View Full Version : A new one on me
12-21-2009, 11:10 PM
This has never happened before, in 25 plus years of putting lights on houses. I will get to what in a sec.
OK, Got a call this evening from one of my multiple clients. we do her house and 2 others for her. her message was we did not finish her house and did not finish one of the others. we installed them on Nov 7, 8, 9 in that order. and today is december 21st? how am I just now hearing about this?
So I go by one of the houses I am close to, and a light pole with garland on it is not working. I check it out and the cord is cut. I replace the cord, and I also magic box a link that is out. I notice that a dormer we did last year does not have links on it, and a dormer on the side of the house that we did not do last year now has links. this is not new, my guys have done this before, but basically they ignore the video I film and they make a bad call. They'll fix that tomorrow.
so I got to the other house just in case, and I notice that the side and back of the house is not on. it appears someone has cut through the tape on the three way plugged into the timer, and now a cord from the roof is just hanging there. I plug it in, and one link is out. did they unplug this because of the link out? who knows. I fix the link, plug everything back in , and go to the main house. again, this has happened before. stuff gets unplugged all the time.
I get to the main house and one small peak is not lit, and I look up and there is no cord to plug it into. hmm. usually the cord would be up there or dangling, or at the least on the ground. I have had cords disappear because homeowners pick them up, so I have a cord with me and I replace that and it lights up. just to be sure though, I look around the back of the house, because we do links on all 4 sides of this house. I get to the back of the house...and this is what I have never experienced....
on the left side of the back of the house, there is a peak with 6 links on each side. or I say, there should be. there are no links there. they are not on the ground, there are no cords to plug them in. no clips. and everything else on the house is there. the guy that hung the house, a four year light verteran of mine, swears he put them up on that peak. he mentioned the homeowner was there and his partner was there. he said they were on when he left and the guy said everything looked great.
and I know what you are thinking. The homeowner? but I got to tell you about this peak. This peak has an 8 foot wide deck in front of it, and it is really tall and steep. you cannot use an extension ladder on it, you have to use a step ladder for the fist 2 links and then you have to climb. you cannot do this peak without getting on the roof, and this is what I would call a class 4. it is the hardest peak you could do without a harness, and at 40, I can't do these without a harness anymore. 2 of the 3 crew foreman can. most guys can't.
So I am faced with looking in the boxes tomorrow for 12 links. If they are there, I have the answer, My guy did not put them up.
If they are not there, 2 choices- my guy did not put them up, and he used them somewhere else, or my guy put them up, and they took them down and used them somewhere else. either one of those is not good.
I will update this thread after I go to the shop tomorrow morning.
12-22-2009, 02:18 AM
Now that's a new one. I'll be interested to hear what you find at the shop in the morning. I am extremely curious though...if the house was installed in the beginning of November....why are they just now calling? I'm sure you'll be asking that question.
I've had an interesting timer issue at a new client's house. Older couple -- probably 75 or 80. Very nice -- referral from a City we do lights for. He's on the city's Appearance Board. Not our typical neighborhood -- but in the same general area -- small job but nice little display. We have been to their house 5 times. FIVE. The digital timer we used -- a very user-friendly one -- is set for 4pm to 10pm per their request. At first she didn't tell us she was messing with it -- just called and said the lights weren't coming on. Go out there -- everything works fine -- but timer is on manual mode. Then she confesses that she tried to turn them on one morning for a couple hours and "might have accidentally" pushed the wrong buttons. We explain -- if she wants them to come on early one day -- no problem -- just hit the 'on/off' button (on the far right side -- very easy). That's it -- only button to hit -- hit it once -- lights will come on and then turn off at normal time of 10pm. Great -- she's thrilled.
Two days later -- another phone call -- one of the wreaths is out. They have six 24" wreaths on their windows. Go out there --- everything is working fine. All wreaths are lit.
