Sept. 16 2015 03:23 PM
Holiday Lights
Who doesn’t want to do something special for the holidays? For many property owners that means long strings of bulbs festooning their rooflines, trees, and shrubs. Shopping centers and retail stores have always realized that holiday lights make for a festive atmosphere. Even municipalities are looking to spruce up their town centers.

That presents a great opportunity for a creative landscape contractor to make hay while the sun shines. Hanging holiday lights generates an additional revenue stream with very good profit margins. That said, if you’re looking for a way to bump up your revenues this holiday season, you should be thinking of lights.

If you’ve never considered holiday lighting for your business, hear from some contractors around the country who’ve incorporated it into their operations. Learn how you can use holiday lighting to keep your workers employed, increase your winter revenues, and even have some fun while you’re at it.

Bobby Dunn is the operations manager for A+ Lawn and Landscape in Des Moines, Iowa. His company’s workload would always start to slump around Thanksgiving. When some of their customers started inquiring about holiday lighting, A+ recognized it as the solution to their problem.

“We wanted extra work for our guys; we do everything we can to keep them on as long as possible,” Dunn said. When he and his team started responding to this demand, they found an untapped wellspring of new business. Three years ago, they lit up 35 homes in a season, but just last year they lit up 90. Just for a sense of scale, those jobs range from $650 to $2,900 each.

Dunn is following the industry trend of dropping incandescent lights and switching to LEDs. They are much longer-lasting than incandescent lights, and they’re lower volt age.

That means there’s less danger from electric shocks, and it’s considerably harder to overload the system and trip a breaker.

His customers were mostly getting LEDs anyway, but Dunn was still a bit nervous when he stopped quoting incandescents last year. “I thought that might be an issue; it does cost a little more for LEDs, but nobody balked. I didn’t lose a single customer,” he said.

Spending a little more on materials can make a big difference. “Don’t buy pre-lit, pre-measured strands from Home Depot or Lowe’s and try to make them fit,” said Dunn. Buying long spools of lights from the manufacturer lets you cut each job to length, saving you time, material, and a major headache.

Dunn carries some sample strands with him whenever he gives an estimate. This serves to show customers the color options, and educate those who may not know a warm white from a pure white. A brief display on their kitchen tables helps ensure customer satisfaction, and lets them fall in love with the beauty of their lights.

In Plano, Texas, most, but not all, of Flent Ballantyne’s clientele are dreaming of a white Christmas, envisioning clear lights on their rooflines, trees and shrubs. “You’ve got some people who want to be a little more creative,” he said. “Do their house in green, the bottoms of their trees in red, and the tops of their trees in green, that kind of thing.”

Ballantyne, the president of Jurassic Lawn Care, entered into holiday lighting in 2002, as a way to generate a little extra revenue. “We got into it because we needed money for marketing our lawn care business,” he said. “It worked out well, and so we continued.”

Ballantyne has one tidbit of advice for newbies: be careful about pricing. “There are a lot of people who get into this business and price themselves too low,” he said. “They lose money, and then they don’t service their customers. Those contractors feel like they got ripped off because it took a lot more time and money than they anticipated to put up the lights.” Even at the low end of this market, the customer is paying for convenience, and your business should be modeled accordingly.

You need to remember that every job carries some risk, so make sure that your insurance covers slips and falls. Safety rules vary from state to state, so it’s a good idea to look up the laws for your area. Some states will allow employees on roofs; some want you working from ladders only.

Mike Hendricks, vice president of Village Lighting Company in Riverton, Utah, says that he’s seen quite a few contractors achieve success with customers using a ‘cookie cutter’ approach. These contractors offer a fixed price of several hundred dollars for lights along the roofline, some garlands, and maybe some lighting along trees and shrubs. “They go through a neighborhood, and get five or six of those houses, then they knock them out in one or two days,” Hendricks said.

Offering holiday lighting doesn’t just represent an opportunity to cross-sell to your client base, it also brings the chance to get your foot in the door with new clients. A clearly written contract, followed by a timely, professional installation and take-down, makes a great first impression. On the flip side, if you don’t offer this service, you may be leaving the door open for a competitor to show their stuff.

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