Questions and Answers from a Pro About the Professional Christmas Lighting Industry

October 20, 2011

A new service industry has arisen, offering Christmas light installation services, to homeowners and business. Undoubtedly, this is a service that has been available for some time, but it has recently become more mainstream. We frequently provide Christmas lights to professional installers and landscapers and occasionally get questions from other business owners interested in offering professional holiday LED lighting services to their customers. I’ve never really taken the time to understand the business. We just launched a Christmas light installers directory, and felt that it was only appropriate to learn a bit more about these services, and share that information with our users. So I turned to one of our experts in the field, to help me get a little more information on this service, and to answer to my ever growing list of questions. He has spent the last 8 years honing installation techniques, and training companies to do commercial holiday installations – from bidding to designing to installing to troubleshooting.

Christmas light installation service is a relatively new service industry that has become more readily available to consumers, can you tell us some of the advantages of a professional light installation?

Having a professional install your lights has many advantages. For one, it means you don’t have to be out in the cold, on a high ladder putting lights up and then taking them down – Safety First! Second would be the convenience – We offer no hassle installations, meaning we take care of everything – We install everything, we maintain everything (fix any issues), we take everything down. No more untangling lights, fixing lights that go out, or storing the product when it is not being used. And third would be the look that is achieved by a professionally done install – All the lights on the roof are straight (no sags, or lights trailing down the side of the house), the trees are beautifully wrapped (a look most homeowners cannot achieve), and the 30′ Pine has perfectly spaced lights (you know, the one you have been wanting to light, but you have no way to get lights to the top)

What are the biggest trends in the commercial holiday lighting industry?

“It’s not just Christmas lighting anymore,” our expert says. “Christmas lighting is important, but with the LEDs out there and what they do for our industry and the environmental savings, it’s become more of a year-round industry. Whether it’s Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Halloween, weddings, or the 4th of July, all of those kinds of events are in the mix.”

Where can a new commercial holiday lighting installer expect to find customers?

If you’re a landscaping or snow removal company, or business that already interacts with homeowners, one of the best places to look is within your own customer base. Beyond that, our expert recommends identifying neighborhoods or communities, where the top 10 to 15 percent of wage earners in your region are concentrated.
It’s also important to look beyond residential customers. Municipalities, restaurants or venues that specialize in holiday events, and business districts are looking to attract shoppers with wrapped street trees and lighted holiday displays.

What typically makes or breaks a holiday lighting business?

It’s critical to have one or more employees who are dedicated exclusively to holiday lighting, our expert said. “A lot of people plow snow and if you’re expecting this person to install lights around plowing snow, it’s not going to work. They have to have a dedicated person or persons because normally an installation crew would be two people. The people that fail are the ones who try and do other things, like landscape, around the lighting business.” A factor in this is the morale of the employees in question: If you have a high turnover due to disgruntled workers, that is simply spelling out a future disaster waiting to happen. Finding a way to reduce turnover and retain employees if this occurs is crucial, both for continued growth and for the sake of the current work at hand. It’s also critical to use quality products, any service calls cut into your profits, so pay a little more for quality LEDs and it will be worth it in the end. Since the holiday market is only seasonal, you’ll need to plan ahead of time to make sure you have plenty of hands! You can do this by using a Payroll Company to store all seasonal employee details. This will also allow you to store workable days during this season to ensure your employees can make the most of their holidays with family.

If I was considering hiring a professional installation company this year, what types of things do you think I should consider, before choosing a company for my installation?

The absolute first thing you want to know is if the company is insured. The last thing a homeowner or business owner wants, is a stupid lawsuit because someone fell off the ladder while installing lights. Make sure you ask for proof of insurance as well. This also verifies that the company is a real company. Then I would want to see demo lights, and decorations, that the company would be installing. There are a lot of companies that offer a wide variety of products. You want to make sure that you get exactly what you want. You also want to make sure they are using good commercial grade products – The last thing you want is to be paying someone big money, to put up big box store lights, you could have bought yourself for way less than they are going to charge you – Commercial Grade products will generally be heavier duty, longer lasting, and of higher quality (meaning less failures/issues). I would ask how things will be attached to your structure, as you will want to make sure you are aware of, and ok and drilling or other methods that may damage the surface of the building/home. For roof lines, I would make sure that the lights are custom cut to fit the roof – It just looks more professional that way. Finally, you want to find out what’s included, and get it in writing.

What is the cost of a typical commercial LED holiday lighting job?

The price that a customer pays for a professional LED holiday lighting installation can range from $1,000 to over $100,000, our expert said. An average range would be $3,000 to $10,000.

How much of that is profit?

Someone just starting in the commercial holiday lighting business should aim to break even in the first year, our expert said. “I don’t recommend anyone take on more than five projects the first year. And then it will grow from there. The learning curve and profitability curve probably don’t start to take place until the second year,” he said. The goal of his training program is for someone to start making $75 to $100 an hour, after expenses, somewhere between the second or third year.

What advantages does a commercial holiday lighting service offer?

Few homeowners and business owners, who want a jaw-dropping holiday display, have the time or inclination to achieve it. By opting for a professional installation, they never have to touch a ladder or an electrical cord, and they no longer have to worry about maintenance. If a bulb goes out, they simply call someone to fix the problem. And while most customers have a general idea of how they might want their home or business to look, many feel more comfortable turning to an expert to realize their vision:

“When I walk on a piece of property I can see exactly what should happen,” our expert said. “You need to look at the house being the back drop of the painting and do that in white, the plantings become your color and your palette, like an artist. You’ve got to be able to see that. Most homeowners don’t.”

Can you give us some idea of what it takes to achieve the professional look, that many homeowners or retail districts want?

If you start with a 10 x 15 maple tree, a typical homeowner may attach four or five light strings together, run a few circles around the trunk and then do the best they can to thread it through some branches. A professional installation crew would bring orchard ladders and 75 light strands to perform the same job. The install process would include intricately wrapping each branch and will take hours, something few homeowners have the time of inclination to do, but it’s a “day and night” difference in appearance.

How have LED lights changed the business?

Initially, an LED Christmas light installation may be a more difficult sell, because of the higher up-front costs. But research shows that the energy and replacement savings, pay off within 2.5 years. Homeowners and business owners are more willing to make that investment, once they understand just how much energy incandescent lights waste. Additionally, the low energy consumption of LEDS has allowed municipalities and business districts to invest in more elaborate displays, and the wide variety of LED bulb shapes and vibrant colors have allowed installers to execute more creative designs, for example take a look at these LED filament bulbs.

From an installation standpoint, LED holiday lighting has eliminated nearly all the light failure problems associated with incandescent holiday bulbs. “From a maintenance side, incandescent lights are a nightmare. There is no reason for anybody to start out in the business using incandescent lights, it will end up costing them money,”