21 Apr Question and Answer with Mike of Gambino Landscape Lighting
By Mike Gambino
Q: How did Gambino Landscape Lighting come about?
A: I had been in the landscaping industry for a long time in New York. In 1989 I decided to sell my business, got married and moved to California landing on Los Angeles soil January first 1990.
I worked for a landscaping company for almost one year all the while studying for the California contractors state license board test and got my contractors license in November of 1990 which is when Gambino landscaping was born. For the first few years landscape lighting was installed on every new landscaping project and it was then that I realized that my clients liked my landscaping work but they loved the lighting. I thought it would be a good idea to take the business and move it forward by offering landscape lighting services only starting in the spring of 1995. This was the official start of Gambino landscape lighting. Since day one this business has been self financed, growing and building slowly without ever borrowing money from a bank, friend or family member. This fact I am truly proud of. The business was built 100% on hard quality work. For the most part I consider myself self taught and from the school of hard knocks. I have never taken any formal lighting design classes and did not study in college any technical aspect of the art. My study and university degree is in business administration. I have developed proprietary design and installation techniques over the years after installing hundreds of thousands of fixtures and transformers. To this day I am on site everyday working shoulder to shoulder with my crew.
Q: Were you one of the first to do offer landscape lighting services exclusively?
A: There were not many back in the day and there really still isn’t many today doing just landscape lighting, What really set me apart was the quality of the products offered. Literally every system I’ve ever installed is still operating in some form today and that is remarkable considering it is normal in this industry for poor lighting systems to last only a few years or so before needing complete replacement. I never really said no to anybody. They were like “you can do this?” and I was like: “We’ll give it a whirl and see what we can do.” Today we are a bit more selective about who we will work for and what projects we will take on but we will bend over backwards for clients that are suited to our type of lighting.
When I started this company I was 25 and took the New York attitude; I had the the workmanship and service, and kind of brought that over to the West Coast: never say no and give everyone great customer service.
Q: And up until recently you used to do all of the work yourself?
A: Yes this is true. Five years ago I hired my first employees and they are still with me today. I was known in the industry as the one man band , the one who wore all hats. It was great while it lasted. I turned forty three and all of a sudden it became more difficult to roll out of bed at 4:45 in the AM. Aches and pains would persist and I realized that if I was going to continue doing this for the next thirty years I’d better get some help.
It turned out to be an excellent decision. Over the past five years in a down economy the business has seen slow but steady growth. We are truly turning out the best work we have ever done and it gets better every year.
Once I brought help on I decided to take the business to the next level and install all of our power cable inside of electrical conduit pipe and bury it six inches deep. That’s what we’ve been doing and remarkably none of our competitors do this which gives us a really huge competitive advantage.
We want to make the lighting systems high performance unique and different and they must last the test of time. Anyone can go out and get a regular lighting system, but you can’t go out and just get a Gambino landscape lighting system from anyone.
Q: What other services does Gambino landscape lighting offer?
A: We have a warehouse where we store our custom made for us exclusive landscape lighting products. We have all fixtures and transformers we need to complete all types of projects. There is no design builder around that I know of that does this and all of the products have the Gambino logo engraved or raised in the brass so the client knows we are not going to abandon them. We’re a turnkey company; we do the electrical power requirements, switching systems, we’ll build anything you want and no project is too large. We’re a one-stop shop.
We offer maintenance on all of our systems and prefer to handle it for the client rather them have their handyman do it who will not have the correct replacement parts and the vested interest that we do to keep it looking just as good as it did on day one.
Q: What would be required maintenance for a landscape lighting system?
A: Most people don’t know that no matter who builds it and no matter what products are used, landscape lighting systems will go to hell without care. Plants will grow in front of fixture lenses blocking light output and causing hot spots that are unsightly. Dust and dirt and calcium deposits will crust on fixture lenses doing the same blocking the light output and diminishing the brightness and color of light. Fixtures will need to be re-adjusted and possibly moved due to plant growth. Cables will need to be loosened for fixtures that are mounted up high in trees in order that the tree doesn’t literally consume the cable and the fixture itself during growth. Lamps will need to be changed , timers adjusted . There is no such thing as a low maintenance landscape lighting system, There are lower maintenance systems but those will also need routine a nd scheduled care to look their best if they are to last.
Q: Do you come up with all the ideas for your lighting system yourself?
A: One of the things I get kidded about all the time is that I like to go over the top. So the client will come in with an idea and I try to make it above and beyond [the customer’s vision]. I listen very carefully to what a client wants, what her likes and dislikes are. Why she wants this lighting system installed and how she plans to use it and where she primarily will be viewing it from. I am totally open to the client’s ideas however I draw the line when they try to get involved in the technical aspects of the design and installation. At times a client will try to minimize cost at the expense of the end result of the project and then they will want to put deleted fixtures back in for the same originally quoted price. But by then its a lot more and the cost is going to rise so its best to trust your professional design installer and allow them to choose the fixtures and quantities of equipment required to do the best job. After all they want to do the best job because if they are like me today’s project sells tomorrow’s so I want it to be the best.
