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The Romantic Ambiance of the Nightscape

| Landscape Lighting
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Moreover, the romance they have experienced and the compliments from their neighbors has made them appreciate their contractor?s knowledge and ability to keep up with the advances in the green industry. If you are a contractor teetering on the edge of whether to add this service to your company, jump off the fence and join the 21st century!

In the beginning, low-voltage outdoor lighting was sold primarily to light up walkways and entranceways for safety purposes. However, today, while still being used for this purpose, outdoor lighting in the landscape has become as much of an art as landscape designing with plants.

Low-voltage lighting has actually been around since 1958, when Bill Locklin, an electrical contractor for many years and a debonair romantic at heart, designed a set of lights to create an atmosphere of enchantment for his own home. He used painted tin cans and automobile light bulbs to build this first set of lights. Locklin?s neighbors were so taken with the idea, that they asked him to design a similar look for them. A light went off in his head and he saw the opportunity to build a business. The following year he formed his company, Nightscaping, in Redlands, California and thus became the pioneer of the 12-volt outdoor lighting industry.

Locklin offers this advice to contractors who are either thinking of selling nightlighting or have just begun. If a client asks you for a quote for nightlighting, the first question you ask them is "Why light"" In other words, what is it they are interested in highlighting, what is their purpose for the lights, what are they trying to achieve" Once you know the answer to these questions, you make your selection of fixtures for the presentation. He adds that when you make a presentation to a client for landscaping and irrigation, also present him with a quote for lighting. If the client is unsure, or even says no, don"t push the issue.

The day before you are scheduled to complete the landscape job, put in a couple of temporary lights, highlighting a particularly lovely part of the landscape. The next day when you show up to finish the job, the homeowner will probably greet you with a "we know what you did, and it was pretty sneaky. But that?s okay, we liked it. Go ahead and install the lighting as well." He says it works most of the time, and he should know!

The industry is constantly changing, as different lighting manufacturers introduce new lines, in addition to improving on the established lines. Some of these companies manufacture the lighting and sell it through distributors. Others design and install the systems. Others simply distribute the systems, and offer training to contractors. Some contractors specialize in landscape lighting only, while others offer lighting as part of a package that includes the landscaping, planting, and irrigation systems, the lighting always being the "finishing touch" of the package."

Linda Haslage, owner of Cascade Lighting Company, Akron, Ohio, set her company up to be service-oriented to the contractor. "Let?s face it, anyone can distribute and sell lights. We sell service." In February, the company held four seminars with manufacturers" technical specialists who coached the contractors in fine designing, marketing, and troubleshooting. "This assistance is available all through the year by telephone support; we just wanted to bring it to our contractors, and it worked!" Haslage has also sent her people to "nightlight universities," held at various manufacturing facilities.

"One of the tremendous growth areas has been in water garden lighting, primarily due, of course, to the growth in water gardening. The fixtures available today for water gardens are safe, they are UL listed for underwater use, they are reliable and they add a totally unique look to the client?s waterscape."

Haslage goes on to explain, "Many of our contractors" clients choose to have nightlighting installed because: 1) they have invested a fortune in their landscaping and 2) they work all day long, get home at dusk and do not get to enjoy their investment. August, September, and October are the busiest months in the nightlighting business. Spring landscaping is over, vacations are over, the days are getting shorter, and the homeowner wants to be outside enjoying his investment. Nightlighting allows him to have a whole new perspective of his home."

Low-voltage lighting offers two main advantages: safety and ease of installation. Twelve-volt wire is buried an average of six to eight inches. Some contractors use a small edger machine; others bury the wire by hand with a straight edged shovel. The 12-volt wire is wired into transformers that convert the power from 120 volts to 12 volts. Distance and the number of lights per transformer have to be carefully considered to avoid "line drop off." Wire has a tendency to slow electricity down, causing the lights at the end of the line to be dimmer.

The transformer should have its own designated electrical output line to avoid the "just flushed toilet syndrome." There are several controllers from which to choose. Some have one start and stop time, others have several start and stop times, with several zones that can come on at different times. Some have key chain remote controls; others have motion sensors. The average system installed will cost the homeowner about $90 per fixture.

The way that many contractors ?sell" their systems is by actual demonstration. They go to the homeowner?s property after dark and set up a basic temporary lighting system. Once the homeowner sees his landscape illuminated, there?s no more ?selling" to do; he?s then asking, "Well, what about that tree over there, what about that island over there"" etc. The contractor writes up a quote on the spot, it?s accepted, a contract is signed, and the job is scheduled.

