Lighting the way
|By Kristin Smith-Ely|
Oregon Outdoor Lighting’s Kyle McKelvy shares some of the wisdom he’s gained over the years about running a successful landscape lighting business.
It seems like every day, landscape lighting manufacturers are introducing new products. Each time they do, the options become greater, the energy efficiency is improved, the installation gets easier and the prices get lower. Ask any landscape lighting contractor, and he’ll say this is a great time to be in lighting.
Others in the landscape industry are recognizing it as the No. 1 service contractors are considering adding or expanding in 2019, according to Irrigation & Green Industry’s 2019 Green Industry Outlook. We talked to one such lighting contractor who has grown his business over the years about what it takes to be successful.
Kyle McKelvy and his wife Leah founded Oregon Outdoor Lighting in 2008 in Oregon City, Oregon, just outside of Portland. What started with one van and a lot of hard work has now grown into a regionally recognized brand that has designed and installed over $11 million dollars in outdoor lighting.
Over the years McKelvy has learned the importance of creating detailed systems and a strong company culture and that the ultimate measure of success is the happiness of your clients and your team. His focus now is to continue to invest in and grow his team, as well as provide mentorship services to others who want to create multimillion dollar outdoor lighting companies. Whether you are just starting out in the lighting business or have been in it for years, McKelvey’s advice can help guide the way.
Q: What do you look for when choosing a vendor/distributor to partner with?
A: The two most important things we look for in a vendor are quality and service. In terms of quality, we look for products that meet our standards from top to bottom. There are a lot of lights that have good housings but poor LED components or vice versa. For us, products and components have to be of high quality, and they’ve been harder to find than we ever anticipated. The main manufacturer we use is Garden Light LED out of Tampa, Florida.
For service, we look not just for great customer service but also speed. We want to deal directly with the people who are developing and manufacturing the lights. We do a lot of custom projects, so waiting for days to get a quote or needed information just doesn’t work. Garden Light allows us to deal directly with the manufacturer. This has even allowed us to have lights custom designed for individual projects.
Q: What types of lights/fixtures/types are the most prevalent in your business?
A: For accent lighting, we mostly use spotlights and wall washers. Most accent lights have various wattages, beam spreads and secondary covers or lenses. This allows us to create hundreds of different effects with one light. We also have a couple of path lights, one that’s a traditional style and one that’s more of a modern style. We try to use path lights only when necessary as we want our lights to be as unseen as possible during the day.
Q: What is the largest growing lighting design trend you are seeing with your customers?
A: By far, it is the LED strip lights. They have become a very popular design trend. We design and install them mostly on benches, stairs and fireplaces.
Q: How does Oregon Outdoor Lighting differentiate itself in the marketplace?
A: Our people. We believe that our people create our culture, our culture creates our brand and our brand creates our business. It all starts with our people. We work really hard to build a strong culture so that we can offer our clients a world-class customer experience. We also have a strong set of core values that we live by. They are not just words on a piece of paper, they are who we are.
Q: How much of your business involves retrofits and what kind?
A: We only do retrofits on occasion. We’ve found that a lot of older light fixtures aren’t designed to properly support and protect LED bulbs, making retrofits unreliable. Almost all of our work is with integrated LED fixtures, as we’ve found that we get better performance and longevity out of integrated fixtures.
Q: What add-on services do you provide to continue the customer relationship?
A: The biggest service that continues our customer relationship is our maintenance program. It’s very important to have lighting systems maintained on a regular basis, just like anything else in the landscape. We also have traveling services for clients with second homes.
Q: What is the biggest challenge landscape lighting companies face in today’s market, and what does Oregon Outdoor Lighting do to address that challenge?
A: I think one of the biggest challenges landscape lighting companies face is showing people the value of high-quality designs and products. Design is a highly subjective thing, and product information can get very technical. Our approach is to take the technical part and present it in a way that makes sense and means something to our clients. We also focus on our reviews and do testimonial videos. This third-party validation is very impactful for potential clients.
Oregon Outdoor Lighting offers customers its Seven Step Service Program. According to co-founder Kyle McKelvy, many outdoor LED lighting systems are sold as being maintenance-free, but this is simply not true. “Virtually anything you buy, especially something you put outside, needs some level of maintenance. Having a service plan is the only way to completely protect your investment. While there may be no bulbs to change, there are still cleaning, adjusting and core system checks that need to be performed.” Oregon Outdoor Lighting’s Seven Step Service Program is designed to keep those lights glowing without interruption. The steps include:
1. Clean of all fixtures and heat-sink components.
2. Clean of all fixture lenses to ensure optimal light output.
3. Minor adjustment of light fixtures for refocusing.
4. Trim and minor pruning around fixtures.
5. Rebury any exposed wire.
6. Check transformers. We ensure proper input and output voltages and that terminal connections are properly secured.
7. Check timer settings and operation.
Year started: 2008
Area served: Oregon and southwest Washington
Services: residential and commercial design, installation and servicing of LED outdoor lighting.
No. of employees: 11
Kyle McKelvy is general manager, design and sales manager at Oregon Outdoor Lighting, Oregon City, Oregon, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.