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seolatlanta
08-20-2009, 02:11 PM
Hi Guys,

Long time no talk here on Lawnsite!

I wanted to run a few questions for you guys and get some feedback.

1. Would you start a new lighting company right now , considering the lame economy?

2. If yes , what would you do first to get business and what would you do in your first year marketing plan?

3. What are some things you definitely would NOT do again. !!

4. How would you approach setting up your bookkeeping , answering services , etc.

I should add I have been in the business for 9 years or so. A contractor for 7 and was working for a distributor for 1 1/2 years or so. I know about design and installation , but I was looking for good insight as far as running a real professional lighting business.

Thanks in advance

JoeyD
08-20-2009, 04:47 PM
Whats up Dave! Good to see you here again. Call me if you need anything!

seolatlanta
08-20-2009, 04:55 PM
I wanted to clarify a couple of things regarding my post. I could not figure out how to edit my post.

First , I was a lighting contractor for 7 years and I did run a professional lighting biz until I tried something different.

I am just looking for input on how to restart my business , and restart it without too many mistakes.

Pro-Scapes
08-20-2009, 07:13 PM
Dave long time no talk hope all is well.

How did you start it before ? Did you feel you did it right the first time ? Since you are already licensed in GA thats a good start of course. Since you already know what to do as far as installations that is a huge help too.

You live in a lighting hot spot. There is a ton of business there obviously and also a huge amount of competition. I know of at least 6 guys who are stand alone lighting guys in the metro Atlanta area.

I know there are post card decks and all there that can be cost effective means of advertising and I know others in your area use em. I for one keep things lean and have not had much of an issue surviving and even thriving in tight times. Certainly in 7 yrs in business you made some contacts and did work for alot of clientel. Try to start with them maybe with a mailer letting them know your back and ready to serve thier needs should they need service or additions to systems. Email me when you get a chance there is somethings we can discuss in private.

seolatlanta
08-20-2009, 08:16 PM
Hey Billy,

I guess what I am trying to get at is what marketing is working for you guys?

Do you get more results from your website and such than direct mail?

What else is getting the phone ringing for anybody ?

Mike M
08-20-2009, 10:57 PM
Here's a boring response from someone with less experience than you.

I recommend an evening scrolling back the last 12 months.

I would not recommend jumping back into lighting with a big marketing budget, but rather with a gradual, crafted approach. You have previous accounts, and that would be a great re-entry if you plan to return to that region; focussing on service, add-ons, referrals, etc.

emby
08-20-2009, 11:34 PM
Hi Dave,

I am really new, you could call me an apprentice. One thing I had in my mind when first starting out was that I was going to be the best at what I do. I wanted to focus on one thing and thats lighting and I will succeed. I am neat, precise and I ensure that the customer gets what they want and thats a professional landscape lighting system that is going to be there for many years. Give the customer that with a maintenance plan and they are happy campers. When they are happy they will talk to other people and then they will call you and so on and so on. Networking is great and the harder I work at being precise and professional the more people talk about it. They will wait for a good thing.
I often find when I am waiting to do final adjustments that you get to conversate a lot with the customers. I really pay attention to those conversations. One customer commented about a particular restaurant that his wife and him like going to. When the job was done and cheque in hand I handed him a thank you card with a gift card from that restaurant. To me thinks like that go along way. I try to do something like that for all my new customers small or large. Whats a couple of hundred bucks towards the great marketing that they are going to do within there network.
Just a different aspect form a new guy.

