This is part one in a two-part series. The sequel article will publish on TLC tomorrow.
The origin story of Heroes Management Services is a unique one, as this Omaha, Nebraska-based business was an idea proposed by partners Mike Marlow and Augie Roper.
In January 2014, when they met Taylor Olberding, who was working a part-time job installing Christmas lights, they asked him if he was interested in joining them in starting a lawn and landscape company that also installed holiday lighting so they could work year-round.
Olberding felt he had nothing to lose at the time and agreed to become a partner along with Marlow’s neighbor Scott Christie.
“Our goal was for all four of us to quit (our jobs) and do this full time,” Olberding said. “We had an investor lined up for, I think, it was $200,000 or $250,000 investment to start the company. We had a business plan, we had the logo, we had everything lined up to go and then in 11th hour it just fell through.”
While the others had families to support, Olberding had already quit his job. So, out of the ashes of their original plan rose Olberding who took on the company as its operations manager/partner.
“We got a $20,000 loan from a friend to get started and I already had a truck,” he said. “So, it was me, a truck, we bought a 36” mower and borrowed a trailer for a friend, and that’s pretty much how we got started.”
He worked out of Marlow’s house during the first year, mowing three days a week and landscaping the other two days.
The company steadily grew, and when it started its holiday lighting service, they discovered their bread and butter.
After placing 50 yard signs in Omaha, the company got 45 residential clients and made $70,000 gross on holiday lighting.
Part of Heroes’ tremendous success in the holiday lighting market is thanks to Marlow’s experience, as he has started and sold a holiday lighting business, and both he and Roper have worked for wholesale lighting distributors.
As of right now, Heroes handles the Christmas lighting for 150 residential clients and around 40 commercial clients. Olberding says they start hanging lights Oct. 1 and five of his employees can do commercial lights for two months straight. Since the lighting is the business’s main moneymaker, they shut down their landscaping, generally, by Sept. 15.
Olberding says clients don’t mind this for the most part and he will send out a crew of three to mow residential properties one last time in mid-November if there is a need.
While some landscaping companies have more of a love/hate relationship towards holiday lighting, viewing it more as a method to keep employees on during the winter, the service has been a boon for Olberding.
“I’ve done it now for seven years and I think it’s relatively easy, especially with LED lights,” he said. “It’s so much more plug and play than incandescents seven years ago when you had to worry about amperage and doing math to figure everything out.”
Last year, the company brought in a million dollars in sales gross and $520,000 of that was from holiday lighting over a four-month period.
“I love it so much because the margins are ridiculous compared to mowing and compared to other services that we offer,” Olberding said.
Olberding says they are able to charge up to $90 an hour for the labor and makes a point to train his crews in proper ladder safety. The installation process is straightforward with photos of the houses labeled as to where each element goes, and the boxes with the lights are also labeled accordingly, so there is no confusion.
Heroes requires its customers to buy its lighting products and has just now set a $700 minimum price point, so it can select which clients it wants to work with.
“We’re a holiday lighting company,” Olberding said. “We’re probably one of the top two in Nebraska for holiday lights. I think we do some of the biggest properties and that’s not tooting my horn. I just think that we’re that good at what we do, and we have a great product that Mike and Augie work with because it’s all fully waterproof.”
Not only are the lights Heroes uses waterproof, they also come with a 3-year warranty that the distributor will replace.
“The other companies around here have a service station inside their shops where you bring in the broken stuff and they fix it for you and charge you for it,” Olberding said.
Olberding would like to attract more commercial clients as they can start working on those properties in October, but he is also offering discounts this year to clients if they’ll agree to an October installation.
The company sends out renewal letters in August letting customers know the year’s costs and asking if they want to get on the schedule. New customers who call in October can often get scheduled in the week after Thanksgiving and those who call in November can have an installation team out during the first week of December.
Olberding says that they installed up until Dec. 12 last year and they’ll still have people call even later in December asking about holiday lights.
As Heroes’ holiday lighting service continues to grow exponentially every year, the main challenge Olberding has found is growing the number of his lawn and landscaping customers at the same rate.
Check back tomorrow for part two of this article, where we’ll cover how Heroes deals with its growing pains and its plans for the future.