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View Full Version : Low Voltage and Niche Markets in General


Az Gardener
01-05-2008, 10:12 PM
This is a continuation of the ALOP thread I was contributing to and I realized this portion was heading in a different direction so I thought better to begin a new thread.

All business is there to serve the client. Most clients in general are not sophisticated enough to recognize good from great. Most can't even tell good from bad. They want it all and are also not willing to pay more than they have to. Having a separate contractor come in during a complex landscape job is not the most practical or efficient way to get a job done. It certainly does nothing to help control costs.

I was at IA a few years ago in a business seminar and we were discussing L/S jobs. Someone from the East coast said something about L/S jobs taking a few days. I was sitting by a guy from So.Cal. and we both held up our hands at the same time with a dumbfounded look on our face. What can you do in a few days? Well... plant plants and lay down sod, mulch, that was all a landscaper does in some parts of the country. In our market even a "simple" landscape consists of a pool, small waterfeature, hardscape, pots, drainage, boulders, irrigation system, lighting, plants, turf and granite topdressing. There is not enough money for most clients to hire "experts" in what others would consider "niche" markets.

I only say this as a old geezer who has been around a while and seen things evolve over the years and I would not get too comfortable in a Niche market of any kind. All you need is one big company to open a branch in your metro area and bring a crew from here that does it all for much less and you will be whining like all the mow boys about lowballers.

NightScenes
01-05-2008, 10:32 PM
It sounds like you are one of a rare breed that does many things well and has the man power for it. Unfortunately this country has far too many contractors that do a lot of things and none of them well. As long as these other contractors exist there will always be room for specialists. There are also enough home owners out there who are used to hiring specialist for each aspect of their home design. They will hire an architect to design their home. Then they will hire an interior decorator, landscape architect, landscaper, pool builder and exterior lighting designer.

There are also a LOT of lighting companies that do awful work and they don't seem to last all that long. There are a couple of them that have come and gone in my area. This means that "lighting specialists" aren't all the same and you can't lump them up and say that hiring a lighting company is any better than hiring a plumber to design and install the lighting. I would even go as far to say some plumbers that I know could probably out do some of those lighting guys.

What separates all of these is passion. Those that have a passion for what they do will always be around and be prosperous in what they do.

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
01-05-2008, 10:33 PM
I think you will find many dissenting viewpoints here AZGardener.

My clients appreciate the extra attention to detail, specialized experience, passion for the art, and broad based knowledge that I bring to their properties.

Here it is not uncommon for sophisticated landscape projects to be designed by an specialist, hardscaped by a specialist, planted and maintained by another, irrigated by a specialist, lit by a specialist, and have the tree work done by a specialist. If there is a built structure water feature, pool or hot tub on the property it is generally built and maintained by another specialist.

Those companies who profess to "do it all" and market themselves as one stop shops do exist and they are getting work, but they are not the companies who are getting the high end clientelle. Also, it is pretty easy to pick off the properties that have used a one stop shop to create their landscapes.... IMO they never really seem to excel in any one category.

Would you hire a house painter to paint a family portrait simply because he has access to paint and brushes and is working in your neighbourhood?

I would be interested to find out from the others here if my experience is replicated in other markets.

Have a great day.

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
01-05-2008, 10:37 PM
Very well stated Paul, great post.

pete scalia
01-05-2008, 10:46 PM
I was at IA a few years ago in a business seminar and we were discussing L/S jobs. Someone from the East coast said something about L/S jobs taking a few days. I was sitting by a guy from So.Cal. and we both held up our hands at the same time with a dumbfounded look on our face. What can you do in a few days? Well... plant plants and lay down sod, mulch, that was all a landscaper does in some parts of the country. In our market even a "simple" landscape consists of a pool, small waterfeature, hardscape, pots, drainage, boulders, irrigation system, lighting, plants, turf and granite topdressing. There is not enough money for most clients to hire "experts" in what others would consider "niche" markets.



You base your statements around what 1 contractor said from the east coast at a seminar? I've got news for you guy, here in NY we install all of the same things you do on the west coast. We may work and do things a little faster cause that's our nature. Everything in NY is done fast otherwise someone else will eat your lunch for you. It's dog eat dog. in addition we have a much shorter season to get things done. The ground freezes at this time of year and very little work gets done for 3 months or so a yr. So there is a rush so to speak to finish. Any projects that didn't finish by mid to late December must wait till the spring. Not many people want their property left for three months disheveled in the midst of a landscape project over the holidays and balance of the winter. You see what I'm sayin?

