Select your landscape lighting designer builder with MUCH care

Select your landscape lighting designer builder with MUCH care

By Mike Gambino

lotsa luckIn the past I have written articles on this blog and elsewhere regarding why the end consumer needs to really do their due diligence when vetting a landscape lighting designer/builder candidate before selecting them for their project.

I wanted to use a prime example of why there is such need to carefully select this individual or company. First I need to provide a bit of history and background information before I begin.

Historically landscape lighting manufacturers and distributors have marketed their products primarily to those operating in the green industry who are best placed to make the add on sale namely to landscape contractors. Because budgets can usually be stretched on new complete landscaping builds, lighting which is last on the list and installed at or close to completion of the project, usually is the first amenity that either has its budget significantly cut back or is cut out completely.

It may come as a surprise that most of the lighting products purchased each year are not bought through specialized stand alone landscape lighting companies such as Gambino landscape lighting. They are in fact purchased through landscape lighting companies who do lighting as an add on service and included as part of entire landscaping design build package.

Therefore the largest purchasers are not the smaller group of specialized businesses like mine whose only focus is landscape lighting but they are from the occasional purchaser who buys typically whatever is on their irrigation wholesalers shelves without much planning or forethought in regards to the best most appropriate fixtures and lamps for the application. This is obviously a problem. The fact is their money is really not made in the landscape lighting per se it is usually a small portion of the overall project.

Their business model , since it doesn’t depend upon landscape lighting installation sales only,usually doesn’t include any kind of after sale follow up, service or maintenance care. I’m not saying that the landscape contractor is the worst choice or candidate to install your landscape lighting system. Only the purchaser can make the ultimate decision. I am stating the facts of the matter and you can make up your own mind depending upon budget, what your values are what level of service you are expecting both after and during the installation.

Every year landscape trade magazines have at least one thinly disguised promotional article aimed at creating new landscape contractor buyers. These articles are by no means aimed at the seasoned stand alone lighting pro’s because their is little value in this content and mostly information geared toward newbies with the intended result to create additional purchasers of their products. Advertisers of these magazines are given the opportunity to contribute to get their company name out there in addition to their normal add which appears adjacent to the article.

I will add my own commentary to one such recent article which I found especially offensive. The following phrases in italics are taken directly from that article. The paragraph following those that appear in normal font and in bold are my responses.

Many landscape contractors, especially in the residential market, offer design/build projects. Contractors, or designers, design the landscape and then install it. Landscape lighting is an extension of that design.It is not very difficult to learn, and you should learn, because this segment of the landscape market has grown and continues to grow by double digits. Not only are you leaving money on the table by not offering this service, you are doing a disservice to your client.”

Here is the first pitch and it always involves money and how much of it is lost by the landscaper if they don’t sell lighting as part of their package. Well how about this advice. A disservice to your client would be to take on a phase of a project that you are not properly trained, qualified or prepared for , screwing it up real bad and leaving a dissatisfied  client in the wake is not good business practice. Partnering with an associated specialist is the better solution instead of experimenting on a live project. There is no factual information to validate the statement regarding double digit growth at this time. The truth is, just like most every other home improvement in recent years, landscape lighting has not been immune to the economic down turn. 

So how do you get started? xxxxxx, national sales manager for xxxxxxxxx, California, suggests that you seek out any local courses being offered. Many distributors who sell landscape lighting offer seminars. Better yet, find a good lighting distributor in your marketplace and get to know a representative of that company,” says xxxxx. “Most of them (the reps) are fairly decent designers in their own right; picking their brain for their knowledge and tips can be invaluable. They also may offer training classes,” he says. “There are little nuances that they understand that can fast-forward you in the area of lighting.”

A manufacturer or lighting distribution warehouse seminar is one of the worst places to get training. These folks do not design or install landscape lighting for a living they sell products, Gigantic difference. If they were so creative and proficient as designers and installers then why are they not practicing in the field themselves?

