My travels across the country have afforded me the opportunity to visit with many lighting contractors, and the subject of night demos often comes up.
I’ve always found it interesting how different contractors decide how they’re going to perform an after-dark demonstration — or if they’re going to do one at all. Of course, all contractors have their own systems that work for them.
Whatever you may think about night demos, they’re not only good for the customer — but doing them is also a great way to educate yourself about the landscape lighting business.
When I first became involved with landscape lighting, I made sure I always had my demo bag in my vehicle along with an array of MR16s consisting of 10 lamps with different wattages and beam angles mounted on a block with switches. I also packed an emergency light battery with a small post light, a wall wash light, an underwater light and several different path lights.
Coming home one evening, an accident forced me off the freeway. While driving through an unfamiliar residential neighborhood, I happened to notice a front yard graced by a huge Aleppo pine tree right in the center.
Being that it was dark, I pulled over and decided to see which lamp would light this magnificent tree the best. Using the MR16 array, I pressed the button that launched a 50-watt 55-degree beam angle. Since there was no ambient light in the area, this one lamp made short work of lighting the entire front side of the tree.
The next thing I heard was a garage door opening. Before I could turn the light off, I heard a man’s voice yelling, “What are you doing in my yard!” I didn’t answer. Instead I said, ‘Watch this!” — and turned the light on again. Seeing the effect, the man said, “Wow — what is that and who are you?” I explained who I was, that I just starting to get into the landscape lighting business and seeing this beautiful tree in his front yard, I just had to see what it would look like lit up.
This could have gone badly! Fortunately for me, the man was cool about having a strange guy with a light box trespass on his property, and I ended up spending a good part of the evening with him trying out other lamps and fixtures. This led to my first job. Talk about a “cold call!” I would not, however, recommend that anyone else try doing this “trespass” style of demo.
“Virtual installation” and “single vignette” are two demonstration styles that are great ways to sell and are also teach yourself about beam angles and proper fixture placement.
Many distributors have demo kits for sale or rent. I would highly recommend that before you go out and do a demo for a potential client, practice first at your own home or in a city park. This will prepare you for most of your customer’s questions.
Your local manufacturer’s reps should also be able to help. Many carry demo equipment with them. Bringing a factory rep with you on the demo demonstrates solidarity to your customer and adds credibility. A rep can also teach you some tricks of the trade. Seasoned contractors rarely perform evening demonstrations. Most rely on high-resolution photographs of previous jobs to educate the prospective customer. They may also arrange to have the customer visit a previous job.
As you become familiar with how fixtures and lamps work on different aspects of a landscape, the need for a demo to sell a job will become less necessary. However, please keep in mind that when you do provide a demo you’ll be exposing your intellectual property. As such, it is not out of line to charge for this service. This can also help eliminate the do-it-yourselfers who only want to see your demonstration that so they can copy your design ideas.
Lastly, be sure to schedule a demo when it’s convenient for you — not just when it’s convenient for the customer. Remember, you’re the professional. What are your evening hours worth? Missing your kids’ dance recital, school play or Little League game is precious time that you can never get back.
Kevin Smith is the national technical support and trainer at Brilliance LED LLC, Carefree, Arizona, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.