JoeyD
01-05-2008, 11:12 PM
I know for a fact that there are a lot of very good full service landscape construction professionals that do a very good job with lighting. Some of our largest end users that have won awards for their lighting are also masons, irrigation experts, pool builders, arborists, and plant experts. Lighting is something they have picked up and now they have the ability to change and adapt their landscape designs to enhance the lighting design they have in mind. Now on the otherside some of the worst lighting jobs I have seen were installed by landscapers who were not educated and had no clue what they were doing. These are usually the daisy chained jobs!

Where these good landscaper guys dont get a chance to utilize their lighting skills in on existing landscaped jobs. Fact is most guys like AZ Gardener (not trying to pretend I know his buisness) dont get calls from the homeowner who is JUST looking for lighting. They usually only install lighting when they are installing landscapes. This is why so many of them have taken to starting lighting divisions, so they can gain access to those projects.

Reality is that homeowners who have been down the road with having the landscape contractor hack in some crappy system, they are now looking for a lighting pro to install their next job. They want a lighting pro to do their lighting just like they want a landscape pro to plant their trees and build their planters.

Az Gardener
01-06-2008, 12:46 AM
The way it generally goes here is...

The big jobs 250-K and up :weightlifter: typically go to Recognized landscape architects for the design. There is one local guy that gets 50-K per acre just for the design. They design the whole job but will typically allow a trusted contractor to make moderate adjustments in the field. This includes hardscapes, lighting, irrigation, plants everything I have even seen them design the patio furniture. Those get installed typically by a single L/S contractor who will do all the work in house. Sometimes the pool is subbed out depending on the contractor.

The typical custom home L/S is usually designed by a lesser known landscape architect or a design, install, build firm. The same type company that would install the big jobs. These jobs are 50-K to 200-K :dancing:

Track homes are all over the place :dizzy: the cheapies are done as part of the builders package and bigger companies, usually commercial guys, will come in and do 10-15 at a time like one big job. The rest are kind of a free for all.

I have not in 20 plus years in this market in PHX seen a niche lighting company doing any systems. I used to know of one guy (from NY) that had a specialty company but he sold the company :drinkup: (smart guy) and the guy that bought it was out of business within 2-3 years :cry: .

I guess what I am saying is that while you could probably make living on renovations and the occasional client. I will agree there is always some one to buy your service. That if you want to build a company that will run without you the margins must be very high. Because your not doing enough volume to lower you margins. If it is your passion and you are comfortable being married to the company great for you. Not my cup of tea. I enjoy fishing in a well stocked lake.

Chris J
01-06-2008, 01:03 AM
Azgardner,
Have you ever heard of Dave Kredit? He's in your area and does quite well in this biz. The last time I was in AZ, he took me on a tour of your area and showed me all of the famous work you are speaking of. I must admit, I am still seriously considering relocating to Phoenix to start a service/revamp business. No offense intended.

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
01-06-2008, 12:43 PM
I guess what I am saying is that while you could probably make living on renovations and the occasional client. I will agree there is always some one to buy your service. That if you want to build a company that will run without you the margins must be very high. Because your not doing enough volume to lower you margins. If it is your passion and you are comfortable being married to the company great for you. Not my cup of tea. I enjoy fishing in a well stocked lake.

Sheesh, it must suck being a small to medium sized specialty business in Arizona. All the more reason to stay here I suppose. :) Around these parts, the larger landscape Design & Build companies are happy to call in specialty trades for lighting, irrigation, ponds, pools etc. They have an appreciation of the strong background, experience, understanding and commitment to ongoing service that us "little guys" provide the clients with. Not to mention the truly Custom Systems we come up with.

There are some projects that are managed by the LS company (or builder) and we might initially work as a sub-contractor, but I always insist on meeting in person with the client. This ensures a personal relationship and understanding of the process and maintenance requirements of the system.

I have seen the lighting & irrigation work done by some large scale, one stop, landscape construction companies. Without a doubt it does not compare in quality or scope to the specialist contractors. Also, those larger companies are less apt to have in place service divisions to maintain that infastructure over the long haul.

As for making a living on "renovations and the ocassional client".... well :laugh: that is just funny. We are currently booking into late July for new installations...