Once you’ve mastered the general principles, it’s time to do an installation. “I think that anyone who hasn’t lit landscapes before should practice the basics and effects, so they can see how easy it is,” says xxxx, owner of xxxxxxx in xxxxxx, Colorado. “So don’t be afraid to start small.” xxxx advises, “Play with these effect techniques, get familiar with what a tree or plant looks like with, for example, up lighting.” Don’t worry about what type of light to use, just go out and work with the effects. When you’re comfortable with the techniques, it’s time to go out and prospect clients. “The best way to sell any client is to use the number-one closing tool—a night demo,” xxxxxx says. “You set up a temporary demo area in a small portion of your client’s garden and light it up. Let them (the client) know that you can take the scene you’re demonstrating, and do it across their entire back or front yard.” Another tip is to leave the lighting demo there for a couple of days. “The best thing to do is to set it up on Friday and leave it for them to experience over the weekend,” said xxxxx. “Most of the time, just doing this sells the job.” Understand, though, that this can be expensive to do, because you have to buy a lot of product.

This is really outrageous and particularly offensive to the seasoned professional specialist how overly simple they are making this sound. The advice is that it is not especially important to worry about which light to use? Well that is not only important but its crucial as it can make or break a project. So basically they are advising to go out and experiment on a “few live ones” so they can practice and become familiar with the expertise. Wow!  And how insulting to both the property owner and the landscaper to advise putting up a demo without a pre agreed upon acceptance of actually doing the project. The message here is that since not much is really done nationally by the industry itself to promote beautiful safe and secure landscape lighting so that owners will come to you excited and predisposed to buy, its up to the contractor to put on a dog and pony show to sell it. and use the old puppy dog close, an old cheap sales technique that I haven’t seen in books on selling for a very long time. I have found from my experience if I need to push this hard to convince a prospect that they want or need my lighting then quite frankly they are not a going to make a good client for me. Why? Because this is not something that you can convince someone of by simply putting up a few lights in their yard without them understanding the cost of not only the initial system installation but the follow up care and the monthly electric bills each month. There is no recommendation in the article , in fact no mention of explaining to the prospect the need for maintenance on these systems. 

Once you have installed some jobs, don’t forget to capitalize on the fact that people like to keep up with the Joneses,” Gordon adds. It’s about letting people know who did the job. The minute you finish a job, your client is going to show it off, creating a natural advertisement for your company. “Ask if you can put a sign up that says, ‘Created by Joe’s Lighting Company’ for a week or two. Referrals are a huge source of revenue and can fuel your business for a long time,” he says. Even using great selling techniques, you still may not convince your client to spend money on lighting. It’s usually the line item they cut when you present them with an entire landscape plan.

Great if you can pull it off without looking tacky but nowadays most HOA communities do not allow signage of any kind and in addition I have found that most high end property owners do not appreciate promotional signs being stuck in their lawns. Its also telling that there is so much emphasis being placed on having to convince and intensive selling the client on purchasing a landscape lighting system like its a difficult thing. Quite to the contrary I have found that those owners who have been exposed to quality lighting and have had it on a previous property are very enthusiastic about it and require no  such prodding or deception. The industry perception has always been to “sneak” it in on a line item on a much larger project. BS ! Sophisticated owners know the value it brings to their property both aesthetically, for safety and when it comes time to sell.

“xxxxx says, “Beginners try to do too much with too few fixtures. They also try to make the lights brighter.” He suggests, “Don’t overlight; a little light goes a long way.” Not every inch of your client’s landscape has to be lit. “It is the play of light and dark that makes landscape lighting interesting and appealing,” xxxxx adds. Beginners tend to throw a lot of light on an area, using a few fixtures; it really should be the reverse—to throw less light using more fixtures. Why? Because, again, the idea is to subtly light an area. Less is more; you will never get a dramatic effect using bright or flood lights. “If your client balks at the price of so many fixtures, reduce the number of fixtures to get the price down by lighting less space,” says Gordon. You can always add more later on. As you can see, it’s not just about buying some fixtures and putting light bulbs in them. It’s about setting the stage, creating an ambience for entertaining or even a romantic mood for special occasions.”

Their is a contradiction here. First its stated that a little light goes a long way. Then it says that more lower wattage fixtures should be used and then fewer higher wattaged ones and then again it’s advised to cut down on fixture quantity to meet desired budget. The truth be told it always takes more fixtures to properly illuminate a space than most all property owners realize or believe are needed. 

