The demo kit has evolved over time. Outdoor lighting pioneer Bill Locklin’s original demo kit was created from a suitcase. When you opened the case, there was an old style rolled window shade propped up with a hook attached to a telescopic pole. A small platform complete with a ruffled table skirt provided the stage for the show. A metal bar with plastic plants attached flipped up to provide a target to illuminate. Special 12V receptacles allowed one to demonstrate different light effects to pass through the plants and create shadows on the shade screen.
Locklin spent many hours at nurseries and garden centers showing the lighting effects he could produce to all who would give him the time. Fast forward to today and many manufacturers offer premade demonstration kits complete with power supplies. These are available for purchase or are loaned out by your local distributor.
One of the best ways to teach yourself landscape lighting is to practice having demonstrations. You will find that this is time well spent. Team up with your local manufacturer’s representative or the lighting champion of your local distributor. Many are willing to visit with you and show you the ropes.
When I first started, I bought several styles of fixtures, as well as a variety of lamps. I asked friends or family members if I could come by in the evening, which gave me the opportunity to practice demos with familiar faces. Since each house had different plant material and architecture, it taught me how to use fixtures and lamps to produce a variety of effects in different environments. Through practice, I became confident I could light any job.
It is always a good practice to qualify the customer before committing to a demonstration. Some contractors charge for the demonstration and apply the fee to a down payment once there is a signed contract. If they are a returning customer, you may waive the fee. All in all, it is your decision how to perform demonstrations and whether or not to charge for it.
Be sure to walk around the property during the day with your client. Take notes on your purpose for being there and ask “Why light?” Is it for beautification, safety, security or a combination of these? Find out the main features your client would like to see illuminated. Research how the different areas of the property are used. Ask about the color tone they prefer, as this will direct you to the Kelvin temperature to use. Remember, lighting is subjective and while you can offer professional guidance, you are lighting for their preference.
A temporary install can be a great way to show a customer a whole area with the flick of a switch. Basically, this is a complete install without burying the wire, so it is a try-before-you-buy scenario. You can set up a demo on a weeknight and leave it for a night or two. Then, send a crew back to pick it up.
Once the trial lighting is gone, it often creates a void for the client. Although demonstrations like these require a large amount of equipment, you can often sign jobs much sooner.
Many contractors and designers I work with have streamlined their demonstration process with a more minimalist approach. They carry small rechargeable battery packs, specific fixtures and a variety of lamps. They begin by showing traverse lighting techniques for sidewalks and steps. Since the goals for lighting and personal preferences vary, they can easily switch lamps and fixtures to identify what a client likes best.
Using the same method, they move through the property showing a variety of lighting techniques on hardscapes, plants and architecture.
Performing a nighttime lighting demonstration shows your passion for the craft, and it gives your client the confidence that they are hiring the best! And the best is you!
Kevin Smith is the national technical support and trainer at Brilliance LED LLC, Carefree, Arizona, and can be reached at email@example.com.