Keep the offseason bright

Features - Holiday Lighting

With the right training, contractors can light up wintertime sales with holiday lighting

July 15, 2013

Courtesy of Holidynamics

For many landscape contractors, when the temperatures start to fall, so do their sales. And while snow removal may be a feasible option to fill the winter lull in some climates, one all-weather segment many businesses have found to be lucrative is holiday lighting. So lucrative, in fact, that many companies shift their services to accommodate for its popularity.

Getting started.
For Paul Gosselin of NightScenes Landscape Lighting Professionals in Texas, the holiday lighting season has become his company’s busiest time of the year, accounting for 10-20 percent of NightScene’s overall revenue. Getting started with holiday lighting was a relatively smooth transition for the company, who had pre-existing knowledge of electricity and the equipment to do it.

“It was just a matter of marketing it and learning best practices,” Gosselin says. “We started really slow, the first year we only did about five (properties). And we learned a lot off of those five. The next year we did about 15 and it grew from there.”

Early on, contractors should focus on getting an idea of the cost and time it takes to perform specific services, says Matt Raiser, manager at Apex Services of Illinois.

“Time yourself or one of your crew members and get some production times down so you know what you’re working with and you can charge appropriately from the get-go,” he says.

While landscaping companies do find success in the holiday lighting segment, adding this service should not be taken lightly. Ryan Fleming of Fleming’s Holiday Lighting in Washington cautions landscape contractors not to take on holiday lighting as merely a side gig.

“You are subjecting people to a lot of risk,” Fleming says. “If you’re going to get into it, you must get into it whole heartedly.”

Crewmembers should be trained and prepared to balance electric circuits, work with live voltage wiring and posses the proper equipment to work on roofs and attach lights.

“Everybody made it sound really easy, but it’s a whole lot more difficult than people think,” Gosselin says. “There’s more to think about in holiday lighting than what a little, half-day seminar is going to cover.”

A. Arsenault & Sons of Massachusetts put employees through a two-day training course every year, which ends with an installation test site, President Arnie Arsenault said.

“They are trained long before they go out,” Arsenault says. “When you’re a landscaper, you don’t necessarily know about ladder safety or harnessing properly to work on a roof line. Electricity is not something to fool around with. You really want to know what you’re doing.”

Get to know residential customers because each one has different needs.

Top sales strategies.
To jumpstart sales, Raiser recommends offering a discount to customers with a high visibility location, so you can put out signs with your company name and phone number on them. The company also targets certain neighborhoods with fliers and other marketing materials.

Many contractors find it easier to target existing customers through existing marketing efforts, such as emails, social media and company websites. “I may get only 10 new holiday clients a year that are not my existing landscape lighting clients, but who then end up becoming my landscaping lighting clients,” Gosselin says.

An important sales approach is to customize each display design to fit the customer’s goals. Commercial customers will want a welcoming atmosphere for their business while remaining cost effective, whereas each residential customer is unique, says Benjamin Allen of LawnAmerica in Oklahoma.

“Spend some time talking to customers and get to know what’s important for them and sell from that aspect,” Allen says. “I have some customers who want to be the brightest on the block, I have some that put up lights in memory of their mom or dad growing up, and I have others that have grandkids coming in from out of town.”

Integrating into your business model.
A smart way to get into the business is to pair up with a reputable franchise organization that will supply quality product and offer support. LawnAmerica and A. Arsenault & Sons work with Christmas Décor, a company that leases customers decorations, lights, electrical cords and timers.

“I think having that support, at least initially, will take you leaps and bounds beyond staple-on lights at somebody’s house,” Allen says.

Working with a franchise-based company takes the guesswork out of getting started. “If you’re starting to run into a hard install or a complaint has arisen, you can usually reach out to another franchisee who has experience with it and find out how to fix it,” he says. “I would not have jumped into Christmas lighting unless I knew it was going to be done correctly.” L&L

The author is a freelance writer based in Louisville, Ky.