When you see The Perfect Light logo painted on the side of a pickup truck, you’ll likely notice that the T in “perfect” is in the shape of a Christian cross symbol.
For Mike Rentz, owner of the Houston-based company, The Perfect Light is also “the perfect name,” with both a literal and a figurative meaning. He lets his light shine for his employees and customers using Christian principles as his guide. He cites that as the reason for the business’ rapid growth, having lit thousands of homes along the way, which is where the other meaning comes in.
Rentz says the company’s name is no mere marketing gimmick, but a statement about who the company works for: God. “We are openly a Christian-based company,” he says. “Our employees and customers can believe whatever they want but I use the Bible as my guide for how we are going to do business.”
A greater plan
Rentz grew up in Texas Hill Country and attended Texas State University. Thinking that he was “destined for the feed lot,” he majored in agricultural business. But it seems that God had different plans for him.
In the summers between school sessions, he worked for a landscape lighting company. There, he got some experience running crews and selling services door-to-door. The man he worked for, Tom Oviatt, started the business out of his two-car garage in 2001.
After Rentz graduated from college, he got a phone call from Oviatt. He convinced Rentz to go to work for him and help him expand the business in Houston. In 2003, the new graduate set up shop in The Woodlands, an affluent suburb.
Under Oviatt’s guidance, Rentz helped expand the business across the entire Houston metro area, everywhere within a 60-mile radius of the city. The Woodlands site became The Perfect Light’s flagship location. The owner rewarded Rentz for his efforts by making him a partner in the business, and when Oviatt retired four years ago, he turned the entire operation over to him. Today, he and his wife, Ashley Rentz, own and run it.
Since 2001, the company has completed around 15,000 landscape lighting projects and around 5,000 holiday lighting projects. How does a company grow from working out of a garage to having more than 20,000 lighting projects under its belt? Rentz says it happened organically, via word-of-mouth references or because people see the company’s trucks in their neighborhoods and call. Customers’ experience with the company — and the end results of its work — get people talking.
“What we did early on was to take what was generally not a great quality product in low-voltage lighting and expand that in terms of design and in overall quality to create an economical option that allowed us to expand the market and make it affordable.”
And expand it did. In 2008, the company went into Dallas and then Fort Worth. It was then that he decided to model the new locations after what Oviatt had done for him. He set up a training/mentorship program where highly motivated and ownership-minded employees are given the opportunity to open their own locations.
From employee to owner
Rentz says the company does not follow a franchise model. Rather, “We are looking for business-minded individuals to come into our current cities and get training and support using our process and products. When we set up a new location, it is not an addon to a landscape business or another already standing business, it’s independently run as an outdoor lighting and electrical business year-round that does Christmas lights in the fall.”
We pay the employees to train, and they earn their right as partners as they open and expand their businesses. We finance them from training to opening and they work to earn their piece of that.”
Because of the mentorship program Rentz and his wife established, The Perfect Light has expanded into Austin and San Antonio, Texas, and Denver. The business mix is about 65 percent holiday lighting with the balance being landscape lighting. During the peak fall season, the company employs around 200 people across all locations.
The Perfect Light is in the process of implementing an expansion plan with several locations it is working toward adding in the Southwest and Southeast, including Scottsdale and Tucson, Arizona; Park City, Utah; Atlanta and parts of Florida.
Going above and beyond
The Perfect Light not only goes above and beyond with its employees in the opportunities it provides them, the work it does for its customers goes well beyond what many landscape lighting providers are willing to do.
While its projects certainly stand out as being far from run-of-the-mill, even more impressive is the promise that once the work is done, The Perfect Light isn’t going away. This high level of service starts with the initial client visit, which Rentz says “gives our sales and design team and the customer all the data they need so good decisions can be made and we can proceed without speculation.”
Landscape lighting is subjective, he notes. What one customer thinks is ugly and obtrusive, another customer might find to be absolutely beautiful. “We will come out to their house to do a free estimate and try to gain an understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish. If they’re a new client, we try to assess what they like and don’t like about design.”
The company’s free nighttime demonstrations show how its products can enhance the nighttime beauty of the client’s home. Rentz describes these demos as a personalized light show. The sales and design team adds and removes lights and shows different light tones.
Before the night’s end, the number of lights to be installed and their locations have been determined, marked and an estimate given. It’s not uncommon for a meeting to last until 10 or 11 p.m. That’s unheard of in some businesses.