Ken

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
08-21-2009, 02:18 AM
Hi Dave,
I am really new, you could call me an apprentice. One thing I had in my mind when first starting out was that I was going to be the best at what I do. I wanted to focus on one thing and thats lighting and I will succeed. I am neat, precise and I ensure that the customer gets what they want and thats a professional landscape lighting system that is going to be there for many years. Give the customer that with a maintenance plan and they are happy campers. When they are happy they will talk to other people and then they will call you and so on and so on. Networking is great and the harder I work at being precise and professional the more people talk about it. They will wait for a good thing.
I often find when I am waiting to do final adjustments that you get to conversate a lot with the customers. I really pay attention to those conversations. One customer commented about a particular restaurant that his wife and him like going to. When the job was done and cheque in hand I handed him a thank you card with a gift card from that restaurant. To me thinks like that go along way. I try to do something like that for all my new customers small or large. Whats a couple of hundred bucks towards the great marketing that they are going to do within there network.
Just a different aspect form a new guy.
Ken

:clapping::clapping::clapping::clapping::clapping:

BRAVO! BRAVO!

Ken you are going to be just fine. Keep up the winning attitude, keep doing a great job, keep impressing those clients, and keep those referrals rolling in.

Sounds to me like this guy has taken the time to do some reading, maybe even a bit of Purple Cow? Being "Remarkable" is not all that difficult when you understand exactly what it means. I think Ken has it figured out so far.

JoeyD
08-21-2009, 11:28 AM
Hi Dave,

I am really new, you could call me an apprentice. One thing I had in my mind when first starting out was that I was going to be the best at what I do. I wanted to focus on one thing and thats lighting and I will succeed. I am neat, precise and I ensure that the customer gets what they want and thats a professional landscape lighting system that is going to be there for many years. Give the customer that with a maintenance plan and they are happy campers. When they are happy they will talk to other people and then they will call you and so on and so on. Networking is great and the harder I work at being precise and professional the more people talk about it. They will wait for a good thing.
I often find when I am waiting to do final adjustments that you get to conversate a lot with the customers. I really pay attention to those conversations. One customer commented about a particular restaurant that his wife and him like going to. When the job was done and cheque in hand I handed him a thank you card with a gift card from that restaurant. To me thinks like that go along way. I try to do something like that for all my new customers small or large. Whats a couple of hundred bucks towards the great marketing that they are going to do within there network.
Just a different aspect form a new guy.

Ken



Good stuff Ken!

David Gretzmier
08-21-2009, 07:02 PM
Dave, I honestly would not reccomend starting this business even if the economy was booming. Firefly just started up a low voltage division up in Indianapolis within a very successful electrical contracting firm. with a great exzisting reputation and a fairly staggering marketing budget, they are making a dent and getting sales. there is another thread through here detailing the amounts spent and sales got.

After 3 years of trying, I can say that Landscape lighting is a very difficult business to establish with modest marketing and word of mouth, even though I have a very sucessful Christmas light business. we have 500k population here, and I am the only "lighting only" company, and I have struggled to stay busy 1, 2, 3 years ago in the non-holiday season. I truly could quadruple my lighting business now and still only have 1 employee to help me from Feb 1-Sept 15.

if you are determined, and are willing to spend 10k per month to get 25-40k in sales, go for it. I don't have the margins or the deep pockets to do so, so I just look in awe over the folks who can and do. bear in mind you will be competing with the same guys who spend mucho bucks to get the same customers.

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
08-22-2009, 11:15 AM
Dave, welcome back to the forum.

I am much more optimistic and upbeat than my colleague David is! I would suggest to you that if you are truly passionate about outdoor lighting, lighting design, etc then I say go for it. I honestly believe that once you have found your true calling, that which you are meant to do, then sucess will follow. Do what you love!

There is no need to spend anywhere near 30-40% of revenues on marketing to get a small lighting business off the ground. I don't care where your are operating.

Find the hole in your market and fill it! Even if there are 5 other stand alone lighting businesses in your area I assure you there is a niche that is not being properly served.

Think about your services as an art form, and a means of expressing your individual flair and you will find fans and clients. No one can take that away from you, it is yours and yours alone. Anyone can sell and install a bunch of fixtures and create light, but only you can have the vision to create a work of art on your client's canvass.

If you love it, then build it.... and they will come.

