Questions and Answers from a Pro About the Professional Christmas Lighting Industry
Here at HolidayLEDs.com, we occasionally get questions from landscapers or other business owners interested in offering professional holiday LED lighting services to their customers. We turned to an expert in the field, Paul Anderson, to help answer them. He has spent the last 8 years honing installation techniques and training companies to do commercial holiday installations, from bidding to designing to installing to troubleshooting. At his latest on-site training, new contractors installed Halloween lighting at the Milwaukee Zoo.
What are the biggest trends in the commercial holiday lighting industry?
“It’s not just Christmas lighting anymore,” Anderson says. “Christmas lighting is important but with the LEDs out there and what they do for our industry and the environmental savings, it’s become more of a holiday industry, whether it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving or Halloween or marriages or 4th of July. All of those kinds of events are in the mix.”
Where can a new commercial holiday lighting installer expect to find customers?
If you’re a landscaping or snow removal company or business that already interacts with homeowners, one of the best places to look is within your own customer base, Anderson says. Beyond that, he recommends identifying neighborhoods or communities where the top 10 to 15 percent of wage earners in your region are concentrated.
It’s also important to look beyond residential customers. Municipalities, restaurants or venues that specialize in holiday events, rotary clubs and business districts looking to attract shoppers with wrapped street trees and lighted holiday festivals are increasingly important parts of the business. “There’s also grant money for municipalities and business districts to change from incandescents to LEDs because of the energy savings. We find that business is at least 50 percent of the total now,” he said.
What typically makes or breaks a holiday lighting business?
It’s critical to have one or more employees who are dedicated exclusively to holiday lighting, Anderson said. “A lot of people plow snow and if you’re expecting this person to install lights around plowing snow, it’s not going to work. They have to have a dedicated person or persons, because normally an installation crew would be two people. The people that fail are the ones who try and do other things, like landscape, around the lighting business.”
It’s also critical to use commercial-grade seasonal LED Christmas lights, he said, which are more durable and better able to withstand the elements than retail products.
What is the cost of a typical commercial LED holiday lighting job?
The price that a customer pays for a professional LED holiday lighting installation can range from $1,000 to over $100,000, Anderson said. An average range would be $3,000 to $10,000.
How much of that is profit?
Someone just starting in the commercial holiday lighting business should aim to break even in the first year, Anderson said. “I don’t recommend anyone take on more than five projects the first year. And then it will grow from there. The learning curve and profitability curve probably don’t start to take place until the second year,” he said. The goal of his training program is for someone to start making $75 to $100 an hour, after expenses, somewhere between the second or third year.
What advantages does a commercial holiday lighting service offer?
Few homeowners and business owners who want a jaw-dropping holiday display have the time or inclination to achieve it, Anderson says. By opting for a professional installation, they never have to touch a ladder or an electrical cord, and they no longer have to worry about maintenance. If a bulb goes out, they simply call someone to fix the problem. And while most customers have a general idea of how they might want their home or business to look, many feel more comfortable turning to an expert to realize their vision:
“When I walk on a piece of property I can see exactly what should happen,” he said. “You need to look at the house being the back drop of the painting and do that in white and the plantings become your color and your palette, like an artist. You’ve got to be able to see that. Most homeowners don’t.”
Can you give us some idea of what it takes to achieve the professional that many homeowners or retail districts want?
If you start with a 10 x 15 maple tree, Anderson said, a typical homeowner may attach four or five light strings together, run a few circles around the trunk and then do the best they can to thread it through some branches. A professional installation crew would bring orchard ladders and 75 light strands do perform he same job. To properly wrap a tree, the crews start in the center and run the light string to the middle or end of each branch. Then they wrap backward toward the center, which creates a perfect outline of the branches they’re wrapping and leaves no strings hanging that could be caught by wind. The entire process will take hours, something few homeowners have the time or inclination to do, he said, but it’s a “day and night” difference in appearance.
How have LED lights changed the business?
Initially, an LED Christmas light installation may be a more difficult sell because of the higher up-front costs, says Anderson. But research shows that the energy and replacement savings pay off within 2.5 years. Homeowners and business owners are more willing to make that investment once they understand just how much energy incandescent lights waste. Additionally, the low energy consumption of LEDS has allowed municipalities and business districts to invest in more elaborate displays, and the wide variety of LED bulb shapes and vibrant colors have allowed installers to execute more creative designs.
From an installation standpoint, LED holiday lighting has eliminated nearly all the light failure problems associated with incandescent holiday bulbs. “From a maintenance side, incandescents are a nightmare,” Anderson says. “There is no reason for anybody to start out in the incandescent business anymore. It will cost them more money than they’re willing to pay in maintenance and from the way the country is going…in the next few years incandescent holiday lighting will be done. So they need to know what LEDS are about.”