Quality vs. Price and Winning Bids

Discussion in 'Landscape Lighting' started by kellanv, Aug 12, 2014.

  1. kellanv

    kellanv LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,173

    I need to qualify myself by saying that I run a full service landscape/hardscape/irrigation/lighting company. We do everything from maintenance to commercial installations and renovations. We are not the cheap contractor in any of these fields but I am an absolute stickler for making sure everything is done with quality materials and techniques. I can sell myself and still get a lot of jobs but with lighting I'm not exactly sure. There seems to be a lot of lighting contractors out and many of which that tend to lowball badly.

    That being said, we have started to take lighting in-house within the last couple of years and while I have done a few projects that turned out very nice, I lose a lot due to being "notably higher".

    For instance I just put an estimate together to convert 11 carriage lamp style fixtures to LV by using 12V E12 bases (3 each fixture so 33 of them). In addition I had 11 uplights.

    I designed two branches in a star/hub to minimize the drop. 120' to the hub then another 40' past that for the furthest fixture. I wanted to minimize the potential drop due to each converted fixture pulling 15W. I spec'd a 300W LX transformer, FX LED fixtures, lighting shrink connectors etc.

    Is this overkill? Is it a typical case of "there will always be cheaper guys" and I should stick with our pricing? I charge retail for most components. The E12 LEDs were my biggest question mark since I found them from $15 to $30. Any input into the industry would be helpful! Thanks.
  2. starry night

    starry night LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,320

    If your general landscaping business has been successful by being the "quality" contractor, why would you use a different approach with lighting.
    Keep up the good work. You'll lose some projects to low-ballers but you'll be satisfied with your projects when you are done.
    When you are selling the lighting, be proactive by explaining to potential clients why you use quality products and careful installation.
    Don't forget to sell your design talent, as well.
  3. ledeez

    ledeez LawnSite Member
    from nyc
    Messages: 71

    Without seeing the project and assuming there was conduit accessible to all raised beds and sconce fixtures we would come in around 6grand for a similar project

    2100 for scone lamps and wiring
    3900 for up lighting

    If the scope required all sorts of trenching and drilling to get wiring to locations factor another 2grand for additional labor

    We're not cheap but we're also not installing in Malibu & Beverly Hills
    Posted via Mobile Device
  4. kellanv

    kellanv LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,173

    So each lantern went on top of a 16"x16" column. There were conduits in some, not conduits in the others. If I couldn't snake the wire through the column I would have to take the cap off. All lanterns were to be bolted to the cap. Wire had to be trenched within the flower bed min 8", making multiple passes through a low 12" wall (no conduit) and a 6' sidewalk. The sidewalk I was planning on removing a rotted expansion joint, digging down, running my wire, and replacing the joint. I would also have to remove a section of stone/mortar from a flagstone pathway, and do the same thing in another area. Huge PITA factor.

    Weren't very short on copper either - ~750 ft or so.

    I may have priced the 12V LED bulbs a bit high due to the fact that I was seeing prices from about $16 to $28 not including taxes, shipping etc. I added a bit of padding in there to make sure I was covered in case. The bulbs alone were about an $1,100 item.

    Beyond that though I guess I wouldn't be comfortable bidding it too much closer. One hiccup and there goes profit.
  5. Chris J

    Chris J LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,843

    My way is most likely not the best way, but I will always bid jobs like this assuming the worst case scenario. Factor in any potential problems and assume the worst. If the project goes smoothly without too many problems, then discount the final invoice. It's a hard thing to do because you know they are willing to pay the higher price; however, the integrity displayed will get them talking and bragging upon your company more than you could imagine. It's always better to bid high and provide a pleasant surprise at the end rather than bid low and have to come up with excuses why the client will have to pay more than agreed upon....... a lot of contractors play that game, so don't become part of that "low class" race to the bottom.
    Trust me..... you will lose bidding wars in the beginning, but you will eventually win overall once the word gets out there that you are not a "typical" contractor..
  6. kellanv

    kellanv LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,173

    Chris J -

    And that is exactly how we bid our other types of landscape projects. Usually our over-bid items balance out with the under-bid ones. We specialize in tricky/oddball/high detail projects which usually have a tag to match. If you want cheap we are not it. With a lot of potential clients I know how to weed out the bad fits. With lighting however I guess I still have no clue how to spot the "I'll pick the cheapest" clients.
  7. Chris J

    Chris J LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,843

    Well good luck with that one. I've been doing this for 15 years and I still haven't figured out how to judge people so I don't even try. Albeit there are a few that are astonishingly obvious as to their character...... so, as you know, be prepared to run no matter what!! LOL!
  8. Chris J

    Chris J LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,843

    I think I was at Nate Mullen's house the night he told me "sometimes the best client you could have is the one that doesn't hire you." I understood that immediately.
  9. Chris J

    Chris J LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,843

    Or maybe it was "the best prospect you will ever meet is the one that doesn't become your client" anyway, you get the drift.
  10. Viewpoint

    Viewpoint LawnSite Member
    Messages: 80

    I'm in-line with Chris. My estimate and final invoice are all time and materials, including design and drive time. Highball the estimate and deliver under budget. NO one complains about paying less than they were expecting to. You will lose some projects. Maybe a lot of projects. The ones you get though, are going to be hooked for life, and they'll tell their friends. It will take 4-6 years of this to establish your reputation as a lighting professional, but once you do, you won't have to make those compromises to win over people.

    Keep in mind that most property owners have no idea the relative cost to install a high-caliber lighting system. Your hardest job is educating people, but if you know what you're talking about, it gets easier. Show them the lights you plan on using, and why you use them. Explain how your warranty works, how you'll respond if there's an issue. Use fixtures with a great (not just long) warranty. Know design terminology and explain your design by painting a verbal picture for the client. Do a demo if you NEED to. Most importantly, listen and take notes! (I should have started with that). Ask a lot of questions. People like to answer questions because it shows them you want to give them what they want, not what you want.

    One tactic that I've found works for me is to offer to break down your design into phases to meet a budget. Propose a master plan, but if they balk at the price, offer to focus on the most important areas or specimens now, saving the rest for later. It's a long-game, but more often than not, they'll come back to you for more. Again, they may take a few years, but they'll be back for more. If you have the master plan to work from, you'll be prepared for that next phase. This way you don't have to skimp on quality of product or installation. You just won't have the complete composition you wanted to implement. Most property owners will still be happy with what they do get, and if they aren't, you sell the next phase.

    Never, never sacrifice your quality on the installation. They won't come back for phase 2 if phase 1 falls apart.

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