Couple days later --- phone call --- lights not coming on again. Since I'm in the area I cheerfully swing by. She had turned the lights on at 10am one morning (who turns their Christmas lights on in the morning????) and when she tried to "reprogram" the timer she messed it up. We discuss the on/off button AGAIN. She thanks me for explaining that -- as if it's the first time I've told her. I ask her -- would you like me to change the time your lights come on each day? No no --- she wants 4pm to 10pm. But occasionally she wants to be able to turn them on for a couple hours in the morning. Before I leave -- she asks me to teach her how to program the timer in case she turns them on early. :hammerhead: *Big sigh* --- we go over the on/off button AGAIN. I have been very close to my own grandparents and have been thru Alzheimer's, dementia, etc. -- so I have a soft spot for seniors. I'm very sweet with her, blah blah blah.
Couple days go by...she calls. Lights didn't come on last night. Are you serious?!?!? My husband is ready to hide the timer from her at this point. We go out that afternoon -- and we have a great thing for her -- a photocell timer. Brand new 15 amp photocell timer. Show it to her -- set it for 6 hours -- explain how the "light sensor" works etc. She's thrilled. Go over the steps if she wants to turn them on early. Before we leave...she asks if we programmed the timer to come on at 4pm. *SIGH* *deep breath*. We know we will get another phone call.
Sure enough -- she called today -- timer not working. Now I'm frustrated. I ask her --- would you prefer to have no timer? Then you can plug/unplug as you please. No no -- she wants a timer.
Carlos stops by -- and sure enough -- brand new 15amp photocell timer has failed. Not working at all. At least this was a legitimate service call. We replace it with a mechanical timer this time. Carlos explains very carefully (and more than once) --- this is the only little button you turn -- do NOT touch anything else. I'm curious to see how many days that lasts.
Gotta love this biz.
12-22-2009, 10:06 PM
Well David did you find the lights? Very stress full right before the grand finale.
12-23-2009, 01:02 AM
I'm anxious to hear as well Dave...what was the verdict?
12-23-2009, 01:53 AM
Found the lights in their boxes. 12 left over. very frustrated with the install guys. How do you do a house over a period of 2 days, and do 3 and 2/3 sides? how can each crew member swear they did it? how can a homeowner be there during installation, and say it looked great? and why did they wait until december 21 to call me? and finally, how did I miss this?
The last question is the only one I can answer. I have gotten large enough that I am now a complaint driven company. I just don't have the time to do the bids, run the crews, order all the materials, manage the shop guy and check all the invoices that go out, collect money and make sure payroll is right, and then go out and check the jobs and make sure they were put up right.
so I just do spot checks, and respond to customer complaints. which for this crew have been typical- few bulbs out on c-9s, a few timers don't work right, etc.
Naturally I am wondering if there is another customer out there that has a peak missing, or some other major issue that has not been reported. I hope not.
12-24-2009, 01:13 PM
Wow that's rough. I'm curious how you will handle this with your crew foreman...will you still keep him on next season? Also...couple brainstorming ideas for next season:
-maybe hire a "right-hand" man for you --- that would be in charge of quality control and whatever else you need so you can focus on bids.
-can the Shop Foreman somehow do any quality control? Require the crew foreman to take pics when finished at install and turn those in with their empty boxes each day. Shop Foreman could look at pics -- maybe compare those to the prior year pics -- and double check that all boxes are empty.
-do you have any kind of policy that if they don't install everything in the right place, they have to go back out and fix it on their dime?
As we grow -- we are very worried about the quality control issue.
12-24-2009, 02:01 PM
I guess I could look at this as a bellweather event- kind of a sign of things to come if we keep doing things the same way. but then , we have been running multiple crews for 4 years, and this is the first time it has happened. probably won't be the last.
I will institute a new rule for the shop guy- any items not installed on the house when empty boxes are unloaded results in a red flag. we send out an extra link or two on most jobs, just incase you have a link that won't magic box fix, and those usually end up in the boxes. but 12 coming back should have triggered an alarm or something. next year it will.
