For landscaping contractors, landscaping architects, and irrigation/sprinkler professionals, a new, highly profitable business opportunity awaits.
Landscaping is the wondrous practice of bringing a mere stretch of dirt, rocks and haphazard greenery into beautifully sculpted grounds with grasses, shrubs, blooms, trees and water features carefully balanced for color, emotion and viewing pleasure. In the last 50 years, an ever-expanding number of property owners have been posing the question: Why not continue this gorgeous display into the night? Many turn to landscaping professionals to install outdoor lighting—and the wise among the landscapers have been turning these requests into very profitable ventures.
“About 13 years ago, I was working for a landscape nursery, doing landscape design and installation,” says Frank Douglas, a landscaping designer in Tallahassee, Florida. “I had a landscaping client who said that she wanted to do some lighting. It started a whole line of business that’s led up to making $180,000 last year, and will probably top $200,000 this year. It’s almost all through people seeing my work and word-of-mouth, and people wanting lighting installed within their landscaping.”
In comparison to landscaping, Douglas has found landscape lighting to be very economical in terms of cost of doing business. “In contrast to landscaping which requires an awful lot of overhead in terms of trucks and equipment and manpower, lighting is very, very low overhead,” he continues. “You just need a pickup truck with a little ladder rack or a pipe rack on top, enough just to get your supplies around. I’ve gotten to where I can install a $5,000 system in a day with myself and one helper.”
The lighting company Douglas partnered with—Nightscaping—is the “grandfather” of lighting companies, an innovator at the forefront of the business for some 40 years, known in the industry for their top-of-the-line products. “My impression when I was starting up, like a lot of the buying public, was that low-voltage lighting was that it was cheap stuff that fell apart,” Douglas says. “I came to find out very quickly that Nightscaping’s product was anything but that.”
The company deals directly through a network of carefully chosen distributors and landscapers such as Douglas, which they find preferable to selling direct to the public through home-improvement stores or other retail outlets. They attribute much of their success, in addition to product quality, to training and liberal support of landscapers such as Douglas. Hence, they do not charge franchising or other fees, do not sign up partners on any sort of contract, and do everything possible to get a new partner up and running. “We work very closely with the contractor in the beginning,” says Ron Pinnell, Nightscaping representative. “We usually have a one-on-one game. Many times we’ll go out with them on their first job, help them with the design, and do whatever we need to do to sell the job.”
This type of assistance is made possible by the fact that all of the company’s representatives are contractors themselves. It brings an unusual level of understanding to the partners they are servicing.
When Douglas started up, he found this to be exactly the case—a contractor came to work with Douglas and helped him design and install his first job. He had never performed electrical work, and in fact claims to have never even spliced a wire. When they flipped the switch on that very first installation, he was sold. “That first night when the lights came on, my jaw dropped and I said, ‘This is for me, this is going to be great.’”
And so it has been. Douglas started off performing lighting jobs on the weekends as a side business in addition to his landscaping. At the time, lighting was not at all common in Tallahassee, but he found that after completing a few jobs, word spread, others started observing the installations, and the business continued to grow. Now Douglas says he doesn’t have to “sell” jobs at all; they call him after seeing another of his installations and being referred to him.
After helping him start up, the company enrolled him in their program called Nightscaping University, a week-long training performed at their factory. During this training, Douglas learned a great deal about design and installation, and much more. “There were discussions of nighttime photography, technical and marketing issues, and how to expand your client base,” Douglas says. “In addition to the technical information, the thing I really enjoyed was the round-tables with other contractors from all over the country, in which we could compare stories and swap ideas, share opinions, ideas and knowledge.”
There are many other training and business aids available from the company, including Information on Demand, shared information from the experience of a pro, CDs on a wide range of products and techniques, half and full-day workshops to introduce products and techniques, and even a specialized computer drawing program called DynaSCAPE3. Information on all of these can be found on the company’s web site.
Douglas has also found their support to be first-rate, and he cites a great example. “I’ll never forget when I was doing a job, and I’d only been doing it for a couple years. They’d set up this new style of transformer, and I didn’t know how to wire it right. I was out there in the yard at 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening, and I got on my cell phone to Nightscaping. Next thing I know, Bill Locklin, the president of the company, is on the phone telling me what to do! And the client was so impressed with that—here’s the owner of this big company taking the time to walk me through to get it right.”
Since that time, Nightscaping has been there for him every time he needed them, with the mutual goal of solving any problems. Douglas says that many times, he was able to send back a part and receive a new one, no questions asked, so the customer would be happy and a job would be completed.
After 5 years of continued expansion, Douglas came to work as a landscape designer with Tallahassee Nursery, bringing the lighting business with him. Now instead of a side venture, it was incorporated into the nursery’s many landscaping offerings.
It wasn’t long before he found yet another way to generate income from landscape lighting—maintenance. It being in his best promotional interest to make sure an installation looked perfect with no burned-out bulbs, he decided 2 years ago to implement a maintenance program. He sent out a mailing inviting his customers to sign up; the majority of them did, and he hired on extra help to service them. Most customers are on a quarterly program—every 3 months, the maintenance worker checks over a system, makes sure all lights are connected, working and are aimed correctly.
Landscape designers such as Douglas fall well within the profile of the company’s ideal partner. “We like to associate ourselves with those in the landscaping industry, including contractors, designers, and irrigation and sprinkler professionals,” says Ron Pinnell. “They seem to have a design eye and an ability to properly install our landscape lighting.”
Through their product quality, extensive training and support, Nightscaping has formed long-term relationships both with contractors and distributors. They have many who have been partnering with them for 20-plus years, all with the common goal of satisfied and happy customers.
“I’ve been a manufacturer’s rep for over 30 years,” says Pinnell. “I have never represented a company that backs up their products like Nightscaping does, from the distributor, to the partner, all the way down to the homeowner.”
Established in 1958 by Bill Locklin, Nightscaping® has been solely focused on providing the best, most dependable, technically superior quality outdoor lighting systems to customers across the globe. For more information on becoming a contractor call (800) 544-4840 or visit www.nightscaping.com.
About the Author
Bruce Boyers is a freelance writer based in Glendale, California