Desertdweller
02-02-2008, 03:04 PM
Stumbled on this thread by accident but have to add my 2 cents. AZ has done well in the market he's in but there are specialty companies here in the Valley that are doing quit well. One of the best lighting guys I've seen 30 years does only lights and has all the work he wants. We do only irrigation and 95% repair and have 5 techs right now and plan to add 1 to 2 more each year for the next few years or until we can't find good help. We all have markets we can make money in specializing or not.

Lite4
02-02-2008, 03:30 PM
This is a continuation of the ALOP thread I was contributing to and I realized this portion was heading in a different direction so I thought better to begin a new thread.

All business is there to serve the client. Most clients in general are not sophisticated enough to recognize good from great. Most can't even tell good from bad. They want it all and are also not willing to pay more than they have to. Having a separate contractor come in during a complex landscape job is not the most practical or efficient way to get a job done. It certainly does nothing to help control costs.

I was at IA a few years ago in a business seminar and we were discussing L/S jobs. Someone from the East coast said something about L/S jobs taking a few days. I was sitting by a guy from So.Cal. and we both held up our hands at the same time with a dumbfounded look on our face. What can you do in a few days? Well... plant plants and lay down sod, mulch, that was all a landscaper does in some parts of the country. In our market even a "simple" landscape consists of a pool, small waterfeature, hardscape, pots, drainage, boulders, irrigation system, lighting, plants, turf and granite topdressing. There is not enough money for most clients to hire "experts" in what others would consider "niche" markets.

I only say this as a old geezer who has been around a while and seen things evolve over the years and I would not get too comfortable in a Niche market of any kind. All you need is one big company to open a branch in your metro area and bring a crew from here that does it all for much less and you will be whining like all the mow boys about lowballers.

I am a little confused whether or not YOU actually believe what you are saying here. I don't mean any disrespect to you personally, but I think your statements on this matter are a bit short sighted or slightly oblivious to some clear facts.
I have been in the landscape industry for about 15 years now and I can count on 1 hand the number of landscapers who try to tackle every aspect of each job, and can actually pull it off, (to the untrained eye.) Now I commend you for trying to do this, and I even would do as much as I could on jobs as well, but there is an old addage "A jack of all trades and a master of none."
Let us compare this to the homebuilding industry: You have one builder who plays general contractor and will do a portion of the structure himself, but will leave a good deal of it to specialized subcontractors. He understands that a specialist has taken the time to investigate and educate himself in all facets of his (niche), and is the best one possible to do a quality job thereby making the builder look like a hero. It is very rare in the building industry that you will see a contractor take on everything himself from framing, to plumbing, to electrical and masonry work. When you walk through their houses there are usually some obvious signs of inexperience that show he is not the "Master" of one particlular craft or another. So to respond to your thought that I am in trouble because some local landscaper, waterfeature builder, pool builder, mason, framer of pergolas and "part time" lighting guy is going to put me out of business because he uses cheap product and sells for a dirt cheap price to some customer that I am not interested in. Think again, we are here to stay and will be fixing those botched jobs by said landscapers and creating new customers in the wake of landscaper destruction.

steveparrott
02-02-2008, 05:33 PM
Azgardner,
Have you ever heard of Dave Kredit? He's in your area and does quite well in this biz.

I had the pleasure of photographing one of Dave Kredit's project - he does excellent work!

Mike M
02-03-2008, 08:08 AM
Great combo of pro installer with pro photographer.

Az Gardener
02-03-2008, 11:05 AM
Take this criticism with a grain of salt as it comes from a simple gardener but is that really what the industry considers a excellent project? In my humble opinion the fist two pictures the cacti have hot spots all over the place. The cacti look very washed out especially in the second picture. The third pictures does have a bit of interest but the fixtures are so close to the the plants that they too have some very hot spots.

I will agree that irrigation repair in Az is not likely to go away as a niche market but the fact that there are 5 crews doing repairs and only one doing installs is an illustration that most contractors are doing their own installs with the landscape. I would also bet the repairs are far more profitable that the installs.

When was the last time you saw a milk man? What about a tailor or cobbler? These were some very dependable occupations of the early 1900's It dosen't get much better than having groceries delivered to your house and having your clothes and shoes custom made to fit you. While their were many cobblers and tailors in the past the business has evolved and most people have come to realize they would rather have the extra money as opposed to the custom fitting attire. This is not to say there are not some tailors and cobblers still around and they do make good money but there are only a fraction of them still doing business.

I am not of the opinion that one way is better than another. I am just sharing my observations and pointing out that as an owner we all need to be looking at trends in the marketplace and not just what new bells and whistles are coming out as it pertains to fixtures and transformers.