To give me more time, I am turning over the payroll, invoicing, and collecting money, to go with answering the phone, picking up local materials, checking job install times and doing the active GPS checking thing to a full time office person next year, probably stating on Oct. 1 or so and working til Christmas eve calling folks and collecting money. I made the mistake of letting my wife manage that person this year, and she ended up using them quite a bit for babysitting and cleaning the house. the theory was that then my wife would have time to get invoices out, payroll done and run local materail errands for me. Unfortunately, my wife ended up being "busy" alot and volunteered for more stuff, and enjoyed being able to shop by herself while her assistant watched the kids, cleaned the house etc. So next year that person will be a formal employee that goes to the shop and works for me in the office there and has a list of duties to get done every day.
my priorities need be selling and managing the install crews and shop foreman. part of managing them means checking thier work more frequently.
I just can't fathom a right hand man til we get to 5-6 crews or so. at that point, we should have enough revenue and work to justify a person that just manages that, checking jobs and the shop foreman. At that point, I just sell and manage the managers.
The next logical step after that is my dreamed of sales team.
12-24-2009, 04:23 PM
. I made the mistake of letting my wife manage that person this year, and she ended up using them quite a bit for babysitting and cleaning the house. the theory was that then my wife would have time to get invoices out, payroll done and run local materail errands for me. Unfortunately, my wife ended up being "busy" alot and volunteered for more stuff, and enjoyed being able to shop by herself while her assistant watched the kids, cleaned the house etc. .
David, sounds like you wife and mine are related:hammerhead:
I laughed out loud when I read this, because it fits my wife to a "T" especially the "busy" and volunteer part
12-24-2009, 08:47 PM
yeah, the whole month of November and up til the 15th or so of December my wife had a full time assistant. The first week, I was thrilled with the business output of my wife. invoices, files, etc. normally we fight over that stuff. her priority has always been the kids first, the house second, church volunteer stuff, then the business stuff I need her to do.
The new girl was supposed to do business stuff and then help with the kids and house stuff when she was not busy with business stuff. my wife had a better plan. she would work on business stuff and have the new girl mostly clean and help with watching the kids. Then after a week or 10 days, my business stuff started to go back to the priorities it was before. but an added bonus, now payroll went up by 400 a week. we did fight way less because more got done and the house looked awesome. but next year, she gets a part time helper and I get a full time office worker.
12-24-2009, 09:09 PM
Hey David ,
We have installed a few rules as the years have gone by relating to what you have been talking about.
1. On reinstalls , if there is anything left in the box , find out why. We had a lot of folks cut back this year , so it was a little confusing at some houses.
2. When finished leave the lights on for a while to make sure no breakers are tripping. Show the customer with a small walkthrough and then put timers on AUTO. The guys had such a time with all the timers we finally had to set all the timers before they left the shop. I cant tell you how many houses we had to go back to in the first year or two because of these 2 issues.
3. NO TRASH.
4. If the map says use 2 different power sources , use them. Sometimes the crew would run all the power from one receptacle even though the map said use 2 because I had already determined that 2 were necessary. Then 2 days later the circuit would blow . If they would have followed the map , we wouldnt have to pay a crew to go back out.
The key to making good money in Christmas is to make sure you charge enough on the installs - dont be afraid to charge a fair rate as long as you are providing good service. Also do all you can to eliminate call backs for silly stuff such as what I named above.
12-29-2009, 04:02 PM
I've been reading posts like these for the last couple months and monitoring the season for light installation. In 2010, I hope to have a single install crew and enough accounts to justify the capital investment of going with Christmas Decor or HBL. At this point, I would like to hear what the pros and cons were at the start-up phase of these franchises and what they have been like down the stretch as far as sales and service.
I've shuttered to think about adding a new division to our lawn and landscape maintenance company but I'm a little hesitant to keep letting our seasonal workforce go each year when the grass dies. What kind of advice would you give to someone looking to enter the business in this economy? What other services do you perform in the winter in addition to Christmas lights and/or after the Christmas season? We have 5-7 employees March-October, but only 2 over the winter, one being the owner and the other being myself, serving as the operations manager/foreman. Any and all advice is very helpful, thanks for your time.
12-29-2009, 06:11 PM
As far as how to start this business and how to do it, I would definetely read through the other theads here going back a few years. The info you gleam from 8-10 hours reading is probably worth 10 grand in Christmas light business education. Only after reading the threads, where many of your questions are answered ( and many you won't think to ask ) I would then ask other questions you may have in seperate threads, and let different folks chime in.
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