What was once just a business meant to highlight December holidays is now expanding to a year-round service.
“We have branched out to Halloween and Thanksgiving,” says Daniel Mackey, sales and marketing manager at Celebration Lighting in Corbin, Ky. “We’ll leave those lights on and after Halloween we’ll change them all to warm white. We are trying to expand to increase the season.”
Contractors should have their holiday lighting customers lined up by August if possible, says Mike Marlow, vice president of Holiday Bright Lights, a wholesale direct supplier with a warehouse in Omaha, Neb.
“(Contractors) can create a cash flow for that division, and if you’re doing a lot of commercial, you’ll already start decorating in October. So your decorating time’s going to be Oct. 1 to middle of December,” he says.
Early bird discounts.
At Kaylor Landscape, a full-service custom landscape construction and maintenance company based in Porterville, Calif., L.C. Kaylor, sales supervisor, says the company has experienced a surge in commercial lighting work, particularly over the last few years.
“We start talking to those clients in February, trying to make sure that there’s room for us in the budget. And as we get into March, April we’re going through design,” he says.
Toward the middle of summer, they start signing on those commercial contracts.
As much commercial holiday lighting work as possible is completed before starting residential work around Oct. 1, Kaylor says.
Annual revenue at Kaylor Landscape is approximately $2.5 to $3 million with about $500,000 of that figure attributed to the holiday lighting season.
The company, which started holiday lighting in 1999 and now employs about 18 people, partners with Christmas Decor, headquartered in Lubbock, Texas, for their lighting supply needs. “You have like a nice little two- to three-week lull,” he says.
“We get to enjoy Christmas a little bit. Then we hit the ground running beginning Jan. 1 taking all the lights down. It takes about a month. We’re normally done by the first of February with the actual Christmas program.”
At Celebration Lighting, which employs about 14 people and is projected to make approximately $150,000 in revenue this year, employees collect all decorations, write thank you notes to customers and do an evaluation to see if commercial, municipal and residential customers were satisfied or dissatisfied, Mackey says.
Standing out in business.
Mackey has a custom design process that allows a customer to receive a design and quote very quickly, and use a photo to obtain measurements of a property.
“It’s very, very customized, very personal,” he says. “It’s really customer input and then I do the pricing right in front of them. We have nothing to hide. I do the calculations and show them exactly what it’s going to cost.”
Other companies may have thought out their branding and marketing but often lack liability insurance to be up on ladders – a real hazard, Kaylor says.
That insurance is important, especially when a worker may have to climb to fix even the smallest detail.
“If you really have a single light bulb out, we’ll come out and replace it no matter what height it is,” Kaylor says.
“It’s better trying to bill people for individual items. You have to get them the service and make sure that no matter what it costs, their light system looks perfect.”
Kaylor adds that his team checks in on each customer twice throughout the season.
“By adding those extra layers of customer service we’ve really proven that this is a hassle-free service that lets them enjoy the holidays and have the time they need with their families,” he says.
Sometimes a homeowner will ask their gardener to put up holiday lights, but these amateurs are not major competition, Kaylor says.
“We have noticed though that when you do that you don’t have the perfection,” he says. “Everything that we do is perfectly linear. Nothing is stapled into your home, so we’re very noninvasive.
“It’s a lot easier to throw a staple on a piece of wire than it is to individually take off every bulb and put a plastic clip on it, but that’s how we prevent damaging any of our client’s houses.”
Goals and trends for 2015.
Celebration Lighting, like Kaylor Landscape, does lighting work for special events and occasions such as weddings.
It also has customers who want Halloween and Thanksgiving lighting.
Those lights are usually left on and changed to a warm white until the holiday season, Mackey says.
Other customers include commercial businesses such as banks, hospitals and dentist offices.
“Last season was excellent. We exceeded our sales goals and I actually had to stop selling because I had more work than my installers could get done,” he says.
Kaylor echoes the same sentiments about the current state of the holiday lighting industry.
“We’ve seen a huge rebound which is kind of indicative the economy may be coming back a little bit more here,” he says.
“We definitely saw a quality increase in the jobs we were getting this past year and then this year it definitely feels that the commercial sector is kicking in a little bit more.”
This season, RGB color changing LED lights are expected to be bigger than ever, Kaylor says. These lights blink on cue and change colors to match each holiday and occasion.
The lights can be run off a cell phone app and the customer can choose a different color every month of the year.
From a supplier standpoint, LED lights of any kind are paving the way of the future of holiday lighting, Marlow says.
“About 95 percent of our products are in LED, for the cost of energy as well as just that’s where we’re seeing the trend in the next couple years. Incandescents are just going to be obsolete,” he says.
But whatever the latest trends, the holiday lighting business remains a highlight of the year for many contractors.
“We have a lot of fun with this business,” Kaylor says. “It’s definitely preferred amongst the employees to our landscape work, which is all day in the dirt. Yeah, I’m stoked about it.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.