Pro-Scapes
08-22-2009, 06:37 PM
Your forgetting the key here. In 7 years you built up a clientel. Mine that first! phone calls! letters! get back in touch with them!

TXNSLighting
08-22-2009, 06:44 PM
Hi Dave,

I am really new, you could call me an apprentice. One thing I had in my mind when first starting out was that I was going to be the best at what I do. I wanted to focus on one thing and thats lighting and I will succeed. I am neat, precise and I ensure that the customer gets what they want and thats a professional landscape lighting system that is going to be there for many years. Give the customer that with a maintenance plan and they are happy campers. When they are happy they will talk to other people and then they will call you and so on and so on. Networking is great and the harder I work at being precise and professional the more people talk about it. They will wait for a good thing.
I often find when I am waiting to do final adjustments that you get to conversate a lot with the customers. I really pay attention to those conversations. One customer commented about a particular restaurant that his wife and him like going to. When the job was done and cheque in hand I handed him a thank you card with a gift card from that restaurant. To me thinks like that go along way. I try to do something like that for all my new customers small or large. Whats a couple of hundred bucks towards the great marketing that they are going to do within there network.
Just a different aspect form a new guy.

Ken

Wow Ken, This is some great insight! I love hearing what other people are doing to make themselves stand out. Its very inspirational.

David Gretzmier
08-24-2009, 12:15 PM
Although I wish dave well, and would love for everyone with passion for lighting to succeed, I would rather be honest. I'd love to be optimistic, but my experience tells me what is realistic: If you want to eat, I cannot advise folks to "go for it" in lighing because:

Several people on here, who did good work, who had a passion with thier existing lighting business's have folded. They are now working for other folks, and some are no longer doing lighting.

If you want to put an ad in craigslist, you can make a living doing general landscaping. If you make flyers, you can easily build a mowing schedule in a few weeks to pay your bills. building a business around lighting is really, really hard and expensive.

There are really only two types of customers out there, both top 1% income range.

the first are folks who decided this year they are going to do lighting on thier home/landscape, they have planned it and budgeted for it. They will go to thier landscaper, thier builder/contractor and thier neighbors for sugestions on who should do it. Maybe do some web searching and yellow pages. You will probably not get those jobs. Most general landscapers get them. After you have been in the marketplace a few years and built a reputation through advertising and word of mouth, you get some. but not most.

The second folks who do lighting did not plan on it, but decided to do it on impulse from reading an article, seeing a neighbors job or a postcard. Unless you sent that postcard or did that neighbors job, you're not getting that job.

I'd like to say my experience tells me otherwise, but in lighting there is just no low hanging fruit. You have to be the guy that sends postcards, or do more what james does on the public relations side to get your name in the paper, by donating services to community type projects, or by writing articles for submission in the local papers.

I do hope in my 4,5,6 years this thing grows into something that is at least full time for myself and a helper from March 1st to Sptember 15, but I am not sure even that will happen. How can I posssibly reccomend to someone to do this if they want to eat and live?

Steve B
08-24-2009, 01:52 PM
"You have to be the guy that sends postcards, or do more what james does on the public relations side to get your name in the paper, by donating services to community type projects, or by writing articles for submission in the local papers."

Isn't that the beauty of American Capitalism? Those that are willing to put forth the effort tend to be the ones that succeed.

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
08-24-2009, 03:37 PM
I am not for a moment suggesting that building a lighting business is an easy endeavour. Every market is going to have its own challenges and hurdles. I work in a very challenging market, what with only 8 months in which to do installations and having my clients here only 3-4 months of that time to sell to, I assure you I know what challenges are. But here we are, 11 years into the biz and going strong. Is it a lot of work? YES. Is there some risk? Sure there is... but the things that win the day are passion and commitment.

It doesn't matter to me if you make ice in Alaska or sell A/C in Jamaica. If you are passionate and love that which you do, you will be a success. You really don't have many other choices at that point.

