Starting A Christmas Light Installation Business - What You Need To Know Before Getting Started - Part 2

Posted by Luke Del Bianco on 4/11/2016
Starting A Christmas Light Installation Business - What You Need To Know Before Getting Started - Part 2

We are the largest commercial decorator in Arizona and decorator for the majority of cities in Arizona and 320 other commercial properties each year. This requires a lot of man power, know how, and planning. But it all begins with getting the right clients and setting some rules with them right of the bat. This insures we have a great outcome when the season quickly flies by come October & November. 

Here are the rules we follow when working with our customers and you should too!

Rule #1:  Don’t Be Afraid To Say NO!  

You will never regret walking away and saying NO to a potentially high maintenance or unreasonable customer.  I like seeing the property in person to work out some of the installation details.  As much as I am taking pictures and measurements of the location however I am also getting a feel for the customer’s personality and expectations.  At the end of the day you want very low maintenance, level headed and reasonable customers who can work with you on installation dates and understands that problems can and do occur.  You want a customer who is willing to change the sprinkler or drip system watering times so as not to soak the lights causing outages and excessive service visits.  You want a customer who is not above plugging back in a cord their landscaper pulled out, not above resetting a breaker, timer, or GFCI outlet button.  You want a customer who does not blink at your price you quote or threaten not to pay you in full if the experience is not impeccable start to finish.  

It is a process to find customers like this and you will no doubt cycle through many low to medium quality customers looking for the really good ones.  Customers with unreasonable expectations and demands will drain your energy, your phone battery, and any profit there was in the job.  If you get the early warning signs a customer is high maintenance and you are tempted to take them on anyway as a customer, there is always a price at which a needy or high maintenance job makes sense.  Adjust your price to a level where if you got the job and it was a worst case scenario you would easily make more than enough money to justify dealing with the problems and issues the job will cause.

Rule #2:  Never Install Customer Owned Lights  

There are few things more frustrating than wasting precious time in November trying to repair or untangle customer owned lights after they promised you they were new and stored properly.  Don’t do it—EVER!  The customer often buys cheap lights from Home Depot or Wal-Mart and these lights simply don’t last.  Then when the lights don’t work it is your crews fault for being too rough during installation and they don’t feel they should have to pay for a service call or replacement strands.  

Additionally, as a decorator we tend to install more lights on everything to make the property look it's best so the lights they bought that they thought would be enough actually are shorter spacing and only cover half the job when it is done correctly.  The customer has to go make an unexpected purchase of additional lights and you have to make an unexpected return trip to finish the job.  We have even been accused of stealing lights since we were short so many strands to complete the job.  The only time I break this rule is if I sell the customer new lights strands, my crews install and remove the light strands and I store them.  The customer must also agree ahead of time to replace 1/5th of the LED lights they initially purchased each year to cover damaged and aging strands.

Rule #3:  Don’t Bill By The Hour, Bill By The Job  

This rule especially applies to residential properties where a home owner can watch your crew work all day.  As much as everyone hates installing their holiday lights many people also don’t seem to think that it should demand a high hourly rate.  If you quote them what the true hourly rate should be for a seasonal job with a unique skill set they will most likely think it sounds very expensive.  If they agree to this hourly rate they seem to feel they are being taken advantage of and then proceed to be very dissatisfied if your crew does not move at warp speed the entire day.  

I was once discussing some details of a residential job with a supervisor over the phone when the homeowner called on the other line and proceeded to complain that my workers were moving slow and one was just talking on his phone doing nothing.  I had to explain to her that he was talking to me on the other line about her job in an effort to clarify some details and get it done right.

Rule #4: Give Them Simple All-Inclusive-Pricing   

To keep everything simple and allow the customer to know what their total cost will be, I recommend just giving one price that includes everything.  By everything I mean it includes all materials as well as installation, maintenance (as much as needed), removal and storage.  Billing in this manner is especially appreciated by commercial customers who have set budgets year after year.  

This pricing model gives predictability and eliminates keeping track of hours and product used for repairs as well as sending and tracking hundreds of additional service invoices.  If you bill separately for repairs the customer will have no idea what the final cost will be and this can create a bad experience at the end of the year when the repair invoices start rolling in. 

Additionally if you need to make lots of repairs during a very wet December for example they begin to feel that you did a poor initial installation and you are taking advantage of them by billing for all the additional visits to fix a job that was not done right the first time.  

In this pricing structure I lease the lights, décor and any other product to my customer—they never own them.  It is my commercial grade lights my crews are familiar with and we have plenty of matching replacement strands as well as everything else we might need to complete the jobs.   Also, the customer does not care if my guys break lights or seem to be working slow because their price is fixed.  

I also store the product in this pricing setup.  I like storing the product for a few reasons.  I can check and repair lights in the off season so they are ready to go.  I don’t have to worry about coordinating the installation with the customers schedule so they can give me access to where the lights are stored.  I don’t have to worry about lost, stolen, or misplaced items which is very common at commercial properties as they seem to move items around from vacant suite to vacant suite.

Rule #5: Make Sure They Know Providing Power Outlets Or Anchor Points For Decor Is Their Responsibility   

As part of every quote, I tell the customer that providing adequate power within reasonable distance is their responsibility.  We are not electricians and the last thing you want is one of your crew attempting to add or repair an outlet.  I provide estimates on power usage if requested and even offer to meet with their electrician to facilitate the process, but we never take on or sub contract out the installation or addition of power.  

The same idea holds true for things light anchor points where large wreaths or décor items will be attached to a buildings and hanging over customers heads.  It is the job of the maintenance team or a licensed contractor to determine where and how the anchor is placed to support the load of the décor.  We as decorators have no idea what is in the wall and drilling a hole in a pipe or main electrical feed will spell lots of problems as well as time and dollars needlessly wasted.

Rule #6:  Only Use LED Lights

LED lights are the most expensive Christmas lights out there but are well worth the money.  LED Christmas lights last much longer, are sealed much better against moisture, use a lot less power, and are much more difficult to vandalize than traditional incandescent lights.  

Since LED lights use so little power you save a fortune in extension cords as one cord can power hundreds of strands.  LED Christmas lights can be used typically for approximately 3-5 seasons depending on application, whereas incandescent have a short bulb life and are not reliable sometimes even after just one season.   

LED Christmas lights are brighter, the bulbs are not removable, and they are made of plastic so they don’t break when dropped during a rushed installation.  The price of labor during the holiday season far exceeds the cost of LED mini lights and using LED lights will greatly reduce the amount of service and repair visits required to keep a job lit and looking good.  

Good Luck, and Good Decorating! Watch for our next installment on starting your own Christmas Light Installation business next Monday!

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