Lighting Retailers Talk Outdoor Living
 

Pushing living space to its outermost limit, decks, patios, lawns and gardens are an integral part of the 21st Century home. And with more happening outside and at all hours of the day, landscape lighting has become more relevant than ever before for lighting retailers.

“We spend so much time and money on decks and gardening, [but] we can’t enjoy or appreciate what we’re growing if it’s not lit properly [at night],” says Norm Brown, of Canada’s Norburn Lighting and Bath Centre in Burnaby, BC.

As important as landscape lighting is to homeowners, CLC and American Lighting Assn. instructor Brown fears that many lighting showrooms are turning away from the category, instead opting to sell decorative—and less technically involved — fixtures.“We spend so much time and money on decks and gardening, [but] we can’t enjoy or appreciate what we’re growing if it’s not lit properly [at night],” says Norm Brown, of Canada’s Norburn Lighting and Bath Centre in Burnaby, BC.

“If the showrooms aren’t selling it, the consumers are going to go somewhere else to get it,” Brown says. “Eighty percent of it is going to the irrigation people. Sure, they understand the installation, but our advantage should be that we understand light. We’re walking away from a huge market.”

According to Brown, the average custom landscape lighting order runs about $2,000, and it can go as high as $40,000. These profits, combined with low overhead costs and fast inventory turnover, sustain landscape lighting’s potential as a no-brainer for a well-trained lighting showroom staff.

Employing and maintaining a knowledgeable staff can make all the difference in reaching that potential. “If they're not trained, they won’t sell,” Brown says.

The ALA, as well as such individual manufacturers as Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting and Kichler, regularly host educational opportunities that their showroom customers can leverage to learn more about the technical side of the industry — and, of course, how to sell those products.Employing and maintaining a knowledgeable staff can make all the difference in reaching that potential. “If they're not trained, they won’t sell,” Brown says.

“Education is big for us, and it’s a continuous thing, especially with changing technology and turnover in our customers’ operations,” says Michael Southard, Kichler’s Director of Sales for Landscape Lighting. “We have a hands-on training course, where we actually go out with [our customers] and install our landscape systems from start to finish, and we have ‘101’ training both [at our headquarters] in Cleveland and on the road.”

While an absolutely integral ingredient, educating the sales staff is not the only strategy in which lighting showrooms can invest to reap landscape lighting profits.

A climb to the rooftop deck of Chicago’s Lightology reveals a spectacular view of the city, as well as an ideal space for showing off what the lighting showroom’s ample selection of outdoor and landscape fixtures can really do.

 


\Lightology’s owner Greg Kay, lighting designer and master-mind behind the rooftop retreat, used cove lighting and recessed LED tiles in the patio flooring (which turns into a dance floor for special events) to create a festive atmosphere and safe passage for customers and guests. Kay also installed recessed fixtures throughout the space to highlight architectural elements, sculptures and greenery.

“In Chicago, space is at a premium, so I wanted to use the roof, and it was a great way to show off our outdoor and landscape products,” Kay says. “We’ve [discerned] very quickly the good products from the bad and which fixtures will stand up to the elements out there.”Lightology’s owner Greg Kay, lighting designer and master-mind behind the rooftop retreat, used cove lighting and recessed LED tiles in the patio flooring (which turns into a dance floor for special events) to create a festive atmosphere and safe passage for customers and guests. Kay also installed recessed fixtures throughout the space to highlight architectural elements, sculptures and greenery.

While Lightology’s outdoor showroom/event space works in its urban environment, Lighting Specialist Ray Christensen Jr., owner of Ray Lighting Design Studio in Hartford, CT, has devised a similar setup inside his lighting showroom.

“We have a small lighting lab, where we have [artificial] trees and a fish pond, so we can show people different effects that can be created with our products,” Christensen says. “It also attracts customers who might not have known [upon coming in] we sell landscape lighting.”

Enticing visual merchandising means little without the backing of worthy product, so in addition to the interactive setting, Christensen has a separate area in which he displays his core inventory uninstalled.