“We have a commitment to doing all the things our competitors don’t,” explains Rentz. “Most people won’t do a demo unless they’re forced to or if they’re at risk of losing the job. But we’ll show [our clients] 400 lights completely for free.”
The demonstrations build the customer’s confidence in the project. “It’s much easier if you can show it to them,” says Rentz. “Just like a sports car, it’s much more exciting when you are in it.”
And with the advancement of LED lighting, “it became very hard to do an install poorly,” so Rentz says service can be the differentiator.
And it’s its not just about the initial visit, it’s also about what happens after the work is completed. “Every landscape company has a lighting option or has a ‘brother-in-law that can do it,’” he says. “But most contractors don’t seem to realize that if you want to retain those customers, it’s going to require a lot of service afterward.”
Many things can happen to a landscape light fixture. They can be damaged by a storm or an installer’s negligence. “When we started it was all new installations. Now, 50 percent of what we do is acquire someone else’s customer because that company didn’t provide the necessary service. We acquire a lot of customers whose lights we didn’t install.”
The Perfect Light carries liability insurance and warranties on its lights, a business feature it implemented early on. Customers can simply call and report that their lights aren’t working and someone from the company will go out and fix them. “No matter what the customer may have done, we take full responsibility for that system,” says Rentz.
’Tis the season
The Perfect Light’s commitment to customer service is also evident in how it handles the holiday lighting side of the business. Rentz says the holiday installations are much different from the landscape lighting ones from a technical standpoint and are also less regulated. Here again, Rentz says The Perfect Light differentiates itself by “outworking all our competitors,” saying, “You’ve gotta be there at night to make sure it is right.”
Where other holiday lighting installers tend to put the lights up, plug them in and walk away, according to Rentz, “we have guys in trees and up on roofs well into the evening just making sure everything looks good.”
Of course, even The Perfect Light’s work doesn’t stay perfect all the time. “Once we leave, and you come home, your holiday lights will look fantastic,” says Rentz. “But at some point, they won’t. On average, we’ll receive about two service calls per customer each season. It could be that someone ran over some lights with his vehicle or a storm took out some of them. “And the thing with Christmas lights is they have zero value if they aren’t working.”
“The customer is going to focus on the 1 percent of the time they’re not working, no matter how pretty they look when they do,” Rentz says.
Going with The Perfect Light to spread holiday cheer might cost someone more at the outset, but then, he’s buying more than just the installation. The company responds within 48 hours to fix any problem with no questions asked.
Another way the company provides customer service is by storing the lights for clients after the season is over. It does this for around 5,000 customers. The ones who store their lights also get the added benefit of The Perfect Light carrying the liability on them. It may cost a little more in year one — as low as $1,000 to as much as $100,000 — but the price gets cut in half the next year and for all subsequent years. “As long as you renew, you can have those lights for all eternity,” says Rentz.
The heart of the business When Rentz was asked what it takes to be successful in the landscape and holiday lighting industry, he said it all goes back to “a real commitment to own the service and carry liability on its longevity.” Being successful takes a willingness to work long hours and respond quickly to issues. He says the impact the business has on its employees and the greater community is important too.
With those whom he recruits to become his partners, Rentz says he tries to find the best way to do what Oviatt did for him and also instill the biblical values that he feels has helped him create a successful business. The operating partners are the heart of the business, he says, and they are not your stereotypical business partner. They often come from a working-class background.
The people who will carry on the business aren’t necessarily business school grads, but people who don’t mind getting their boots dirty, says Rentz. “We’re trying to find high-caliber people that enjoy blue collar work and give them the opportunity to be successful beyond what they might be able to achieve on their own.”
He adds if he can provide others the same opportunity that was provided to him, it will “bring me great long-term value and a sense of purpose to what I’m doing.”
The author is editor-in-chief of Irrigation & Green Industry and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ON A MISSION
The Woodlands, Texas-based The Perfect Light has a mission that goes deeper than the landscape and holiday lighting it provides. It strives to achieve excellence in four main areas:
1 Honoring God by doing business in accordance with His Word.
2 To provide the highest quality, most comprehensive Christmas and landscape lighting service.
3 Maintaining a positive work environment that promotes our core values of professionalism, trustworthiness and reliability.
4 Encouraging the leadership and growth of our employees through ongoing training and mentorship.