Q: Do you retire ideas, or are they open for others that might want the same kind of setup?
A: Once the project is completed we show some of the creations we can do, by put ting up pictures and cataloging them on our internet website. There are only so many ways to illuminate a landscape so a lot of the same techniques and products are used on projects. That being said no two projects can or ever will look the same. There are too many different aspects of the site that every single project is different and like a unique piece of art. Custom fixtures are one of a kind and will be retired and exclusive to that project only.
Q: Do you ever coach clients about some of the projects they want you to build?
A: The main problem with a lot of customers is that they say, “I want this lighting system for the whole property.” They don’t realize that could be fifty thousand dollars or more on a large property. And then they actually step back a little bit. But if someone wants a lighting system, any size, we can build it; it’s not an issue and often we do. We can build whatever they want. When you’re doing a very large property, the more products and labor to build it is, the more expensive it is, and people don’t realize that. But we’ll try to accommodate anyone’s budget even if that means doing the front or backyard now and the other part of the property when the budget allows.
Q: You do about 50 to 70 new jobs annually. What’s the average size and cost of the jobs you do?
A: I’d say the average a person’s going to walk out of here with for a good-sized lighting system between forty to sixty LED lighting fixtures, transformers for about $15 to $20 grand total – I’m talking everything: design, lighting products, installation, switching, the complete system. There are smaller systems that we do – 10 to 15 LED fixtures- where you’re going to spend $5 grand. We do a few small projects where the cost is only a couple of grand usually add- ons to a system that we have previously built. But like I said, it just depends on if you’re buying a whole system with everything or you’re buying a add- ons to an existing system we have previously installed only. it just matters about budget. Literally anything can be done; it just depends on how much money you want to spend.
Q: Talk about your installs.
A: We will do these all around the country if the project and the price is right. Let’s just say you’re in Las Vegas and you want a high end lighting system for an estate property, we will travel and stay locally until the project is complete. If it doesn’t pay for me to send my crew and I out to install, then what we do is design everything here, put everything together and ship to the project site then we have affiliates all around some parts of the country. So what we would do is call up our affiliate in New York or where ever and let him know that we have this job in his area. We’d put him in contact with the client directly, he [our affiliate] installs it, works out his negotiation with the client and he [our affiliate] gets the maintenance.
Q: How do you do huge projects?
A: Every project follows a 20 step process no matter the size. Large projects are no different than smaller sized ones they just require a lot more equipment and a lot more labor. A large project is built in sections so its like a bunch of small projects together that consist of this large project. No job has ever existed that has been too large for us to install
Q: What’s the biggest job you’ve ever done?
A: It’s a project on a 40 acre custom estate One and a half hours from our normal service area built on old farm property. It’s the biggest actual landscape lighting system we’ve built from scratch from beginning to end. We did everything on this job from engineering the electrical power systems to installing; we did everything from A to Z. The project consisted of over one thousand fixtures and seventy five transformers. It also had close to 500 homeruns.
Q: What do you mean by homeruns?
A: Homerun is a term used to describe a cable which comes from a power source in this case a low voltage transformer which feeds a certain number of fixtures within close vicinity. It is at these cable runs where all of the voltage readings are taken to make adjustments at the transformer in order that all fixtures operate at or as close to 12 volts. This way the lamps brightness and longevity is maximized.
Q: When did you decide you could make a living doing this?
A: It’s funny that back in the day when I first started people would look at me oddly when I told them I was a landscape lighter when they asked me what I did for a living. They would always ask can you make a living doing that? I guess I’ve always been up for challenges. I knew there was money to be made but it has never come easy and I’ve been in the industry for a long time. Most of the operators in this industry are part timers and don’t have any idea about the industry, don’t install quality products and aren’t around after its all fallen apart. There was kind of a learning curve when I got into it. I was always up for a challenge. It seemed like something I really could do. Anyone can install a lighting system. Not many can install one that performs and lasts.
Q: Do you notice any trends in your business?
A: The biggest is LED or light emitting diode. Technology has come a long way in a short time and it has revolutionized the business. They are a lot more energy and environmentally responsible and it’s a lot easier for people to manage in terms of replacement bulb costs and electrical usage. Initially it was thought that LED’s would make it easier for the do it yourselfer to install. However more now than ever it’s advisable that homeowners hire a specialist they can trust to navigate them through the maze of choices that are available. Most are low quality products that don’t perform and last. Since LED products are more expensive than previously installed incandescent and halogen sources, much higher cost mistakes can be made when the wrong products and installers are chosen.
Q: Talk about the eco-friendly aspect of these products.
A: Well we now have 3 and 5 and 7 watt LED’s which have replaced 20, 35, and 42 watt bulbs that match in light output, spread and color. This is a real game changer. Not only are they consuming much less electricity, they operate at cooler temperatures, last up to ten times longer and contain no mercury so they are not harmful to the environment when it’s time to dispose of them.
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 www.gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .
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