Bright Lights, Big Money

After the traditional grounds maintenance summer and fall seasons have come to an end, a few smart entrepreneurs are beginning to look at non-traditional ways to increase revenue, which could lead to increased profits. Leaf removal for most grounds maintenance contractors has been a long offered service to clients. For those who service clients in the regions of the country that have snowfall, winter services are a must.

However, some providers of services have been looking in other areas to keep valued employees working for longer periods during the year. Holiday decorating can be an added service to clients that increases your value to them. Providing decorating services can also be a great way to insure that the competition will have a difficult time trying to lure away your best customers.

OFF-SEASON SERVICE

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For your residential clients who have busy life styles and feel the need to contract out for residential grounds maintenance services during the regular season, holiday decorating is a natural extension of services to offer. “It's a nice adjunct in service that works well,” says Robert Lied, owner of Lied's located in suburban Milwaukee, Wis. Since 1945, Lied's has been providing grounds maintenance services to commercial and residential clients in Wisconsin.

A holiday theme is a great way to entice high-end clients to take advantage of new decorating services. Most clients are looking for ways to keep the color of summer gardens indoors. Decorating can include the traditional trees and ornaments, table centerpieces and wall adornments as well as outdoor lighting. “Each service you provide has its special nuances,” says Lied.

“Clients do not want the same thing every year,” he adds. Having staff trained in decorating will be a key element in offering top-notch services. Quality interior decorators are a costly labor item, but in the long run will be dollars well spent. “You can't have designs that keep your clients happy without staff that has high-end skills to keep up with the latest trends,” Lied says. Interior decorators with a flair for horticulture can be a nice addition to the staff.

Outdoor lighting is just as important. Whether you are renting lighting to clients or using client-provided lighting, ongoing service will be important. Nothing will hurt your image or your client's image in the neighborhood more than having lights that are not working. A regular review of each location to insure that lighting is functioning properly is key to insuring a successful holiday season.

POST-HOLIDAY STORAGE

Storage is also an item that you need to consider. After the season is over, removal and storage of decorating supplies will require additional space in your warehouse for the next 10 months or so. Keeping supplies clean, dry and in good working order will save considerable amounts of resources this time next year.

ADDITIONAL CLIENTS

Large commercial clients can provide additional opportunities for services just as residential clients do. Servicing commercial clients can easily take place during normal business hours when dealing with exterior decorating.

However, some commercial clients may want common areas such as entrances, foyers and reception areas decorated in off business hours. Shopping centers are a good example of a commercial client who may prefer decorating to take place during hours when customers are not shopping. This could mean decorators will be working in the overnight hours requiring special arrangements.

Pay special attention to design in such high-profile locations such as the interior of shopping malls. Paying attention to even the smallest details will be well worth the effort. A reputation for the little things in holiday decorating is bound to spill over into the rest of the services provided and will give both the client and you a sence of real accomplishment.

PLANNING AHEAD

Planning for holiday services begins in the late summer. Identifying prospects for your new services will be the first step. Estimating the amount and types of materials needed is the same as any other grounds maintenance service project. Lights, decorations, labor and fixed costs of doing business are just a few of the items that you need to consider with each client's custom proposal for service.

The sales process should begin in the early fall. As crews are beginning the processes of preparing landscapes for the winter months, clients are beginning to think of the holiday planning they need to do. This is an excellent time to begin the process of talking with valued high-end residential and commercial customers.

November will prove to be the busiest month for the holiday decorating service provider.

Shopping malls will start the decorating process in late October with interior decorating. Exterior lighting needs to be started very early in November. Residential client decorating will most likely start right after the Thanksgiving holiday and need to be completed quickly.

Take down and removal will bring crews back to service clients in early January. Clean-up and take-down of decorations is just as important as installation. If the house or the common areas in the mall have not been cleaned thoroughly when your crew leaves then you might as well forget coming back next year. The client can gain no benefit if they have to clean up after you have left the home and they have already been billed for the service.

GETTING IN THE SPIRIT

Holiday decorating services can be an additional service that grounds maintenance providers can offer to their clients that in the long run can be a “win-win” situation for everyone involved. The customer has a provider taking care of a need they have. The service provider will benefit by retaining good customers and turning them into valuable assets. The employees win by having a longer employment season, extending later into the year and beginning earlier in the next year.

Waiting for the next ice or snowfall can be grueling when equipment payments need to be made. Adding additional services that generate additional revenue will ultimately generate additional profits. After all profits is what it is all about.

HOLIDAY DECORATING EQUIPMENT NEEDS

For the average-sized grounds maintenance contractor that would like to provide additional client services including holiday decorating, several equipment needs must be considered. Fortunately, several of these items may already be in your current inventories of equipment.

Both indoor and outdoor decorating crews will need ladders. Ladders of various sizes from the small stepladder to 24- or 36-foot extension ladders will come in handy. Reaching second story rooflines of residences for holiday lighting will be very difficult without the proper ladder.

Commercial customers such as large shopping malls or office buildings with tall foyers may require something more substantial than a ladder. Renting a manlift could be an important tool if you have access to it.

An extension pole will be another handy too. Poles much like those used for tree trimming, and that have been modified with a hook, will be useful for installing lighting into tall trees.

Decorations and lighting of various kinds, should you wish to rent these items, are going to vary depending upon the customer's desires. As with purchasing these items for your own home, the best time to acquire them will most likely be after the holidays. Home decorating stores and discount home centers will have their entire inventories reduced in costs. Another option may be to contract the manufacturers of decorating and lighting items on a direct basis. This could offer even more savings.

The last item that will be worth the investment is software. If you are currently using a computer for accounts receivable and accounts payable, then you are more than halfway there. A job estimating software program can be a very useful tool. Not only in estimating holiday decorating costs but the software will pay dividends year round.

David Gaines is a freelance writer who resides in St. Charles, Mo.

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