It’s the icing on an outdoor living project and a way to “show off what you paid for,” says Mitch Birky, designer at Bellas Landscaping in Bloomington, Ill. He’s talking about low-voltage landscape lighting, which is a secondary service at the company — a growing one. As more homeowners invest in backyard features like expansive patios, outdoor kitchens, firepits and pools, they’re recognizing that lighting extends the time they can enjoy it.
Lighting becomes part of the outdoor living package deal.
During the last year, Lucente Landscaping has seen a 100% increase in landscape lighting sales, from $23,000 in 2020 to about $50,000 so far in 2021. Dennis Lucente, president of the New Rochelle, NY-based firm, points to pandemic-inspired projects as a trigger for the heightened interest in lighting. “We are doing a ton of firepits, patios, pergolas, outdoor heaters, and we finished two pool projects with spas,” he says. “Along with that, landscape lighting is an easy sell because it’s beautiful and, surprisingly, isn’t a big cost in relation to these projects.”
With today’s commercial-grade, easy-to-install low-voltage systems, landscape companies can add lighting to their service menus with minimal training involved. The aesthetic results add another layer of interest to projects, not to mention better security. And the service is one of the more profitable ones at Bellas Landscaping, even though it's only an average of 10% of the cost of most outdoor living projects the company completes.
“People drive around and see lighting at hotels, or they see pictures in magazines, and it catches their eye,” Birky says. “Lighting is a growing service for those with disposable income.”
From setting up temporary displays to sell the service to offering an introductory low-voltage lighting package, “wow factor” is the main attraction for clients who want to add lighting to their properties. Since low-voltage displays are relatively easy to set up by plugging in a transformer, Lucente likes to bring a kit to clients’ properties to show them what special effects illumination brings to the landscape.
“We keep transformers and basic lighting in stock, so they are ready to set up and show people,” Lucente says. “I can show them how the lights look on their house after dark, so they understand what they are paying for and how exciting lighting is when it’s done the right way.”
Another way Lucente sells lighting is by including it on the big checklist of outdoor living project components. “While we don’t get calls coming in for lighting itself, we go down a checklist and ask, ‘How will we light the area?’” he says. “Once we bring it up, the conversation usually transitions to how lighting will look, and we pick out fixtures.”
Aside from selling beauty, emphasizing safety can seal the deal with some homeowners. “Illuminating anything adds more security,” Lucente says. To prevent after-dark stumbles and falls, he ensures that pathways are lit and changes in grade or surface are highlighted in a subtle, appealing way that improves visibility. “Lighting can steer a person to walk a certain direction,” he says.
Birky also works lighting into design discussions, including it in the overall scope of projects. Sometimes, the budget runs thin by the time using lights to accent the architecture, plants and pathways is discussed. In those situations, he suggests an introductory low-voltage lighting package with a transformer and about 10 fixtures.
“I hate to say it, but sometimes lighting is the part of a project that gets cut out because they'd rather pay for a pizza oven or a fancy grill,” Birky says. “So, if a project is going over budget, we might suggest scaling back lighting and putting in a starter system they can add to later.”
Expanding the service.
Whether you’re adding low-voltage lighting to your business or want to sell more of it, approach the service with knowledge of your market. “There are areas of the country where landscape lighting can be a stand-alone business, but our market is not big enough for that,” Birky says. “But, lighting is growing in some slower markets with the economy doing well and the housing market doing well.”
Birky advises offering a high-quality lighting line and differentiating from the range of products consumers now can access online. And, learn about lighting effects and teach team members who will be installing the low-voltage systems. High-voltage projects usually require an electrician’s expertise. “You are creating a scene at night, so you want to use the proper amount of lights without overdoing it, and you want to use a good, quality light,” he says.
In other words, avoid a Clark Griswold display or airport runway effect on paths.
“Lighting is growing in some slower markets with the economy doing well and the housing market doing well.” Mitch Birky, designer with Bellas Landscaping
In Birky’s area, colored lights have not caught on as everyday “wear” for the landscape and home exterior, and the preference is soft architectural uplighting, branch uplighting and pathlights that are placed thoughtfully.
Low-voltage lighting has an approachable learning curve, but lean on suppliers for guidance with technical and design-related skill building. And cross-train key crew members and supervisors to suggest lighting opportunities, Lucente says. “Our guys are trained so they can recommend ideas to clients when they are out servicing sprinklers or servicing a property,” he notes.
Also, Lucente’s two sprinkler crews are cross-trained to install lighting since the wiring is similar, he says. All team members are schooled to offer the service. “We try to offer our maintenance customers everything possible,” he says, adding that this includes checking up on installed systems to see if upgrades or fixes are needed, whether or not his company initially put in the lights. In fact, repairing old or faulty systems can be a sales opportunity. “If we notice a broken light, we ask, ‘Would you like us to replace it?’” Lucente says.
Lucente keeps up on trends so he can offer the latest systems to clients. The company is currently exploring color-changing LED systems that are controlled by a mobile app. “We’ll experiment with it before we start putting it out there for clients,” he says.
Though in his area, “there is nothing like the traditional, beautiful, soft warm-white or cool-white lighting and its elegance.”