 1999 to keep workers busy all year long.
“The larger our company has become, the challenge has been to find enough employees due to the fact that we have a lot of repeat clients who all want their lights ready to turn on the day after Thanksgiving,” he says.
Total revenue for 2013 was approx. $600,000 with $260,000 of that being Christmas Décor. The company employs approximately 10 employees year round, while adding five during the Christmas season. “We have been able to find some employees that work for irrigation companies that are usually free to work in November but that doesn’t always help with the initial rush,” he says.