The winter months can be a challenging time for landscaping companies, especially for those that don’t even have the option of offering snow plowing services, but holiday lighting is one add-on that can keep crews busy and provide some additional revenue.
If you are curious about getting into the holiday lighting business, now is prime time to start offering your services to current and potential customers. Here are some of the factors to consider when adding on this service.
To franchise or not to franchise?
Christmas Décor, based in Lubbock, Texas, is one of the most popular franchises when it comes to Christmas lighting and has over 300 franchisees across the country.
The benefits of being a franchisee include receiving training and quality lights, and those interested in joining Christmas Décor’s franchise can start for $9,900.
“I seriously recommend the franchise route,” says Mike Rose, vice president of Suburban Lawn Sprinkler in Framingham, Massachusetts. “There’s a lot more to it than you think, and they have it all worked out. They provide high-quality LED lights, training and marketing and Web site support. It’s a nice partnership.”
Other companies that have the expertise in lighting and installation can always opt to go it alone. Most companies will buy commercial grade lights, just so they can ensure their quality, but other companies are happy to install homeowners’ personal lights.
“It doesn’t generally cost more in labor than a commercial job,” says Kellie Wheeler, managing partner for Boreal Property Management based in Jackson, Wyoming. “Sometimes homeowners like to use their lights for sentimental reasons. Homeowner’s lights don’t last as long in our heavy snows and winds, but we are happy to install their lights.”
However, Wheeler advises purchasing commercial light sets as they make more sense in the long run. Often homeowners’ lights that aren’t stored properly can become a time-consuming tangle to sort through.
Residential or commercial clients?
For Mountain View Landscapes, based in Chicopee, Massachusetts, the company started with residential work, but is moving to more commercial clients as they grow.
One of the benefits of working with commercial clients is that they have the space to store their lights on site and are responsible for them for the remainder of the year.
“In the long run, if they have the lights they can in theory find someone else to install them, but we’re limited on where we can store lights right now,” says Jason Hollway, a manager with Mountain View Landscapes.
Wheeler says that Boreal Property Management currently serves 15 large, private residences and one commercial property, but is open to expanding to a few more commercial venues in the future.
“I think our team likes the diversity of both types of projects,” Wheeler says. “It is fun to have so many different approaches to lighting. We have some clients that have added to their outdoor lighting over the years and our team enjoys the task of figuring out the details.”
Mountain View Landscapes gets its business from both word of mouth and marketing as it begins targeting commercial customers with email newsletters and direct mailings this month, but will really start pushing in September.
Boreal Property Management also touches base with its customers in fall. Wheeler says that best time to order is August through October. While clients generally aren’t ready to start thinking about holiday lighting this early, pricing and availability are far better during this time. Commercial clients often prefer to order early and have the service planned.
How to stand out
Often times when homeowners and commercial businesses reach out to a landscaping company for holiday lighting, it is because they are looking for someone who can take their lighting to the next level, or someone capable of doing a task they don’t want to.
“Find a niche,” Hollway says. “I think you can get a much better margin when it’s something that you do well that other people don’t want to do. When we started we did everything: walkway lighting, bushes, windows. You can’t get a markup on things that people can do themselves.”
This is why Mountain View Landscapes focuses on excelling at rooftop lighting and decorating trees up to 25 feet tall. These are tasks that individuals don’t want to do, but they’re willing to pay to have it done by someone else instead.
Having a reputation of quality work can also help your business stand out and instill trust in your customers. Boreal Property Management makes a point to check back on their work regularly to ensure the lights stay lit.
“To decorate the town square trees and arches, we used two 80-feet man lifts and specialized telescoping wands to string lights around the 80-feet spruce trees,” Wheeler says. “In January, the minus 20 temps and high winds cracked some of the light strand insulation and we had to use the same boom lifts to repair (and replace) the strands.”
Boreal has found that indoor lighting and decorating are also in high demand.
“Our residential customers love this service,” Wheeler says. “Many of our customers order the same size tree each year. Our team delivers them wrapped, cuts them on site, prepares the flooring for the tree, places them in the stand and cleans up afterwards. We give clients the option of lighting the tree only or placing the ornaments on as well. Sometimes the clients have our team decorate most of the tree and keep the family keepsake ornaments for themselves to place for tradition sake.”
Design options and payment
When it comes down to design it really depends on meeting with the customer and determining what their expectations and preferences are.
Wheeler says that the company will show clients pictures from their photo collection, but lights can be ordered in any color, bulb or string style in order to help achieve the design.
The biggest decision is often color and even when customers select white lights they still have to decide between a cool white and a warm white.
“There are so many different shapes but our most popular are the conical and icicle bulbs,” she says.
For Boreal, it charges “per project” and customizes it to the lighting needs of the client based on labor, materials and equipment needed. Hollway says that for Mountain View Landscapes customers, a deposit is paid to cover lights and equipment and then they send the bill out once the job is done, unless it is a very large job that takes close to a month to install, then the billing is broken up through the month.