29 Sep Games Buyers of landscape lighting systems and services play
By Mike Gambino
It’s a strange fact, but a fact nonetheless, that no one wins the race to the bottom in the home improvement industry. As a company, you put in your new LED landscape lighting system proposal for $20,000, a competitor puts in his for $18,500, someone else comes in at $17,400, then, lo and behold, there’s the guy with a price of $13,500. The homeowner had broadly hinted that the company that gets the job is the one that will do the work for the least money. He calls you up and says: “Such-and-such company gave me a price of $13,500. Can you beat that?”
Can You Do Better?
Race To the Bottom and Back
I say, Nice knowing You.
The homeowner who’s willing to play this game, either because he believes he’s in control or because he’s cheap, or both, is not worth dealing with. The irony is that the homeowner may have gotten a landscape lighting job at one-third less, but he’s the ultimate loser.
Usually he doesn’t figure it out until the job starts to fall apart. The company who gets that job at that price is going to use the least expensive materials and take every shortcut known to man. They might not be putting wire inside conduit or they may not be wiring it correctly at all, might not be using weatherproof tight and sound connections, might just skip the correct lighting products, etc. Don’t even think about system performance or longevity.
We see this every day. We’ve replaced hundred’s of landscape lighting systems in the Los Angeles area of southern California that were installed less than ten years ago, most didn’t last nearly that long. The outraged homeowner, of course, demands that the manufacturer make good on the lifetime product warranty and replace the system. Good luck with that! The manufacturer sends a sales rep out, then informs the homeowner that the lighting system wasn’t installed according to the specifications in its installation manual. The product warranty is void.
Now the homeowner has to go through the whole process again. He runs around the neighborhood grousing about what crooks contractors are, meanwhile soliciting proposals from a half-dozen companies so he can again play one off against the other and get the cheapest price on replacing his lighting.
It takes 2 to Tango, The buyer and the provider
Let’s say as a contractor you get good at landing these jobs by lowering your price. You’ll be wondering at the end of the year where your profitability went and if you can afford another year in business. To stay profitable, you either have to raise prices or lower costs. Provided you’re not carrying some enormous overhead, you can only lower costs so much. And you can only run lean up to a point. Everybody’s paying mostly the same for labor and insurance.
You have to know why your price is your price and stand up for it. For instance, I had a homeowner call the other day from a town a bit far away out of our normal service area saying he needed his transformer replaced. He wants a price over the phone. I asked him how he knew he needed the transformer replaced and he said he emailed pictures to two lighting contractors and both gave him a price without ever checking the system out and going through a set troubleshooting procedure. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t work that way , quoting replacement parts and installation from photos without actually diagnosing the problem myself. He didn’t seem to care and said to just tell him the price.
“Can you do better than what I’ve already been quoted?” he asks. It doesn’t occur to someone in a nice restaurant to turn to the owner and say: I could’ve gone to McDonalds and gotten it for less. Why do they do this to contractors?
Define and Market Your Difference
The way to avoid the race to the bottom is to stay out of that commodity market. When homeowners think a landscape lighting system is just a landscape lighting system, Fixtures are just fixtures, LED lamps are LED lamps, and one lighting job’s as good as the next, it leaves the cheapskate in charge.
We make the buying experience different from what people expect, and the installation experience different as well. We give them more customer service than they know what to do with. People, at least people in certain zip codes, will definitely pay for this.
Part of the reason that most customers are drawn to us to begin with is because they are referred to us from previous satisfied customers, are already familiar with our work and the quality products and installation that we bring to their property. In a market where most companies are still pounding the installation in and once it’s done never come back. They know that we stand behind our projects and prefer to provide ongoing maintenance, that’s a differentiator.
People know that they can read our online reviews, contact us by email or by phone to discuss the project and in an online meeting, and make a decision at their own pace to meet with us to consult on their site and pay a nominal fee if they decide not to hire us . That may not be how every company does it, but it’s the way we’re doing it, and it’s what homeowners expect from a professional company they choose to deal with.
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 27 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.Gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .
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