Since March, because of COVID-19, many people in the U.S. are spending more time at home, leading to a larger focus on the back patio, outdoor kitchen and fire pit areas. Homeowners want this area lit up, says Rick Baird, national sales manager at Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting.
“You put light out there, it just kind of pulls you outside. It's kind of an extension of the indoor family room or kitchen outside now with lighting,” he says.
When lighting this space, Baird says a professional contractor will strategically place lights to create an environment that’s inviting, safe and comfortable: lighting on the grill, lighting over where the cutting board will go and soft lighting around areas of conversation. It’s about using fewer fixtures to create more effective lighting with a larger output. When done properly, the difference is “night and day,” he says.
“This expands the living space and possibilities during social distancing,” says Scott Pesta, senior product manager of landscape lighting at Kichler Lighting.
In designing outdoor spaces, creativity is often needed to solve niche lighting issues, says Sarah Auyeung, associate product manager for Hunter Industries’ lighting brand, FX luminaire. For example, instead of a pathway being lit by path lights, perhaps a homeowner would want something that isn't a potential tripping hazard. There could be a wall nearby where a light could be positioned, put a shroud over it to control the glare and throw the light across the path.
This can change how the fixtures are designed in the future. Auyeung sometimes sees what homeowners and contractors do with the fixtures and will change them accordingly to be more versatile. Also, there are more products that are multipurpose.
“There is much greater diversity in landscape lighting products, especially individual fixtures that can complete a broad range of tasks formerly accomplished by less efficient models,” says Todd Goers, national sales manager for landscape lighting at WAC Landscape Lighting.
“You put light out there, it just kind of pulls you outside.” Rick Baird, national sales manager, Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting
Recently, the look of the landscape lighting fixtures have trended differently. Now, many take on a contemporary look, often to match contemporary architecture. They don't distract from the house, having thin, clean lines and clear colors, like brushed nickel, aluminum, black and sometimes white, says Jon Bowman, national sales director at Coastal Source. Instead of a standard path light with a rounded top, a contractor might purchase an L-shaped one to match the clean lines of the house. Another type is a bollard-style fixture. It is a square, simple and clean design that comes up from the ground.
Homeowners are looking for a “New, fresh look,” Bowman says.
Homeowners also want small fixtures because they don't want to see them, he says. They have a “small footprint, but fairly significant output.” This is possible because of light emitting diode (LED) technology, as opposed to the old incandescent light bulbs, Baird says.
Baird says today, almost all sales of lights are LED. They have come a long way in the past decade. When LED first came out, there was hesitation to buy it based on ignorance and skepticism. Many people were first introduced to LED as a bright, stark bluish light. It didn’t fit in most lighting situations, especially indoors. Now, it can produce light that’s softer, warmer and can match any color temperature.
LED brings efficiency with it. A product that uses one and a half watts of electricity to give the same amount of light that a 20-watt light bulb did eight years ago, Baird says. A good quality LED can get 50,000 hours in the landscape, Bowman says.
“There's probably not a citizen, homeowner, consumer ... that doesn't know about LED today,” Baird says.
As LED technology advances, automation and control also continue to advance. This automation allows light to be controlled through schedules and systems or manually through an app or desktop. It also allows the lighting to be connected to other systems, like home, voice-command and audio systems, so it all can all be controlled at the “touch of their finger,” Baird says.
“(Connected products have) really taken off,” Baird says. “Now… we can tell each individual light bulb what to do, to come on, to shut off and to dim, or to be green or red or blue.”
On some systems, homeowners can have lighting scheduled, so the lighting will automatically turn on when it gets dark outside, then turn off at dawn. They can choose their own schedule, too, says Eden Allen, product manager, Lighting for Unique Lighting Systems. This can be set differently for separate areas of the yard.
“So, if you want to, for instance, always have your front yard turned on from that time period, you can set it so that it turns on and off at ‘dusk till dawn’ in your front yard, but you only want to have your backyard turned on when you have people over,” Allen says. “So, just having that control is something that is a really big demand from the market.”
These integrations give more value to these products, which help customers.
“Customers are requesting that contractors focus on the budget and getting the most value for their project dollars,” Pesta says. “This may be drop-in fixtures with LED lamps for some, while other customers want the advantages of an integrated LED product.”
Another capability of this new technology is the ability to control the color of the light. The range is wide: it can produce millions of colors, Baird says. It can be changed to be season specific: red, white and blue for the Fourth of July and red and green for Christmas. These can also be changed in temperature and brightness to illuminate and highlight certain aspects of properties.
“You can change the color on those also to enhance your outdoor space. And that's really meant for enhancing like a green in a tree that will look better with a cooler white temperature versus if you have like a stucco finish on a house that looks better with a warmer white, so you can play around with that as well,” Allen says.
Landscape lights can be set to a soft pastel pink to highlight pink flowers when they bloom. Once they’re gone, that can be changed to a soft blue or green to highlight a palm tree in the yard, Auyeung says.
“It's accentuating and bringing out those colors. It's not masking the colors,” she says.
Allen says people also like to be able to play around with the color changing options. However, the trend is regional. It is mainly in southern coastal markets, where the landscape can be enjoyed year-round.
“That's something that's bigger than I ever imagined It would be. I knew that it was something that was kind of coming up in the industry, but the response to it has been really overwhelming,” she says.
While Allen has continued to see this trend grow, Bowman says he’s seen it decline a bit.