I have talked and met with a lot of people involved in outdoor lighting around N. America. Those who are in it for the art, thrill, passion, etc are those who seem to be able to build a viable business out of it. Those who sort of fell into the business, or added it as a side line, or got in for "the money" are the ones who are now in trouble with this slower economy.

Aim high, network like crazy, position yourself early to serve the top of the market, then service service service that market like they have never experienced before. Are you going to have to make sacrifices? Absolutely! I don't know many successful people who didn't work their asses off to build their businesses.

David Gretzmier
08-24-2009, 10:44 PM
I agree James. I'd also add that a lot of the folks I meet that are successful in business, especially the lighting business ( how many really successful lighting companies are out there ? ) had some things fall into place- They not only had a passion for the work, but had a knack for understanding numbers and profit, and seemed to be able to market themselves well in thier market.

I hope that after 9 years my Landscape lighting biz is where my Christmas light biz is now. I don't doubt that at 11 years James has created something really exciting. but imagine beginning all over again with no reputaion in any market served by two or more succesful franchises or postcarders. It might take 11 years of slugging it out just to scratch out a comfortable income.

What is troubling and happening in most markets of 500,000 plus population is many franchises have moved or are moving in. The saturate the market heavy with advertising, creating and grabbing most of the market share and developing the reputation of "THE" lighting company. Once these companies get the 350-500k per year machine going, they continue to saturate advertise and develop market share. While I agree that the company that does outstanding work will get jobs, many of the jobs that outstanding company WOULD have got, are gotten by the guys that saturate.

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
08-25-2009, 12:20 AM
David. I guess I am lucky that we dont have any franchise operations to deal with around here. But then again, do you really think that those operations are in the same league and serving the same clients that we are?

My systems continue to sell well based on quality components, excellent design, attention to detail, custom installations, fantastic service and a strong commitment to the art and the industry. I really don't think that a franchise operation would provide that same mix and level of service to the marketplace, and as such I would continue to win the jobs.

In the last couple of years I have seen a lot of companies around here enter into the outdoor lighting business. But I have yet to see any dent in my sales because of them. More and more I am finding that people are getting multiple quotes but I still seem to win the jobs I bid on. When (after the fact) I inquire as to why I was chosen, the same responses keeps coming up... "You have more knowledge and much more passion for what you do then the other guys" and "Your design was much more comprehensive than the others"

Love what you do and do it well! (oh and get those tree lights up high, way way up high :) )

Pro-Scapes
08-25-2009, 10:58 AM
Exactly. How many of your clients shop for clothes at a chain store vs a botique ?

David Gretzmier
08-28-2009, 10:38 PM
I agree that with an established reputation, and a visable passion for what you do, sales can be made over the competition. I am living proof of that over on the Christmas light side. I consistantly close jobs at prices well over my competitors. I have name recognition. But I remember very well how it was 9 years ago. same passion, no reputation, still lots of competitors. I closed less than a third of what I do now. When you start off a business, as in Dave's case, he will be competing with with others who have name recognition, and in this business, That is a very, very hard thing to do.

I'll repeat and rephrase. If you have 100k in the bank to start, you can build this business through marketing in a tough but large enough market. whatever your passion is, you have got to get in front of clients to show it. getting those face to face bids/demo's is very expensive. If you spend 10k per month for 3 years, you will see 40 k per month in sales. if you can get in front of enough folks, you can build the reputation you need and then probably slack off to 3-5 k per month.

