Cover Story: A commercial Christmas

With apologies to Charlie Brown, who delivers a convincing argument admonishing the evils of an overly-commercial, modern Christmas, the winter holidays provide a golden opportunity for landscapers to turn downtime into profit. Although it is too late to get into holiday decorating for 2008, now is a great time to begin researching possibilities for next year. Holiday decorating is a great way to maintain good relations with existing customers and form new relationships for fair-weather landscape accounts.

Rounding out the year
Jim Berns, president of Berns Landscaping Services in Warren, Michigan, began offering holiday lighting as an add-on service 10 years ago as one way to keep his 45 crew members occupied during winter.

“We started off with our regular clients,” Berns explains. “We offer snow removal services and do some dormant pruning, but we were looking for additional sources of revenue and it seems more people want to hire professionals to come in and take care of decorating their homes for the holidays.” Berns believes as the two-income family has become the norm, it leaves people with little time for holiday decorating, but more disposable income to pay to have it done for them. Just like landscaping, many homeowners and business owners know what looks good, but they might not have the skills to achieve professional-looking results. There are also the safety factors involved with electrical work and working on ladders in inclement weather.

Berns says holiday decorating fills the winter void effectively. “We begin putting up lights right after Halloween, but we don’t necessarily turn them on until closer to Thanksgiving,” he says. “We have all of our regular clients done by Thanksgiving so they can enjoy their lights, but we’ll continue receiving calls into December and we do what we can to make those happen.” After his holiday lighting is in place, Berns takes a couple of weeks off for Christmas – unless there is snow removal to be done – and then he begins the take-down operations that last into February. After packing away lights in plastic containers labeled with names and addresses, Berns inventories everything and offers to store his clients’ lights on the shelves at his shop. “The reason we do that is it’s much more likely they’ll call us to do it again next year,” he says.

“It’s pretty profitable,” Berns says. “Our margins have been consistent, even a little better than what they are during the summertime. We try to exceed our clients’ expectations so they, in turn, refer us to other people and it helps us build our business. The goal is to round out the year to have services to create revenue streams coming in at all times.”

Nick Schriver operates Decorating Elves, a five-year-old company with headquarters in St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida, and two franchises in west central Florida. “We gear our franchisees into residential to start out to generate quick, easy cash flow,” Schriver says. “As they grow their business, we steer them toward heavier, large, commercial projects.” He recommends his franchisees connect with homeowner associations, condominium associations, golf course facilities, smaller municipal projects, and shopping plazas. To get started, Berns says equipment can be as simple as a 6-foot step ladder. If a franchisee gets involved decorating hotels and palm trees, they may require a 32- or 40-foot extension ladder, a tow-behind boom lift, scissor lift, or a bucket truck, which can be rented as needed to accommodate the situation.

The beauty of LEDs
Phil Curtis, president of Holiday LEDs, a retail and wholesale supplier of LED holiday lights, says LEDs are attractive for commercial installations because they draw so little power. “You can connect close to 100 strands of 70 lights each, end to end, with a standard plug,” he says. “An average strand of 70 LED lights pulls about 4 watts. A 70-watt strand of incandescent lights would pull about 35 watts. So on larger projects, that will add up to significant savings.” Curtis says customers with large displays are converting to LED Christmas lights for the savings on their power bills. “It would be beneficial for any landscape company interested in doing commercial installations to understand the benefits of LED technology so they can help educate their customers and help them make good choices,” he says.

Still another benefit of LEDs is their lengthy lifespan. “For the commercial installer, as well as everyone else, it’s about the durability of the product,” Curtis says. “LED is replacing a very fragile glass bulb, with an extremely durable epoxy lens cover that is difficult to break,” He adds that many installers experience as much as 90 percent failure rate from one year to the next with incandescent bulbs, which feature a fragile filament and glass bulb. LEDs generally have a lifespan of 25 years, a significant improvement over incandescents and fluorescents.

Schriver agrees that LEDs are much better than incandescents at coming through inclement weather unscathed. Although he rarely deals with snow and freezing temps that may break glass bulbs that often fill with water, he says the sealed LEDs featuring epoxy or polycarbonate lens covers fair well in Florida where humidity, wind and rain are common expressions of old man winter.

Going green this Christmas

  • WholeHouse LED Lighting, owned by Creative Displays, is a proponent of LED lights. They offer the following reasons to make the switch to LED lights for holiday lighting, landscape lighting, and even indoor lighting.
  • LED bulbs use approximately 1⁄10 of the energy of incandescent bulbs.
  • Fluorescent bulbs are still not as efficient as LEDs and they contain mercury, argon and sometimes krypton. Each year, the disposal of fluorescent bulbs adds about 30,000 pounds of mercury waste to the environment.
  • Fluorescent bulbs and incandescent bulbs are less expensive than LED lights, but think long term. The typical 60-watt incandescent bulb you’re using today will last about 2 years. The typical normal duty LED bulb will last 25 years. That’s 121/2 incandescent bulbs you won’t have to buy.
  • Power plants need more fuel to generate the energy needed to light the homes and businesses that are using less energy-efficient bulbs. The result is higher carbon dioxide emissions and greater air pollution. The U.S. Department of Energy recently estimated that switching to LEDs could reduce energy consumption for lighting by nearly 30 percent by the year 2025.

Decorated Family Program
This holiday season Christmas Décor, a national outdoor lighting and decorating franchise, is celebrating the men and women serving overseas in the U.S. Armed Forces, with the goal of decorating 100 of their homes. The program, “Decorated Family”, started five years ago as a way to honor the nation’s servicemen and women and to help light up the lives of the families who will be missing them over the holidays. To help with the program, visit

The Attachments Idea Book
Landscapers use a variety of attachments for doing everything from snow removal to jobsite cleanup, and regardless of how often they are used, every landscaper has a favorite attachment.
Attachments Idea Book Cover