“The rage a couple of years ago was color,” he says. “It's still a need out there, but I don't know if it's necessarily what it was two or three years ago.”
Words of Wilson features a rotating panel of consultants from Bruce Wilson & Company, a landscape consulting firm.
As we head into the last lap of this historic year, innovation, strategy and change management have become more important than ever. Like so many, I, too, entered 2020 planning for optimism. Then COVID-19 happened and even the best plans were hijacked by uncertainty.
There was no precedent for the pandemic’s uncertainty. First thoughts were doom and gloom. When the landscape industry cleared the “essential” bar, business owners sprang into action and the momentum hasn’t stopped.
The resulting surge in productivity has had its benefits. CEOs could no longer say they longed for time to work on their business instead of in it. Instead, company leaders doubled down on technology, upgraded response capabilities, built more effective team networks and communicated with compassion and empathy.
New norms and priorities for hygiene and sanitation have been a long time coming and are much needed. Everyone is more concerned about personal health and safety. And as facilities have become cleaner and healthier places to work, landscape companies have gained a competitive edge in recruiting.
Customers have taken noticed. Landscape service teams are listening more and talking less. One company I know has a 70-30 rule: listen 70% and talk 30% of the time to build a compassionate connection. This is a time when trust is needed most.
When working from home happened, what seemed impossible has driven efficiency. Video conferencing and workflow systems have introduced new levels of collaboration and positive interaction. We learned in real time how to blend technology and people, and we used the scale and power of online platforms to create an alternative workspace. There has been less commuting in traffic, more time working, less time traveling to and from, less wear and tear on vehicles, lower fuel costs, less stress, more flex and teams working better together.
The crisis has been challenging, but it has also fundamentally improved the way we do business and the tools we use to do business better. It’s redefined our sense of urgency, altered how our service teams interact with customers, how employees interact with each other and how people and businesses across all customer segments perceive and experience value.
With planning and budgeting season on everyone’s mind, these improvements can be used as a model to leverage greater progress.
Not all from the pandemic is bad, as companies are now embracing technology and following stricter hygiene policies.
When the businesses re-opened at the beginning of summer, we found that employees resisted going back to old ways of doing things. When we talked with customers, we found that they didn’t want to go back to old ways of doing things, either. They preferred the new fast beating the old slow and appreciated the changes we made to make our services easier for them.
If we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that as CEOs and business owners, we can’t do it alone. The vision for our future, our ability to adapt with next level challenges and our need to stretch beyond our current comfort zones must be linked to a coalition of action.
When we listened to our employees and our customers, we not only got fresh thinking; we were able to be better and more creative. More than ever, we’ve learned what a coalition of people we trust can really do to help our businesses grow when we invite their collective and empowered voices to the table.
Contact Bruce Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from the Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.
With that much going at work, I am sure he has just as much action going on with his family, his extended family and himself.
I explained that he has to understand there are three levels of ownership. Distinct from the three levels of leadership (e.g., supervisor, manager, leader), the three levels of ownership are entrepreneur, owner/operator and businessperson. To be optimally successful, adept owners proceed through that hierarchy steadily. Failure to do so stunts both the owner and the organization’s growth.
This level of ownership is prevalent during a new company start-up, working out of a house or garage, coupled with big dreams and limited resources, naively enthusiastic about the future. Establishing new accounts, meeting new customers and business partners, chasing revenue at the expense of profit and operating on a shoestring budget underscored by what must be done today. Despite the stress, uncertainty, competitive market forces, the entrepreneur’s excitement fuels more adrenaline that stimulates hope, optimism and dreams. Based on sheer will, and admittedly a little luck, the company and the owner can grow past this level.
Now with the novelty gone, this level of ownership is the most widespread, characterized by a Jack of All Trades mentality with the owner primarily responsible for sales, estimating, customer service, employee selection, contract administration, accounting, insurance programs, field operations, fleet and equipment maintenance, human resources, safety, snow, and of course information technology. Most owners get to this level, get stuck, and stop growing; working 65-75 hours a week, 6-7 days a week. Sound familiar? Lacking a business plan, bereft of awareness and relying only on oneself, the owner/operator assumes more responsibility each year, failing to get over the hump, with the treadmill winning more and more with each passing day, never realizing the issue of self-impediment.
While your business continues to grow, the level of ownership changes as you learn to delegate.
Blessed with insight and motivated by value, this level of ownership is characterized by the ability to put people, programs and processes into place; replacing the single point of failure model endemic to the owner/operator with a systems view that the pieces of the business are supposed to work cohesively. Having a business plan based on the Balanced Scorecard keeps the goals clear; hiring key employees to become accountable for the specific business functions (e.g., sales, estimating, accounting, IT, human resources, customer service, operations), and holding them accountable each month for achieving stated goals; and most of all, delegating responsibility to the employees knowing they will make mistakes all the while coaching them to improve next time. Building the team through a systems model gets the businessperson to win the race instead of stumbling along on the owner/operator treadmill.
With that framework in mind, I told the Colorado owner/operator to develop an 18-month organizational chart and a tandem 18-month forecasted P&L. We then highlighted and prioritized those key business processes as a set of key initiatives, thereby drafting the plan that he and his team were accountable for achieving. I also told him to work no more than 50 hours a week; and after three months, to take off one Friday each month, to show him that the company system can operate without his hand tightly gripped on the steering wheel.
While still making progress, to date, he and his team are much more empowered, satisfied and successful than ever before. It takes time. It takes a team. The plan works.
Contact Steve Cesare at email@example.com