After you have the general principles of landscape lighting down, all you really need to do is take a few design courses and you’ll be an artist in no time,” says Cruz Perez, vice president of marketing for xxxxxxx in xxxxxxxy, California. “I can’t tell you how many times a contractor has told me, ‘I just don’t have the creativity for lighting.’ No worries,” says xxxx. “Put in a few installations and once you get the feel for it, the creative juices will flow.” Once you get a handle on these elements, you can move to more complicated techniques, such as shadowing, grazing, silhouetting and cross lighting. What is the future for landscape lighting? In a word, exciting. We believe that we have barely scratched the surface. With the advent of LEDs and the new technologies that are being introduced, there is a whole other world to be captured. Using different color temperatures within a landscape is also something landscape contractors are starting to work with.”

So I guess by some sort of divine intervention or perhaps osmosis landscape lighting creativity just automatically comes to anyone after a few installations? Sounds like a lot of hype, meanwhile manufacturers in the lighting industry are literally beating each over the head to capture sales. Mixing color temperatures on a project usually turns out to be disastrous when done by a novice.

“Seasonal lighting is another emerging trend. Because low-voltage light doesn’t require cables to be buried, moving the fixtures seasonally becomes an option. In the summer when the trees are full of leaves, you might want to back the light off a bit, to catch the movement and for a more dramatic look, highlighting the tree’s bare limbs. shadows the leaves provide. In winter, you could move the light closer You, as an experienced landscape contractor, probably already have a keen eye for landscape design. You can easily translate that into a talent for landscape lighting design, too. There, you can set each night scene to be as dramatic or as inconspicuous as the homeowner may desire . . . or fade to black.”

This is one of the dumbest statements made in this article. To state that low voltage cable doesn’t require burying in the ground is unbelievable. This is especially outrageous because here at Gambino landscape lighting we so far exceed the low standards of this industry when it comes to installation that we not only bury cable 6″ deep but we place it inside rigid PVC electrical conduit so it stays protected from damage from shovels and subterranean animals. There is no need to jockey fixtures all around during different times of the year if the design was executed properly from the start-how silly is that?

On top of all of the terrible photos in the body of the article (trust me they were featuring very poor projects) which are all credited to manufacturers and not installers and the poor and irresponsible and down right incorrect information provided in this article is it any question why you’d better select a company to design and install your lighting with much care?

Its really too bad for both consumer and the professional dedicated specialist whose vested interest is to provide and promote only quality lighting. That the powers that be in this industry really only have one primary goal in mind and that is to attract as many potential installers to sell product to the end consumer for them whether they are qualified or not to handle it properly!

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 .

Blog articles may be published with permission on other websites without editing or removing links.




  • Mark Carlson
    Posted at 06:53h, 17 August Reply

    Mike….I too was sickened by this article and it actually caused me to write into the trade magazine and express this displeasure. It is truly unbelievable that our trade is still doing this year after year.

    And like you said, this type of behavior is affecting everyone–consumer, occasional practitioner, and seasoned professional. It’s no wonder why those that choose to perform this discipline have a hard time being considered as a professional–the manufacturers and distributors continue to ‘dumb’ down the whole thing.

    Anyways, thanks for posting this.

  • Mike Gambino
    Posted at 12:12h, 17 August Reply

    There is no mention of the fact that one will still be working with live electricity albeit a much lower voltage than house current. However Bill Locklin, the pioneer of the low voltage landscape lighting industry itself used to say and I will quote – “One can burn a house down faster with low voltage current than he can with line voltage because of the much higher amperage in the low voltage current.” I would add to that Inexperienced Installers on the front end of the quote.

    There is also no mention to check with your state and local municipality in regards to whether a special license or qualification is required to install low voltage outdoor lighting or even for permits. Some do require this and for the trade not to mention it in the article and only focus on hype is irresponsible.

    Thanks as always for your contributions Mark.

  • Matthew Broyles
    Posted at 13:33h, 18 August Reply

    Wow, thanks for sharing! No wonder I stopped reading trade magazines, they are full of garbage like this, a lighting rep as a source of knowledge on installation and design, are you kidding me? These manufacturers must write these articles to draw business.

    • Mike Gambino
      Posted at 18:33h, 18 August Reply

      Matt thanks for your support. Perhaps you can get some of your AOLP contacts on board and initiate some change in regards to this issue.
      Best regards

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