The Gambino landscape lighting design consultation process

The Gambino landscape lighting design consultation process

By Mike Gambino

building plansI read a blog post recently from a landscape lighter in another part of the country who described the process they go through when first meeting with a prospect. I find it interesting because it is totally different and contrasts with methods we have used and proven to be effective over twenty plus years in this business. This article is not meant to belittle this other company’s methods and it is not about who is right and who is wrong. It is merely meant to be used as a contrasting comparison to how we have done business for 23 years

For the majority of the projects which are completed on smaller to midsized residential properties I believe their process to be very inefficient and costly without reason. When someone is in the market to purchase a landscape lighting system they are looking to buy just that a landscape lighting system and not a set of plans with supporting photos of their trees and plants or sales aids put together by the service provider in order to make the sale. Here is their process as laid out in their blog posts with my comments about how they differ from our practices following them in bold italic font.

I must say that I actually do give a complimentary consult to perspective clients to talk about their wants and needs for outdoor lighting. The client needs to meet me and feel comfortable with me as a lighting professional if I want them to use my time and talents to design/install and then stand behind their professional outdoor lighting system. At this consultation we do not discuss actual design, but instead we talk about what the client wants from an outdoor lighting system. How do they use their space and where do they like to spend their outdoor time? We may also discuss their budget at this time. This free consult is limited to one hour. After that time, should the client decide that I am the lighting professional that they would like to do business with, they agree to pay me a design fee to create the lighting system that they would like.

I have found this to be a very costly (to both the service provider in lost dollars and to the property owner in lost time) and an ineffective way of qualifying a prospect for design and installation services. Travel costs and time spent just to decide if they are to return to do a paid design? As a high profile and frequently recommended company we receive a large number of inquiries. I have always believed that those who do buy from us should not have to foot the bill for those that don’t. We have invested a lot of time and money on this website and by other means of educating the end consumer. In spite of that effort, roughly fifty percent of the calls we get are from those who are unaware of the high quality we offer and have no idea about what our lighting systems cost. Very few are even willing to share budget information before meeting. We cover a very large service area, approximately 75 mile radius from our home base in Simi Valley California. The only way we have found to best qualify serious inquiries is by collecting a fee to come out to the site to meet with them. The fee is rather small, it is not a one hundred percent fool proof method but it is the best one that I have found to be effective. We do not limit initial meeting time to 1 hour. We will spend as much time as needed by the prospect to feel comfortable in hiring us or not. Usually successful meetings require up to 2 to 3 hours of quality time blocked out. Buying decisions are usually decided at this meeting by the owner as a proposal, scope of work, and project quotation is presented on site. Details are completely gone over with the buyer including the presentation and inspection of exact product samples to be installed on the project. What will not be provided by us are informal sketches or a formal design drawing showing fixture symbols placed on a plan. We are not drafting or graphic artists we are landscape lighters. As built drawings are available by third party providers after the system has been built for additional cost should the client desire.

From my vast experience I can promise you that very few projects get built exactly as they are drawn on paper making the actual design plan ineffective to be used as an as-built for repair or maintenance purposes in the future.

Since city or county permits and inspections are not required in any of my service areas, written plans are not required. However, If costly design plans that will sit in a drawer or are to be thrown away after the installation are an absolute prerequisite to getting the work then we can provide a source for them. However to this day we have found that most would rather invest their budget in tangible products that will actually be used and whose effects can be seen on the property.

An informative proposal of design will actually break out what is to be done so you can better visualize what the final project is going to look like.  To properly serve the home or property owner, a design has to be created first, THEN a list of materials, and a cost along with a dotted line.

This statement is made below a photo of a color shaded design plan. I have no idea how a design plan makes it so that it is better to visualize what the final project is going to look like? All I see on that sample plan shown are some areas shaded with different colors. I don’t see any actual lighting effects on actual amenities that exist on the property. Fixtures are meant to be hidden and concealed in the garden and it’s the effect that is of paramount importance .If by this point in our meeting a prospect cannot envision our intent by previously viewing our vast project gallery photos on this blog and website then we will offer a mock up but only after an agreement is  signed and a deposit tendered. We have found this to be the most effective way of working with those who cannot visualize without actually experiencing with their own two eyes on their own property.

At ———–, our design/proposal is usually between 5 and 10 pages long containing a comprehensive explanation with photographs, making it very visual and easy to understand. It describes the proposed design elements: light intensities, beam spreads, color of light and type of fixture for each lighting location. It also touches on the lighting technique that is being used at that location and its purpose. Is it moon lighting, silhouetting, path lighting, back lighting, front lighting, or another strategic placement? Is the fixture above ground or in-ground? What will the visible fixtures look like? With all of this information, the client will truly get a clearer idea of what is being proposed in their outdoor lighting plan.

I don’t know of many prospects that would care to sift through 5-10 pages of proposal (which they have paid for). This is an extremely labor intensive and costly process, which is admitted to in the blog article itself. I have found in my experience the only prospects who require this type of detail are those who will never hire me anyway because they are do it yourselfers looking to pick my brain or those who want to put the project up for competitive bid in search of the lowest installation cost. Personally I don’t design projects for others to install. What I do offer is a turnkey all inclusive design/build package.

Naturally, such a well-defined proposal takes a lot of work. It requires a consultation with the client on site. In some instances, it requires a set of landscape plans from a landscape architect or landscape designer if the plantings are either not in place or being changed. A lighting proposal of this caliber takes knowledge of plants and how they grow. A lot of photos need to be taken of each area to be accented. The professional lighting designer also needs to look at the outdoor property from INSIDE the home to understand what the view is going to be, looking out from inside the living, dining and master suite.  Excellent designs also take a lot of time, experience and education to know how to get the best effects from each and every lighting fixture and placement. In most cases, our company does charge for this service because what our clients ultimately receive is an expressive, visual and informative design reflective of our artistic and technical training. We believe this helps them to feel more comfortable with our expertise and helps them to assess the value of their investment. Included in every proposal, of course, is our dedication to providing them our very best effort to meet their lighting needs by creating a unique custom design/proposal in order to deliver a truly beautiful outdoor lighting system.

I have consulted with thousands of property owners and with the exception of new construction projects, it is very rare that a detailed as built landscape/hardscape site plan is available without the additional cost of having one created from scratch. It just seems that there is an attempt to justify the process and explain why It’s so costly and make it appear as though the design process need be very complex and very difficult. In fact the statement is made that this detailed process helps a property owner to be more comfortable with their expertise. In other words the owner is paying for the privilege.

Perhaps for the inexperienced, lighting design is complex however in my case the design process is very simple and straight forward and based upon owners budget, site amenities, lifestyle wants and needs. If a designer is any good this will reflect in the end result of the project.

Everyone has their own way of doing business and their processes. These practices happen to be in sharp contrast my philosophy and business model which has always been one of extreme efficiency and optimum use of the client’s investment. Making sure all of the dollars invested by my client goes directly towards the end result of their project and not something spent on convincing them to hire me or on a document that will not be needed when the project has been completed. Just as I said earlier that I don’t believe that those who do buy from us must pay for the costs associated with time invested with those that don’t. I also don’t believe a client should shoulder the financial burden in the form of higher project costs to cover the sales process. That is why we have streamlined our consultation process and collect a small fee for our costs only from those that elect not do business with us. Doing business this way ensures the clients budget goes 100% into producing beautiful awe inspiring lighting systems such as this,


This landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 20 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .

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