Other contractors use software offered by the individual lighting manufacturers. They scan a picture of the home, design a system on the computer, then take their laptop to the client?s home where they give them a "light show." Again, a picture speaks a thousand words, and the client is usually sold on the spot.

Sean Smoyer, owner of Night Owl Lighting, says, "Most clients don"t really know what they want or how much a system will cost when you arrive to give them a quote. What we do is give them a slide presentation on the computer showing them various ideas, tell them what each fixture is going to cost, and watch their reaction.

We conduct an interview to see what the client wants to light up. Then we choose the right fixtures."

Smoyer has a company Web site where his clients can research just about any fixture imaginable. "If they"ve seen a fixture somewhere that they liked, we suggest they browse our Web site until they find either the same one or a similar one."

"We can usually gauge by the client?s personality as to what type of lighting they prefer, boisterous or subtle. But we generally start out on the lower end of the wattage of bulb, and can make the area brighter at the customer?s request." Smoyer is a licensed electrician by trade, however, as of this writing, no specialty license is required to install low-voltage lighting.

Bud Austin, technical specialist for Hadco, has the function of training and educating distributors, contractors, lighting specialists, and sales people that Hadco does business with across the U.S. and Canada. "We also have a training facility at our manufacturing plant in Texas, where we offer a two day "college of lighting." This is more in-depth training than what I give them in the field on designing, selling, installing, troubleshooting, maintenance, and service."

After being in the lighting business for over thirty years, Austin says there are two things that he has observed about contractors just learning the business. "One: The contractors that are good at it fall in love with the business. That?s a major key. Some contractors are in it just to make money, others are in it because they love the business. Two: They have an artistic capability; they think artistically, and lighting the outdoors is more art than science. You have to know both; you have to know the mechanics so you do not get into trouble, but making a landscape come to life at night is an artistic ability."

"Contractors who appear to be successful grasp the basics rather quickly," says Austin. "They relate to what I"m teaching them immediately. I always start a class with the statement that the landscape lighting business is not complicated, but it certainly is involved. There are a lot of things to know, but it?s not over your head and you must use common sense."

Austin says he has seen extreme growth in the popularity of landscape lighting with homeowners in the last few years and gives the credit to their increased interest in safety, security, and beautification. "Because of the increase in expensive landscapes, homeowners are willing to spend more to enjoy them at night, when they are primarily at home." Water features have also seen increased appeal and he includes these in his training.

Austin trains his contractors to educate the client first that good landscape lighting is not runway lighting. After that, it?s not difficult to sell. He adds that many contractors put a package price together, which to them seems the easiest way to sell the system. However, he recommends that the lighting be "broken out because it?s the last thing to happen, maybe even two or three years after a landscape is installed. Mature landscapes light better than new ones. Good looking landscapes make good looking lighting projects." He recommends showing existing jobs or to use referrals.
Mark Davidson, marketing manager for Dabmar, Chatsworth, California, credits the improved economy for the market increase in nightlighting, and to the fact that homeowners are becoming more involved in the outdoors. "They have more money to spend, and they are more aware of the quality of the outdoor lighting that is affordable and available. The cost of our product to the end user is approximately $25 per fixture," says Davidson.

The company offers training seminars, and Davidson, as a personal project, is in the beginning stages of forming an association of certified lighting specialists. His goal is to have the same type of support association for the nightlighting sector of the green industry as there is for the other sectors.

"It?s different, once you get the bug, it?s a job you really enjoy!" says Mike Southard, national sales manager for Kichler Landscape Lighting, Cleveland, Ohio. "It?s a business growing at a tremendous rate, and now is as good a time as any to jump in.

" Many homeowners do not have nightlighting installed as yet, but the interest is growing and the customer base is already there, especially if you are established in the landscaping and irrigation business," explains Southard. He agrees that the last five years have been great for the industry. He attributes this to contractors pushing landscape lighting, and homeowners wanting to enjoy their outdoor time longer. Kichler offers design and tech support, and training seminars that include marketing techniques. "Lighting is a great add-on business; it?s easy to install, there?s good money to be made, and it?s fun."

Ambience, the hip word used today when discussing nightlighting, is defined as an environment, an atmosphere, a climate, a medium, a surrounding feeling or emotion, an encircling or all-encompassing emotion existing or present on all sides. Bill Locklin says he prefers the good old-fashioned word romance. "When I go home after a rough day, I like to go outside with a big glass of tea and watch the Koi in my little pond, and think "how simple their life really is." ? He offers the following advice to contractors just starting out in nightlighting: "People expect outdoor lighting to be expensive, don?t disappoint them! Make money and keep it simple!"


 
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