The more the merrier

It’s about more than stringing lights when providing profitable holiday lighting services.

Photo courtesy of Timberline Landscapers

Whether it’s a cowboy Christmas out west or a traditional winter wonderland in suburbia, holiday lighting and decorating can be a valuable add-on service to offer.

Not only can it provide recurring revenue from valued customers, but it can also serve as a strategic brand building and marketing tool.

In Wickenburg, Arizona, Aaron Wolfe, president of Wickenburg Landscape, says there’s so much more that goes into the service then stringing lights on a roofline.

“When we do it, we don’t do it as a traditional service. We call it holiday decorations as opposed to holiday lighting because we do a lot more than just lighting,” he says.

Desired decor

Photo courtesy of Timberline Landscapers

Being out in the desert puts a twist on the traditional holiday staples that Wolfe says his team uses to decorate. Most homes have a cactus or two and even some agave that Wickenburg highlights in its decorating.

“We do a little bit of lighting, but a lot of it is wrapping Saguaros,” Wolfe says of the popular cactus species. “We turn those into candy canes.

“We double strand the red-mini lights and wrap them on a 45-degree angle and wrap them up each of the arms. Then we take the clear bulbs and do those. It makes them look like a candy cane and we’ll put a Santa hat on top of them, too. We like to have fun with that.”

And while clients love the fun, festive desert décor, one of the biggest sellers for the company is more of a classic touch.

“The big thing we do are live wreaths,” Wolfe says. “That’s a big thing out here. We do them from 16-inch all the way up to 60-inch. We do them inside, outside — wherever customers want them.”

Wolfe says preparing these wreaths is no small feat, adding that they are tailor-made to be cohesive inside each customer’s home.

“My wife and another employee in our office get together and they do a lot of color coordinating,” he says. “They go into a house to see what the furniture is like, what color are the cushions, the walls and they color coordinate the wreaths to that.”

This attention to detail makes these wreaths a big success, Wolfe says. And customers keep wanting more year after year.

“It’s one of the biggest sellers we do,” he says. “It’s not cheap, but it’s stunning and totally makes the house. They’re live wreaths so they have that special smell to them, and we put some extra cinnamon sticks and things like that in as well.”

Timberline Landscaping in Colorado Springs, Colo., has been offering holiday lighting for over 20 years. Stephanie Early, the company’s chief of strategy, says that it’s the additional decorations that can take a lighting display to the next level.

“There is so much potential even outside the lighting realm with pieces of fun décor we can add,” she says. “People do the big lit-up nutcrackers and large trees full of lights.”

A colorful calendar

The festivities don’t have to stop in January. Early and Wolfe say more clients are looking for colorful lighting displays to celebrate numerous holidays.

“We have a contract with the city of Manitou where we did a Halloween display for them and then transitioned that into Christmas later on,” Early says. “We offer lighting for special events and weddings, too.”

Wolfe attributes this color-changing craze to the advancements in lighting over the years. He adds that outdoor lighting is another popular service Wickenburg Landscapes provides and those customers tend to be more ambitious with their holiday lighting.

“A lot of our houses have really cool lighting systems and because of the new RGB bulbs, we’ve got customers who will take their lights and turn them red for Valentine’s Day, different colors for Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Plus, for Halloween, they turn them orange,” he says. “And then for Christmas time they turn certain trees green and certain trees red. That way you have festive lighting year-round.”

And for clients who don’t want to program the lighting themselves, Wickenburg is on the scene.

“We go in and grab their lights with Bluetooth and change them and then come back after the holiday and change them again,” he says. “That’s another service we provide.”

Selling the service

Early says they, too, obtain most of their holiday lighting customers through their outdoor lighting service. “We find that they’re well-aligned to be cross-sold,” she says. “Because they’re typically at our price point and you’re not getting the people who don’t have the disposable income. So, they see the value in not having to worry about it themselves.”

Early says another reason clients appreciate their holiday lighting is they aren’t beholden to the same display year after year.

“A big reason we’ve heard customers like our service, and what makes us a little different, is the lights are owned by us and we provide the design service and actually store the lights for the customer,” she says. “So, they don’t have to have space in their garage and worry about checking to make sure they are all working each year.

“And, if they decide they want to change their color or design year-to-year they aren’t stuck in a singular look because they bought these lights and now need to continue to use them,” Early adds.

Early says Timberline uses a special software when selling holiday lighting that allows clients to personalize their display.

“When a customer calls in, we are getting them set up with a salesperson who will go out to meet with them and customize the design for them,” she says.

“The pricing varies by the size of the house, how much they’re looking to have done, and so on. We take a look at what colors they want, do they want greenery, what they’re budget is and really customize a design for them. That software allows us to add on options, too. The quote goes out automatically through the software, which is also very convenient.”

And once those lights are up, the service doesn’t stop there. Early says crews make several trips to holiday lighting customers throughout the season to ensure all lights are shining brightly.

“We have proactive checks and service that come along with the package,” Early says. “Last year that paid off in a huge way… we had a major windstorm, and we went and fixed the lights and got things back up on rooflines and everything else...It really builds that trust and keeps those customers coming back.”

It’s that attention and level of care that Early says makes customers devoted to Timberline.

“A huge thing for us is customer retention and the recurring revenue,” she says. “Our renew rates with Christmas décor clients are phenomenal, so it’s a way to build your recurring revenue. That trust we’re developing year after year is great for us.”

Wolfe says he won’t take on a holiday decorating client who doesn’t already buy another service from Wickenburg.

“It has to be an existing customer because it’s such a small timeframe and we don’t have time to learn about that customer,” he says. “We want to be able to know how picky they are, what they like and don’t like and all that.”

Early says Timberline looks for new clients through several avenues.

“It’s a combination of things,” she says of selling the service. “We do let our existing customer base know through our marketing, and we market pretty heavily for new customers each year as well. We also do direct outreach, too.”

Careful considerations

While holiday lighting can be a great source of recurring revenue, Wolfe says it’s important to stick with your identity, no matter what add-on service you want to provide.

“You have to stay true to your brand,” he says. “We’re a high-end, specialty landscape company,” he says. “We’re not just going to throw in something really cheap. People ask us to do those things and we won’t do it because it doesn’t go with our brand. Classy and elegant is what we are.”

Wolfe says staying true to the company’s ethos is what sets their holiday lighting displays apart from the competition.

“We’re not willing to make a dollar to go against our brand,” he says.

Early adds that safety and training are also key to providing holiday lighting.

“The training and quality of lighting can vary a lot by the installer and provider,” she says. “That’s something we feel has set us apart because you can look and see the difference between a tree Timberline has wrapped and ones local competitors have done. We try to avoid that candy cane wrap of a tree. We want it to look like every limb is covered.”

Before starting to provide this service, Early suggests companies do their research and secure the proper equipment.

“Safety is a big concern and there’s a lot to be aware of there with local regulations and OSHA,” she says. “To get up on the roof, you have to have roof anchors in place…there is some specialized equipment needed. We’ve purchased quite a few bucket trucks to be able to get up to the heights we need and ensure we’re working safely.”

The author is an assistant editor with Lawn & Landscape.

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