Lite4
08-29-2009, 07:53 AM
I agree that with an established reputation, and a visable passion for what you do, sales can be made over the competition. I am living proof of that over on the Christmas light side. I consistantly close jobs at prices well over my competitors. I have name recognition. But I remember very well how it was 9 years ago. same passion, no reputation, still lots of competitors. I closed less than a third of what I do now. When you start off a business, as in Dave's case, he will be competing with with others who have name recognition, and in this business, That is a very, very hard thing to do. I'll repeat and rephrase. If you have 100k in the bank to start, you can build this business through marketing in a tough but large enough market. whatever your passion is, you have got to get in front of clients to show it. getting those face to face bids/demo's is very expensive. If you spend 10k per month for 3 years, you will see 40 k per month in sales. if you can get in front of enough folks, you can build the reputation you need and then probably slack off to 3-5 k per month.


All of your quotes have been right on.* We have spent a good deal of cash in the direct marketing this year with mixed results.* The home shows and RSVP have been by far the most successful.* Our big direct mail pieces and our magazine adds produced very lackluster results.* We are also seeing a large surge in leads here in the last 2 weeks also which has been favorable.

Starting a business from scratch is not easy, Especially a lighting business.* Face it, we are offering a luxury item to potential clients; many of whom have cut their spending on non essentials out of fear or necessity. Location and saturation of competion is key to success in this biz. Like David said, competing with established companies that have been doing this for years is not easy. Most of the jobs you get you will ;have to buy through direct marketing, along with aggressive networking, late night demonstrations, and creative marketing that is outside the norm. When you are just starting up, nobody knows you exist to offer them these services....so how do you make yourself known to the public on a consistant basis? It is not easy. The company I am working for has been fairly aggressive in marketing and we have had to buy all of our current jobs and for the most part this lighting division is still very new and most people just looking for lighting still won't find us if just doing a casual search in the phone book or on the web. (this won't be for long). It is all about staying in front of the public and becoming memorable. Tommy Herron has done a great job with this in his area, which is a very large community, but even he was not unscathed by the slowdown.

I guess in summary if you are going to start a new lighting biz, know your area,(can it support another lighting company?) Know your competition and what they are doing to market to your potential clients and how you can supercede them, offer some additional services until you get all the way up and going. I agree with David, unless you have some deep pockets for advertising initially to get some work or you have a deep past client base to work from it will be difficult to get a new company going right now, (NOT IMPOSSIBLE THOUGH if you are tenacious enough to see it through).

I wish you the best of luck in your endevour!

lx665
09-05-2009, 03:22 PM
David G.

I totally agree with your posts. There is a very small percentage of the population who can afford quality landscape lighting. My wife and make very good money and I have a hard time justifying landscape lighting at my own home. I am installing at cost using my own labor and have over 8 grand in materials. I could NEVER afford having a system installed by someone else.

I love landscape lighting and wish I could make a living do it. Take what you read on these discusion boards (any topic, not just lighting) with a grain of salt. If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it.

john

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
09-05-2009, 04:58 PM
Take what you read on these discusion boards (any topic, not just lighting) with a grain of salt. If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it.

john

I am not sure that I understand your comment. What should he be taking with a grain of salt? Are you suggesting that it is not possible to build a business in the Outdoor Lighting Market?

As for easy. Well no one is suggesting for a minute that building a sucessful business of any kind is easy. It takes sacrifice, commitment, risk, perserverance, talent, skill, and spriit. Finding a bit of luck along the way helps too. If you don't have the entreprenurial spirit in you then I would suggest you find a great employer.

lx665
09-05-2009, 09:18 PM
James,

No, I am not saying that is impossible to start a successful landscape lighting company. I understand that it takes hard work.

What I am saying is the cost of landscape lighting is extremely expensive. Only a small segment of the population can afford landscape lighting which limits your market. There are also others who blow smoke (discussion boards in general) and nowhere as successful as they represent themselves to be. There are others who are selling their products and make it sound so easy to money.

Until the price of landscape lighting becomes more affordable it will be extremely difficult for someone to start a company and make a descent living. I am not a know it all and have been wrong before...so take my advice with a grain of salt...just as you should with all advice!

john

David Gretzmier
09-06-2009, 12:13 AM
John makes a good point. excellent Landscape lighting is an expensive product. When you look at the food chain of landscape businesses, Landscape lighting seems to be at the absolute tops of two lists- income/home value of average client and by extension, smallest size market base.

