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Heard at Lightapalooza 2024: Leaning Into Outdoor Lighting

Panel discusses the benefits and challenges of adding landscape lighting to a CI business.

Ron Callis from One Firefly moderated a panel on Tuesday afternoon during Lightapalooza 2024 that investigated the creative world of outdoor lighting and whether it is right for your CI business. In a “raise-your-hand” poll of those assembled in the packed room, about half of the integrators there currently install outdoor light, but it was less than 10 percent of their business, which illustrated the potential opportunities in the category.

Lightapalooza Panel - Outdoor Lighting - Sign

The panel was made up of outdoor lighting experts that included Ryan Lee from the Landscape Lighting Secrets podcast and coaching program; Chris Apfelstadt of Light Up Columbus, which started in Christmas lighting and expanded into full landscape lighting; and Ryan Williams from manufacturer FX Luminaire, which was the sponsor of the panel.

Jumping into why an integration company should start offering outdoor lighting services, Lee was quick to add that the clients you already serve are the ones who would be most receptive to those solutions. “You are sitting on a gold mine,” he said. “It is a unique opportunity. It is all about targeting, and you already have [the right audience]. You can double or triple your revenue.”

As for why your clients need it, the panel agrees that the benefits range from security to beauty to mental health. “The beautiful landscape environment goes away at night,” explained Apfelstadt. “They need to experience at all hours of the day. Plus, if there are no external lights, a wall of windows will reflect light back into the home. Outdoor lights expand the space and you feel like you are part of something more grand. It makes the home a different space. And we spend more of our time at home at night.”

Lightapalooza 2024 - Outdoor Lighting Panel
(L-r) Ron Callis from One Firefly, Ryan Lee from Landscape Lighting Secrets, Chris Apfelstadt of Light Up Columbus, and Ryan Williams from FX Luminaire,

Williams offered some advice for those looking to get started in landscape lighting: “Understand the value of light and realize how key lighting is to how people live,” he said. “To start, practice with friends and family and put it in your own house, too. Find a partner — someone who is local that can help with subbing jobs and sharing help. You can also get help from manufacturers.”

He went on to explain FX Luminaire’s online design platform, as well as its design services team that will provide lighting plans free of charge.

Apfelstadt echoed Williams’ callout for training, saying, “There are a lot of great opportunities for education, and manufacturers are a great place to start. There is also Ryan Lee’s training program and, as you walk your way up, The Association of Outdoor Lighting Professionals offers a lot of knowledge.”

When it comes time to sell to clients, you need to educate them first. “I have had homeowners ask if we install at night,” laughed Lee. “Get demo kits. It helps you sell when you show them. It also teaches you design and gives you the flexibility to learn while you get paid.”

The panel agreed that once a client has a taste of outdoor lighting, they won’t want to live without it. “Put lights on the property on the weekend and take them away on Monday,” said Williams. “The customer will say to put them back. That is the easiest way to make them understand the true value of light.”

Landscape lighting also has the potential to add additional recurring revenue to your business. “Nature always wins over time,” said Apfelstadt. “Trees grow and outdoor lighting needs maintenance to keep it at the right level. Service is reactive — you should require a maintenance program. Clean the lenses, adjust the angles, check the voltage for nicks in the wires, and so on. At a minimum, it should happen once a year, but it really should be quarterly. It is important ongoing revenue and you can make upgrade sales on those calls.”

When the question from the audience about using color in outdoor lighting design came up, Williams responded, “Color is used mainly for holidays now. You don’t want those colors year-round — let it be white until the next holiday. Color is not a full-time lighting job, but color matching — throw a little red on a Japanese Maple — can make the color pop. A little bit of red in the autumn can make it last a little longer. But it should not be used all year long. That is not what a homeowner wants.”

“FX Luminaire makes the premier RGB system,” added Apfelstadt. “Commercial clients want color more than residential ones. Having the ability helps — a lot of different whites, 4000K on a Blue Spruce, for example. Still white, but a different color temperature. The higher-end clients prefer white light, but RGB is growing and becoming more prevalent in the market.”

“Landscape lighting offers homeowners the freedom to relax,” concluded Lee. “They work hard to pay for these nice homes and need a sanctuary. They need outdoor lighting from you today.”