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Add-on services: Christmas lighting trends
Lauren Heartsill Dowdle | September 1, 2011

Judicious color, LEDs, animation and creating a natural look can separate your holiday lighting services from the competition.

Christmas is a holiday filled with traditions, but that doesn’t mean your lighting service should be old fashioned.

“When the recession hit, landscapers saw the need to diversify their services. And for many, holiday decorating became more of a necessity than something to help hold their businesses over,” says Brandon Stephens, vice president of marketing with Christmas Décor. “Of course, this meant a lot of competition popped up. So, we began focusing more on retention versus top-line, new business.”

From adding color to animated effects, here are lighting tips and trends to spark up business and wow your customers.

Adding color

Although warm, white lights are still the most popular, many customers are asking for more color in their designs. “Originally, we saw nothing but conservative styles and warm light colors,” says John Trimble, with Brite Ideas Decorating in Omaha, Nebraska. “Now, we have seen a big demand for color products: multi-colored, red, blue, green and yellow.”

Coordinating lights by colors, with red on shrubs and green on larger bushes, creates a clean, signature look.

But Trimble isn’t sure if the color trend will continue this Christmas, since the market seems to go in cycles. “Every two to three years things change. I’m predicting less color for this year,” Trimble says. He suggests paying close attention to your clients’ lifestyle choices to determine which option to propose.

The type of property can also help you predict which color will work best. “Each customer has a preference – warm white versus color,” says Bob Craig, president of Property Innovations (The Lighting Company) in Freeport, Florida. “Residences, for the most part, prefer warm, white lighting, whereas some commercial customers prefer a blend of colors.” Colored lights can attract attention to businesses, whereas homeowners may enjoy a “cleaner” look.

But don’t be afraid to mix colors. You can alternate colors and use white and red or white and green, placing green lights on shrubs and white lights on the house. “People want a ‘signature’ look,” Stephens explains. “They want something that distinguishes their property. You can only be so creative when outlining a roof, so these trends point to the individuality of each installation.”

LEDs light the way

When selecting the type of Christmas light, most services are turning to LED lights, versus incandescents. Although LEDs cost more initially, they make up for it in several ways. “LEDs last longer, use about 15 percent of the electricity of traditional lights and don’t break easily,” Stephens says.

Wrapping and adding lighted objects to trees can set your lighting designs apart from the competition.

Unless you see the two types side by side, “you wouldn’t recognize the difference between LED and traditional lights,” Trimble says. “LEDs have a pop, a glow, instead of a hue, like incandescent bulbs.”

Some landscapers, like Craig Tkaczenko, owner of Creative Images Landscape Contractors in Little Falls, New Jersey, have abandoned incandescent lights altogether. Over the span of three years, Tkaczenko integrated more LED lights into his product line until they became all he offered. “The color of LED lights has really been perfected,” he says.

Animated light shows

Christmas light and music shows are all over YouTube and beginning to appear in neighborhoods across the country. Most shows use a control system and electronics board that hook up to a computer, and sync the light channels with music. You can either connect the system to speakers or broadcast the music on a radio station.

Brian Larsen, owner of County Wide Landscaping in Elburn, Illinois, became interested in this niche because he “loves Christmas and watching animated light shows.” Before offering this service to customers, he did research and took classes on light animation and related computer software.

Light shows don’t represent a large portion of Larsen’s lighting customers, but their popularity is growing. “Now, the commercial industry is starting to take hold of it,” he says. “Offering an animated light show to commercial shopping centers has become more profitable because businesses want to get people’s attention.” An added bonus is that flickering lights, like in the shows, use less electricity than lights that shine constantly.

If you don’t have time to take classes and learn the technical aspects of animated lighting shows, consider using Christmas in a Box, suggests Paul Smith, president and owner of Animated Lighting. “It’s dummy proof,” says Smith, who has sold this product to more than 500 landscapers. “You just plug lights into it, turn it on and the lights start flashing to the music.”

Animated Lighting offers online videos and manuals showing how to hook the lights up correctly. The product comes with two controllers – one that plays the shows and songs and another that controls the lights. It comes pre-programmed with five songs, but you can purchase more songs ranging from religious to children’s music. Smith suggests grouping the light colors so all of the red, green or white lights flash together. “If you organize the lights, it makes the show look that much better,” he says.

Although only about five percent of landscapers have customers who ask for this service, Smith says it can be profitable because customers who want this service typically buy a large amount for lights and decorations.

“They’re the Clark Griswolds of their subdivisions,” Smith says. “They want to put on a show.”

The plug-and-play box can also be used for other holidays, such as Halloween, by ordering new music.

Natural alternative

To make light designs look natural, consider offering lighted greenery. Wrap banisters with lighted garland or hang lighted wreaths on doors and windows.

Another top-selling lighting service is wrapping trees and shrubs. “The highest-impact technique we use is tree wrapping,” Stephens says. “The results are unbelievable. They really stop traffic.”

Trimble’s 3 Tips

John Trimble, with Brite Ideas Decorating, knows what it takes for landscapers to profit in the Christmas lighting market.

1. Find a niche style for your area. A Los Angeles landscaper saw his area had a lot of olive trees and incorporated them into his designs. He added lights that tight-wrap the trees’ trunks and canopies, then adorned branches with lighted items, such as snowflakes. This gave the project a unique look.

2.  Understand basic design concepts in addition to lighting. You sell more if you are aware of how to make your installations work with specific architectural and decorative styles. For example, learn what colors look best with wood or brick houses. “Eighty percent of the process is in the design work,” Trimble says.

3.  Mirror the customer’s lifestyle. “If you see a sandbox or bike lying around their yard, the customer is going to want color.” Take into consideration everything you see around the property, and you will be better able to pitch the owner something he or she will want.

Tip: Mix and match LEDs

LED lights lose their brightness over time, and alternating new and used lights helps blend the brightness levels so customers don’t notice a difference.

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