I'd say the market for mowing is huge. lots of available clients at many different income ranges. many widows on very tight fixed incomes pay for mowing by necessity. most businesses hire this out as well.

chemical lawn care, tree work, bed maintenance and landscape install limit your market from there, but still, lots of work in many income ranges from middle class up. many and most businesses are available to you as well.

irrigation install and maintenance is more limited still, but irrigation is really common in the upper middle class, and fairly common in business, still a pretty large market.

fountains and water features less so. This is pretty limited to creative upper middle class folks and the wealthy. You do see an occaisional water feature at a business. I would say a water feature business is a very similar market to landscape lighting.

You don't see much landscape lighting at businesses unless it is the line voltage floods. It really is fairly limited to the wealthy or very upper middle class, or what I like to call the top 1%'ers. Christmas lights falls in this category too. but I do plenty of business's On the Christmas light side. not so much landscape lighting. but probably 90-95% of my customers on both sides of the lighting biz are the top 1%'ers. And from what I can tell driving through the neighborhoods I work at night, Only about 1-3% of that top 1% have good to excellent outdoor lighting.

Since I know I have postcarded most of the top 1%ers, multiple multiple times, I know they know about this service. It is my opinion that the vast majority of the people who CAN buy this product or service, don't care or don't want this service. Otherwise 50-90% of the really nice homes would have it. Think about it. How many of the top 1%'ers have REALLY nice kitchens. professional level appliances, etc. 75-95%, right? How many have huge plasma TV's, more $50,000 plus new cars than they have drivers, again, probably 80-95% of them have these things, because they think they NEED those things and they are willing to pay a premium for them. Until the people that can afford this service feel like they NEED it like the above listed items, This is a really, really tough business.

lx665
09-06-2009, 08:25 AM
To all,

A finial thought...Many of the high-end clients that I have worked for have cut way back on spending. There are loads of high-end clients that are up side down in their mortgages in the area I live. Until their property values increase, they are not spending money. The point being, the limited market is even smaller for landscape lighting or any other high-end service.

John

extlights
09-07-2009, 01:00 AM
It's not about "needing" anything rather more about the advantages of having it. Do our customers really need to drive a Lexus or Mercedes? No, but the advantages of driving one could be chalked up to more safety options, quiter and smoother ride, and better resale etc. You could look at everything the upper class have and ask yourself if they "need" it.

The word "need" more often than not is a perception, not a reality. There are very few material things in this world that people actually need. "Needing" something is an idealistic way for people to justify having something that isn't completely necessary.

What it comes down to is this. There are many, many high end products and services out there on the market that aren't "Needed". Show the value, the quality and all the advantages of a top of the line lighting system and soon they will realize that IT is something that they WANT.....and it'll be YOU that they need.

TXNSLighting
09-07-2009, 12:30 PM
It's not about "needing" anything rather more about the advantages of having it. Do our customers really need to drive a Lexus or Mercedes? No, but the advantages of driving one could be chalked up to more safety options, quiter and smoother ride, and better resale etc. You could look at everything the upper class have and ask yourself if they "need" it.

The word "need" more often than not is a perception, not a reality. There are very few material things in this world that people actually need. "Needing" something is an idealistic way for people to justify having something that isn't completely necessary.

What it comes down to is this. There are many, many high end products and services out there on the market that aren't "Needed". Show the value, the quality and all the advantages of a top of the line lighting system and soon they will realize that IT is something that they WANT.....and it'll be YOU that they need.


:clapping::clapping::clapping::clapping::clapping:

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
09-07-2009, 04:44 PM
Show the value, the quality and all the advantages of a top of the line lighting system and soon they will realize that IT is something that they WANT.....and it'll be YOU that they need.

He speaks the truth! :clapping: