Jacob Godar is always digging for new services to deliver to his client base in Springfield, Ill. So, when he realized that holiday lighting could help him get out of the snow removal business, he began to consider how to build and expand a new seasonal service.
“I am always looking for services that can be scheduled – and I personally don’t like snowplowing for that reason,” says Godar, owner, Scooter’s Lawn Care. For him, the perfect storm of unknowns in the snow removal business make it a risk and challenge. Will it snow? Who will be on call to plow?
Holiday lighting, on the other hand, can be sold as a package and installed just as landscape maintenance is winding down for the year. While it won’t replace all the income snow removal once brought in, this service helps justify making the cut.
With a fulltime staff of 21 employees, Scooter’s Lawn Care balances late fall services between fall cleanups and holiday lighting. “Lighting helps fill the book of work, and as cleanups are completed, we have holiday lighting to do,” Godar says.
Klamfoth in Canal Winchester, Ohio, has been offering holiday lighting services for nearly two decades. “We keep several crews busy during that time of year,” says Rob Wadkowski, landscape designer and estimator. Plus, he adds, “It’s something different to do during that time of year. I like the challenge of it and meeting the deadline.”
The benefits of holiday lighting include fueling a schedule to keep more employees on board fulltime and diversifying service offerings. It’s one more package on the menu that existing clients can choose, and a possible entry service to attract new customers to a business. But, there is that deadline and a tight timeframe for completing the work.
“The window of time for this service is very condensed,” Wadkowski says. “Customers aren’t buying after December 1 because they don’t feel like they’ll get value for the installation after that point.”
Building the service.
At Klamfoth, the pricing structure for holiday lighting is based on three key aspects of the service: installation, removal and storage. When Wadkowski estimates jobs, he quotes a decked-out design with all the options – roofline lights, tree lights, wreaths and garland. Knowing what a full display will cost, clients can pick and choose which lighting they want based on their budget.
“Maybe they just want lights on the roofline, or they just want their trees lit, or maybe they want it all,” Wadkowski says.
Estimating requires gathering a linear foot measurement of the roofline, and Wadkowski uses various online tools that allow him to capture overhead imagery. “I can even measure the peaks and angles of a roof,” he says.
In some cases, he’ll ask property owners to snap pictures of various angles of their homes. This way, he can begin working on a rendering to present when he visits.
Godar also estimates projects based on linear square foot and materials cost. The challenge, he says, is that many homeowners are expecting to pay much less than what the service actually costs. They figure what they’d pay at a box store for some twinkle lights and tend to get sticker shock when presented with an estimate for professional holiday lighting products, installation, take-down and storage.
So, Godar might create different lighting packages for this season – a good, better, best approach. “We hope by having A, B, C levels of service we can appeal to more people,” he says.
For Klamfoth, the sweet spot for selling holiday lighting has been a commercial sector of assisted living facilities, which is a growing market in their areas. Small plazas and office buildings are also interested. And, interestingly, Wadkowski finds that older adults in single-family homes are investing in lighting.
“We tend to do a fair amount of lighting work for older couples – maybe grandparents – and that is an unexpected big part of our business,” he says, adding that McMansions aren’t always receptive to lighting services because of how much it costs to illuminate a large residence.
Don’t go cheap: Purchase lights that will endure the unpredictable winter weather changes.
Holiday lighting is a commitment that requires taking crew members off maintenance routes and dedicating people, vehicles and tools to the seasonal work. “One of the most difficult things for us is that crossover season and dedicating employees,” Wadkowski says.
Klamfoth tends to move mowing crews over to holiday lighting because landscape teams are still doing fall cleanups. By November, the mowing is mostly done. But, not all mowing crew members are ideal candidates for climbing roofs and securing holiday lights. Some are simply more comfortable in that position than others. And, training is essential, Wadkowski says.
“Some crewmembers don’t like to be up on the roofs, so they might focus on ground lights or not serve on a holiday lighting crew,” Wadkowski says.
Training happens in the field, for the most part. Consistent products from the same suppliers eases the curve, and the consistency also helps if a client needs replacement bulbs. “That way, we can be sure we are getting the same color and style of light,” he says. “White is not the same white from one product line to another.”
Professional lighting products and experience with installation is what can ultimately sell the service. So, investing in quality lighting is important, Godar says. Sometimes, Mother Nature gets the best of even a high-quality lighting system.
“We get a lot of rain in October and November, so we’ll have those drizzly winter days when moisture can work into a power cord no matter how carefully we wrap it to make it waterproof,” Wadkowski says.
Callbacks and repairs are a reality of the holiday lighting business, and crews must balance new installations with fast fixes.
Generally, holiday light routes are based on geography so crews can handle requests efficiently, Wadkowski says.
“The service is great for keeping mowing crews busy in what tends to be a slower part of the year,” he says. “It’s another season for us, and it can keep our guys busy through January and even into February.”