By Diane M. Calabrese / Published 2020
Promote good cheer. Provide a valuable service. Who would not want to do both?
Perhaps, it is time to consider the installation of Christmas lights as an add-on to the main business line. Many contractors have already done so.
“We will be going into our third season offering a Christmas lighting service,” says Casey Fisher, owner of Cardinal Pressure Washing LLC in Grove City, OH, which serves the greater-Columbus region of the Buckeye State. “My motivation to start this service was to keep my employees on a year-round basis rather than seasonal.”
Giving employees more job certainty and financial security is important to Fisher. So, too, is making it possible for workers to earn income in the winter season and especially around the holidays.
Deciding to install Christmas lights is step one. Contractors must next consider the scope of the service to offer. Fisher’s company takes a comprehensive approach. “We offer an all-inclusive service that involves digitally creating a design rendering of the customer’s home, custom-cutting wires to be an exact fit for the home, full maintenance throughout the season, removal after the holidays, and year-round storage of the supplies in a climate-controlled facility,” he explains.
And if a customer owns the lights? “We do not hang customer-supplied lights due to quality standards—our lights are commercial-grade LEDs—as well as for safety and insurance purposes,” says Fisher.
Meeting safety and insurance requirements is an important part of the process. (See the third section for more about the opportunity to become certified as an installer.)
Working through the decision to install lights and meeting requirements for safety and storage are familiar themes to power washing contractors. The similarity of the scope of both enterprises always helps those who decide to venture into an add-on.
“The biggest challenge in installation is pretty similar to the cleaning industry,” says Fisher. “There will always be people who are cheaper that do not do a professional job.”
A safety-first philosophy strengthens the power washing industry. It does the same for Christmas light installers.
Fisher says that it is “concerning” from a safety standpoint to see fire hazards when reviewing the work of other contractors. He emphasizes that safety must be the priority.
“We even carry a completely separate insurance policy, and we are trained and certified through the largest Christmas-light installer organization in the country,” says Fisher. Training and certification are key elements of any endeavor that becomes a new service line.
“We also offer sealing services for concrete and paver patios, as well as concrete coatings and overlays—epoxies, garage floors, etc.,” says Fisher. “We’ve taken very extensive training to do this specific kind of work and carry a separate insurance policy for concrete work as well.”
The training must come first. Contractors should not add any service line without first having the expertise and equipment to offer to customers.
“I would recommend another contractor be trained and certified from an experienced organization before expanding into new services as there can be very costly mistakes when not done properly,” says Fisher. “Christmas lighting would probably be the best introduction of a new service for a growing contractor if he was properly trained, certified, and insured.”
According to the U.S. Library of Congress (Everyday Mysteries series), the custom of hanging strings of electric lights is almost as old as bulbs themselves. The LOC reports that Thomas Edison hung a strand of electric lights outside his laboratory in Menlo Park, NJ, during the Christmas season in 1880.
By 1903, General Electric began offering kits of stringed lights. The story of the adoption of Christmas lights is not only interesting reading but also provides good context for dazzling prospective customers with the legacy they join when choosing to display lights. For more on the story, visit www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/item/who-invented-electric-christmas-lights.
As contractors consider add-on services, they discover they have opportunities to make environs a little brighter. They also have the chance to make them safer.
Kyle O’Hearn, owner of Powergreen LLC in Olmsted, OH, part of the greater-Cleveland area, reminds us that add-on services may be quite distinct from each other. Yet they can still be complementary in terms of time of year they are provided.
“We do dryer vent cleaning and will be branching out to other related cleanings in the future,” says O’Hearn, whose company also installs Christmas lights. The lights are installed as a package with a single price for installation and removal.
Savvy contractors can easily couple add-ons such as holiday lights and dryer vent cleaning. And there’s probably no more appropriate time to sell the vent service than at the beginning of winter.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), which is part of FEMA, clothes dryer fires peak in January. One-third of the fires begin in dryer vents.
Dryer vents do not get the attention they deserve. Homeowners often ignore them until clothes begin to emerge damp from the dryer. Because dryer fires can spread beyond the appliance, cleaning vents saves lives and tens of millions of dollars annually.
By reviewing the vent-fire statistics provided by USFA at www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/clothes_dryers.html, a contractor can extract points to share with homeowners before heading out on a light installation project. Then, it is a matter of asking whether customers would like a dryer vent cleaned at the same time as Christmas lights are installed or taken down.
O’Hearn’s company has offered Christmas-light installation as a service for four years. “We need a gap filler in the Northeast as winter shuts pressure washing down,” he explains.
Confronting a serious winter is not uncommon for O’Hearn’s team. Northwest wind often blows across Lake Erie, generating heavy snowfall in the Cleveland and Cuyahoga County region.
“Dealing with the harsh weather and getting lights on some pretty difficult roofs in the winter are the greatest challenges,” says O’Hearn. As with any service offered, a contractor must put a little flex in a schedule, if possible. Waiting out a blizzard or a severe summer storm is just a given.
Whatever the challenges winter poses to the effort, the Christmas light add-on service is very much worth it, says O’Hearn. “It’s worth not having to find an outside-the-business job in the winter and still being able to provide for my family. Also, it’s enjoyable, and we take pride in our work.”
Successful contractors recognize continuing education as a guiding force. As methods and tools change, a commitment to keep learning fortifies a business.
Contractors considering the add-on of Christmas-light installation ought to know about an association that specializes in relevant training. It is the Christmas Light Installation Pros Association (CLIPA).
“CLIPA offers intensive in-person and online training opportunities covering all aspects of Christmas light installation and how to get started,” says Matt Hyden, president of the association, which is headquartered in Orange County, CA. “We cover basics that include product knowledge and education, sales and marketing, installations, electrical, and estimating—just to name a few.”
Taking part in training from the association brings other plusses. “With your training, you get access to a backend portal where you can find more than 16 hours of training presentations and videos allowing you to educate your installers and employees,” explains Hyden.
The portal offers paths to other information as well. “Portal access also includes useful forms, photo gallery, resources and links, estimating calculators, marketing tools and apparel at discounted prices, and access to the association’s certified installer logos to use at their discretion,” explains Hyden.
“Members of the association get discounted prices with our preferred vendors where they can purchase lights and accessories at a discounted rate,” says Hyden. “They will also be listed on our national directory where consumers are able to verify that the contractors they hire are certified.”
Educational opportunities go on through the year. “Our association is always offering continuing education,” says Hyden. “Throughout the year, we offer training opportunities outside of the initial association training events.”
Among the special opportunities are varied possibilities. “There is more in-depth training, such as RGB installations of color-changing lights, commercial training for those that want to take the next step, and the association’s annual conference, which provides an opportunity to network and grow your business,” says Hyden.
The annual conference includes classes on “how to scale your business, commercial sales and marketing, recruiting, and RGB lighting, just to name a few topics,” explains Hyden. “We also host a social event for everyone to attend. Last year we had more than 125 attendees for our first annual conference.”
In addition, the association Hyden leads provides information to consumers of services. “We also spend a lot of time educating consumers about requesting a certified installer,” he explains. “We receive several inquiries requesting installers, and we refer all inquiries to our certified installers.”
The educators who work as trainers for the association have deep and broad experience. “Our association’s educators have been in the industry for more than 21 years and offer ongoing training, education, and support to members,” says Hyden. “We enjoy passing on to others what has helped make us successful in the Christmas light industry.”