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

    Thanks for the input, guys. It sounds like we will just have to approach the lighting portion the same way as we have with everything else and go from there. Hopefully I can get enough of a market share to move lighting from auxiliary to the rest of our business to more of its own thing.

    Time will tell!
  2. starry night

    starry night LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,312

    Glad to hear that attitude! Stay around and contribute to this forum.
  3. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876


    We are in the same boat as you guys. We do only high end residential-only work. All phases of design/build/hardscape/landscape/maintenance/lighting, etc. We've successfully made the transition from doing a little lighting to being one of the biggest lighting installers in our area, even compared to the lighting-only companies. It's a big leap to go from the one level to the next.

    First, stick to your guns. People like your company for all the other stuff you do for lots of reasons, right? But not usually because you're the cheapest. Usually you get jobs because of quality, reputation, portfolio, word of mouth, etc. - right? So lighting is no different. You've landed big landscape and hardscape jobs even though you were the highest bid, right? So you can do the same thing with lighting. The only difference is you maybe don't yet feel quite as confident and aren't quite as experienced in the lighting category as you are in the other categories, am I right? At least that's how I felt. I really wanted to get a lot more lighting work but was struggling with it, not landing a lot of lighting jobs and it was a catch-22. How was I ever going to get good at it if I couldn't land many jobs. Fast forward 7 years, now I can land big lighting jobs no problem. It's a big part of our business these days, where it used to be a very small part. What's changed? A few things....

    1) I got a lot better at taking photos of our outdoor lighting work. That's made a huge difference. Once we had as nice of a portfolio of lighting work as we did for paver patios, outdoor living areas, etc. then it started to become a lot more easy to sell lighting jobs. Getting good at the photography is a huge challenge. Plenty of posts here in this forum about it. But get good at this. This sells jobs more than anything else - having great photos of your work.

    2) Get to really know lighting in and out. Learn everything you can about the different brands that are available at your local distributors. Go to all their classes. If they invite you for a factory tour, go on it! Learn from this forum. Get the books that are recommended in the threads we've had in this forum. The Janet Moyer book, the Nate Mullen book, et. al. Get really into lighting and design and start learning what the big lighting pros have learned. This knowledge will help you make good decisions and feel a lot more confident with your customer.

    3) Promote lighting. We market lighting just as much as we market anything else we do. We upsell it on every hardscape/landscape install. We do post-cards and other marketing promotions for just lighting. We have internet marketing set up for just lighting. We promote it heavily. We promote our lighting on our Facebook page, Twitter page, etc.

    4) Create reasons why the customer would want to pick your company over the others. Know those reasons up and down. I go into most lighting jobs assuming I'm going to be the highest bid and so I start from the very beginning explaining that our lighting jobs aren't cheap but here's what makes our systems different. Here's what's worth paying more money for. Here's how it's going to save you money vs. what the other guys are going to try to sell you. I'm pre-empting any of the issues BEFORE they come up.

    5) Separate yourself as a lighting designer / expert - not just another lighting installer. This is hard to quantify and hard to learn. But there are plenty of threads here in this forum about this.

    If you want to talk more, PM me. I'd be happy to help. I love doing lighting. Even though we do a lot of landscape/hardscape stuff, lighting is one of my favorite things. One of my passions. We could bounce ideas off one another and I'd be happy to share some of my other secrets that I won't post openly in the forum that have helped us in lighting. There aren't many of us full scale landscape companies in this forum. Most of the guys here in the forum are lighting-only and, I know I'll get in trouble for saying this, but some of them are a little antagonistic to guys like you and me. There is a line of thinking that some in this forum have that guys like you and me who do all phases of landscaping will never be at the same level as the true lighting gurus here. So their comments are sometimes more antagonistic than helpful. Maybe lighting guys feel threatened by lawn care/landscapers stealing part of their industry. I guess that's a valid thought. Anyway, I'm just saying I'm happy to help. Been there and I understand the transition you're trying to go through.
  4. kellanv

    kellanv LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,173


    Thank you very much for the insight/support. Yes to all of your questions regarding our current business model. We never get the cheap landscape/hardscape/planting/irrigation jobs either but you are completely right that I am much more confident in our design/build services than lighting at the current moment in time so I can sell those with a generally high success rate (albeit this year has been a little strange). We made the jump about a year ago to bring irrigation in-house and slowly that has become a pretty significant part of our business so I guess I shouldn't look at lighting any differently.