“If it’s in the ground, people can see what it does, but they can’t touch it, they can’t examine it to see that it’s a quality fixture,” Christensen says. “I really want them to know what they’re getting, and the only way to do that is hands-on.”

Creative displays become increasingly important as new technology emerges within the category. Customers need to see it in action to understand its applications. In 2007, according to Southard, Kichler will launch a new line of LEDs for use in and around either pond- and pool-type water applications or smaller trees and shrubbery. To demonstrate the benefits and to foster excitement about the product, Kichler Merchandising Manager Michelle Scotton will construct a pond in the company’s Dallas showroom, and Kichler encourages its showroom customers to practice similar strategies on their turf.

“These techniques really show off the advantages of our landscape lighting products,” Southard says. “Especially for the LED products, it really shows the quality of color rendering and how they’ll look in application.”

For lighting showrooms that cater to general lighting needs, a landscape lighting package added to a custom interior lighting order can be an easy sell. Norburn Lighting typically gets involved during the building stage of a home lighting project. According to Brown, after the customer purchases a recessed and decorative lighting package at $5,000 a piece, $2,000 for landscape becomes less of a stretch.“These techniques really show off the advantages of our landscape lighting products,” Southard says. “Especially for the LED products, it really shows the quality of color rendering and how they’ll look in application.”

“So, all of a sudden, we’re talking about a total home lighting package. Why not add on landscape and get it done right?” Brown says.

Landscape lighting can also be used for other applications, such as highlighting an architectural detail on the exterior of a home. The possibilities are endless and a natural add-on for lighting showrooms. For example, Kichler has designed its Garden Collections line to be purchased either as a system or as a single point of interest for the yard.

“The collection is doing well for retailers because their customers can buy just one piece, as an impulse buy, and they don’t have to go with the whole system,” Southard says.

Another key to maintaining landscape lighting’s profitability is facilitating the process for the customer. Showrooms that have any kind of success with the category don’t just sell the products; they coordinate installation, often making house calls and nighttime follow-up visits to ensure that the operation goes smoothly. The team from Ray Lighting astutely recognizes that the customer is often unfamiliar with landscape lighting and may need some hand-holding.

“I approach it like taking control of the situation,” Christensen says. “I take the customer out of the [installation] process and oversee everything from the initial contact [with the contractor] through the final on-site nighttime adjustment, so they know I’m making sure it all comes out the right way. So, they don’t have any second thoughts about writing that check, which is often a very big check.”

Manufacturers like Vista have devised take-home sample kits that lighting showrooms can lend out to their customers. In exchange for a deposit, Brown sends his customers home with just such a low voltage kit, which includes a 12V battery and a number of fixture samples. The kit lets the homeowners go out at night and see for themselves what the fixtures will look like.

But for larger jobs, Brown will come to the house at night to show his clients his ideas. “As long as I give them an idea of the cost upfront, they’ll never say no, once I show them what we can do for them.”Manufacturers like Vista have devised take-home sample kits that lighting showrooms can lend out to their customers. In exchange for a deposit, Brown sends his customers home with just such a low voltage kit, which includes a 12V battery and a number of fixture samples. The kit lets the homeowners go out at night and see for themselves what the fixtures will look like.

In many cases, once specifiers know that lighting showrooms carry landscape lighting, they’ll come to them. So, one the of easiest ways for lighting retailers to keep the category lucrative is to get the word out, building relationships with contractors and designers and helping them understand the types of products carried.

“We have people all over the country who call specifically on designers, landscape architects and contractors,” says Darrin Wood, Vista’s National Sales Manager for Commerical and Industrial Markets. Nearly 70 percent of the company’s business is through these venues for high-end homes.

Designers are increasingly treating outdoor spaces as an important complimentary component to the interior design of a home.

“It’s all about creating a welcoming, relaxing atmosphere beginning from the very first impression,” Kay says. “Lighting can do that for you, and for people to understand that, the investment is always worthwhile.”

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