A bright business

Despite COVID-19, holiday lighting's latest technologies will help the market stay hot.

© diane 39 | iStockphoto

Bright, vibrant light displays are synonymous with the holiday season, but as the technology continues to advance, holiday lighting has become a popular service year-round.

“It’s a fun business,” says L.C. Kaylor, general manager and lead designer at Kaylor Landscape, in Porterville, Calif. “You get to bring a lot of joy to people.”

Taylor Olberding, partner and operating manager at Heroes Holiday Lighting and Heroes Lawn & Landscape in Omaha, Nebraska, acknowledges it’s even helped expand his business.

“It’s a good industry to get into to keep your clients year-round,” he says. “We find that the clients who want to spend money on holiday lighting usually need other services. We’ve seen better opportunities to grow our client base by offering the holiday lights.”

Arnie Arsenault, president of A. Arsenault & Sons, says customers reach out to his business for numerous reasons.

“The reason we find that customers are calling us most for is safety,” he says. “Once you start getting into the roof lighting, it becomes a safety issue. The professionalism is also part of it. Maybe a customer might string their lights very loosely through a plant material and use 100 lights, and we’ll do the same shrub and use 300-400 lights.”

“I get to use all my same manpower, and it keeps people working longer in the year.” Tim Hikade, Full Circle Lawn Care

Decking the halls.

Olberding says by leasing the materials to his clients, he can better serve them and they get a little more freedom.

“What we’ve slowly transitioned to is having more of a rental-based package for everything,” he says. “As technology evolves and changes… the rental package is the most convenient for our clients. If they want to switch things up the following year, or saw something new they liked, they can do it without having to buy new products every year.”

Olberding adds that customers don’t always know what’s out there, so it’s important to let them know their options.

“Clients either know exactly what they want or have no idea what they want,” he says. “If they don’t know what they want, we set up a time to meet. I send them a catalog beforehand to look through. Then we’ll put a quote together and do a light sketch up to show a visual.”

Arsenault says when he goes on a consultation, he gives the client an itemized quote where they can select which elements they’d like to go forward with.

“It’s like a menu for them to pick and choose and set their own budget,” he says.

Once the lights are up, the focus turns to customer service.

“We make sure we call up our customers at least twice to make sure everything is going as planned and there are no issues with the products we installed,” Kaylor says. “We always call the week before Christmas, that way we can work through our service calls proactively before we get a call at 6 o’clock on Christmas Eve.”

Arsenault says his crews also take proactive service visits each season.

While more people are decorating for summer or fall holidays, the last two months of the year are still the most popular for holiday lighting, and Tim Hikade, owner of Full Circle Lawn Care in Belford, N.J., says it’s all hands on deck at that point.

“If you’re going to do it, you have to be all in,” he says. “We concentrate on just that in November and December. We’ve always got one or two crews out installing and doing fixes.”

Hikade says providing holiday lighting is also beneficial because it keeps his crews working a few more months.

“I get to use all my same manpower, and it keeps people working longer in the year than a normal landscape season,” he says.

Heroes Holiday Lighting provides a rental-based package to its clients so they can mix up their designs year after year.
Photo courtesy of Heroes Holiday Lighting

The color-changing craze.

What’s popular for commercial clients may not be what homeowners want. So, businesses have to meet both sets of expectations.

“On the commercial side, they’re looking for things to attract people’s attention, where on the residential side, they are looking for traditional lighting,” Arsenault says.

Kaylor says that this year, he expects his commercial clients to go bigger than before.

“There are a lot more three-dimensional displays being produced,” he says. “These really large, show-stopping pieces are the transition from the oversized Christmas tree. They’re more unique.”

Olberding says for his residential clients, it’s a mix of classic and colorful.

“Fifty percent of people just love tradition. They like warm, white lights, a little bow on the front door and that’s it. Others, who have a modern house or a bunch of kids, they like ‘Frozen’ colors and want blue and white lights, twinkles and the whole thing,” he says, referring to the Disney movie.

By renting out the materials, Olberding’s customers aren’t forced to use the color scheme year after year.

“That’s the beauty of the rental thing,” he says. “When the kids grow up and don’t like ‘Frozen’ anymore, they aren’t stuck with it.”

Hikade says his clients prefer the traditional look.

“I always say we sell classic Christmas – wreaths, garland and lights. There are other products out there, but this is mostly what we do,” he says.

“That’s the beauty of the rental thing. When the kids grow up and don’t like ‘Frozen’ anymore, they aren’t stuck with it.” Taylor Olberding, Heroes Holiday Lighting

One of the most popular products on the market seems to be color-changing RGB lights.

“That’s been a differentiator in the market. A lot of clients are requesting something different,” Kaylor says. “We are able to control each individual diode and make it do whatever we want – from red, white and blue to candy cane to twinkle effects. It’s been adding a lot to our designs and clientele.”

Kaylor says being able to control the light display from their smartphones is another common request among his clients.

“You can organize the lights however you want,” he says. “You can have your three-year-old put the lights on...it makes it a lot more user-friendly.”

Arsenault says his business isn’t providing this technology until he learns more about it.

The four men all say they tend to shy away from the elaborate displays that are set to music and feature massive amounts of color-changing lights and patterns.

“Our motto anymore is keep it simple,” Olberding says. “We don’t deviate from what we do. Our goal this year is reducing our skews. That way it’s easier for the employees to put up and take down.”

“We are able to control each individual diode and make it do whatever we want – from red, white and blue to candy cane to twinkle effects.” L.C. Kaylor, Kaylor Landscape

Decorating outside of December.

Thanks to advancements in RGB lights, homeowners can utilize the same strand of lights for various holidays, saving landscapers valuable time.

“Halloween is the next holiday that gets lit the most,” Arsenault says. “What’s difficult about Halloween is it’s a short window. If they want a tree branch wrapped for Halloween and then again for Christmas… without a bulb that changes colors, you have to wrap it in orange, unwrap it and then rewrap it in white for the Christmas season. Now you’ve done the same tree twice.”

Olberding says with Halloween ending right around their busy time, he’s been marketing it more.

“It’s one thing we’re trying to push a little more because if you take them down Nov. 1, you can put Christmas lights right up and just keep the ball rolling,” he says.

Olberding says Fourth of July is another well-lit holiday, but it’s not the only one during the summer months.

“We do some RGB permanent lighting for commercial properties and they can say ‘Alright, all of June we want rainbow colors for Pride Month,’” he says.

Arnie Arsenault believes his residential customers prefer a more classic, traditional design compared to commercial clients.
Photo courtesy of A. Arsenault & Sons

Counting on Christmas.

None of the four men feel the coronavirus pandemic will have negative effect on the holiday lighting industry.

“I think it’s going to be better for business. People aren’t going away and are canceling their vacations,” Hikade says. “They’re going to want to be a little happier come the holiday season.”

While Kaylor Landscape struggled at times due to COVID-19, Kaylor says clients will still want to decorate as normal this holiday season. He notes providing the service has helped the company make it through lean years in the past.

“When it comes down to it, Christmas never cancels,” he says. “It arguably got us through the recession, having that reoccurring revenue. If it’s anything like the 2008 recession… we were cut in half during that time but at least we still had half our work.”

Read Next

Crucial contact

August 2020
Explore the August 2020 Issue

Check out more from this issue and find you next story to read.