    To address your bullet points:

    1) Photography is an area I have down pretty well as it is a hobby of mine. I do on occasion hire a professional photographer friend of mine for special projects but we have some pretty nice shots of most of the projects we do. I posted a thread a little while ago showing a multifamily residence we did that has some pretty neat lighting given the low budget. There are things I would have done differently but oh well.

    2) Working on this part. I understand the circuit/loading stuff pretty well. Its just a matter now of finding what products for what purpose I like most.

    3) Revamping the website as we speak to get this at the forefront.

    4) I tell a lot of customers that they are welcome to bid out the project but I am letting them know in advance that we will not be the cheapest. It might sound goofy to some but it eliminates the tire kickers and I can quickly "read" if they are looking for cheap or quality. Hopefully with the next few lighting projects I have coming up we will be able to get a stronger portfolio going and confidence as well.

    5) I have a degree in landscape architecture. It took me years to get customers to not balk at "you are charging me for design?!". I got cussed out once by a potential customer because I told him we charged but I sure as heck won't give away a large amount of my time for free!

    Thanks again for the reply and I'll be in touch. For now it sounds like its time to just put my head down and wade through it.
  5. Chris J

    Chris J LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,843

    Good posts!!!!! I like it when I see passion in contractors who are not just in it to make a buck on the side outside of their primary business. Some of us lighting only guys can be a bit abrasive but, for me anyway, it's mainly because of the incredible amount of service work that we have to do because these other guys don't provide service after the sale...... just do it because they can and disappear once the check is handed over. Then the customer is left to find someone who will take care of them. I can't complain too much though. We have over 400 annual service contracts with an average annual fee of $400. Some of these clients had their lighting systems installed by someone else originally....... and I will be the first to admit that it's a bitter pill to swallow when asked to fix something that could have initially been done right had they given us more profitable installation business from the start.
  6. kellanv

    kellanv LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,173

    I fully understand that sentiment. It happens with irrigation constantly. We rarely do full installs because we will not install them at the costs that a lot of these "wam bam thank you ma'am" install companies do them for. I also dont install systems that have poor coverage, exceed the maximum meter flow etc. etc. Needless to say, we end up fixing/servicing these systems once the original companies take off.
  7. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    It's kind of the way it is with the entire Green Industry, though, isn't it? Is this a problem that's unique to the Sages of Outdoor Lighting? As you said, we see this all the time with irrigation. I also see it all the time with hardscapes. Plenty of fools out there installing crappy patios and walls that fall apart after a few years. Same thing with landscape installations too. And same thing for the lawn care side of things too. In fact, it's the same thing in general construction as well.

    There are always Yahoos out there who do janky work for the rest of us to fix or redo. But that's one of the things I've always liked about Lawnsite - is that we have the opportunity to help change that here. An opportunity to share our expertise and professionalism and help raise the bar for others reading.
  8. niteliters

    niteliters LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 537

    WOW, have been gone awhile like my brother chris j. glad to see you back contributing chris j. lots to catch up on in my absence. my 2 cents...remember, you can bid like a contractor or you provide a design as a designer. your choice. How you choose is how you're treated.
  9. starry night

    starry night LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,312

    Very succinct. And very well put. Good to see you Chris.
  10. kellanv

    kellanv LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,173

    While I understand the intent, it peeves me to no end when landscape architects, architects, designers (of any sort) start acting like they are walking gods compared to the "lowly" contractors. I encountered this a lot working on the landscape architecture side and now in reverse when we work on the contracting side. The mentality bleeds into homeowners too if we are spending our time throwing our own trades under the bus.

    A good design isn't s*** without good contractors to put it together and without a good design a project never looks right and is 2x over budget. There are horrendous "professionals" from both ends. We have had design proposals come in at half or less than what we charge and we are overall pretty reasonable. On top of that, thanks to HGTV, lots of people seem to think that every designer/contractor is willing to do free designs to put head-to-head with other companies so the customer can pick the winner. Ain't nobody got time for that.

    Obviously this is tangential to the main theme but at least here, trotting around like you are the landscape lighting diva is not any sort of guaranteed selling tool. Some clients really appreciate design, some not at all. Some appreciate top notch BMPs/construction, and with some their eyes glaze over and I start to wonder if they'll come out of their coma.

    Again, I get the intent of the statement but lets not undersell the totality of what we offer. Design PLUS great installation. Both are important.

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