Our Purpose

This story was published in the June edition of our newsletter. It is the first installment in our series on building an intentional company culture.  

Your purpose is one of your company’s most valuable assets.

While this statement may seem like hyperbole, I’ve personally seen the enormous impact of purpose in my own company. It’s foundational to your business. Your purpose dictates and guides how your company runs and how far it will go. It’s your compass telling you what to take on and what to say no to. It provides everyone in the organization a direction to work towards. You support your purpose with a common set of values shared by you and everyone on your team. Ultimately, your purpose and your core values will shape your company’s culture.

It took us a number of years to find our purpose as a company. We had trouble articulating it, but it just needed to be discovered. We asked questions like “why did we start the business,” “what do we enjoy about the business,” and “what motivates us to continue in this business?” For us, we realized it wasn’t about what we do, but how we can positively impact others.

However, even after that realization, it took some time for Pat and I to work out how we could form a cohesive purpose when we owned three very different companies: a manufacturing company, a mosquito control company, and a lighting installation company. So, we began to try and answer the “why” questions of our businesses by listing out what we wanted to accomplish: good stewardship, building others up, providing for our families, and helping others.

From there, we were finally able to discover our purpose statement. Now, everyone who works at Sterling Lighting knows our purpose well: We practice faithful stewardship over everything that is entrusted to us, and we positively influence all those who come into contact with us. It’s why we exist as an organization. It also prevents people from working here that do not share our vision, and it gives us a unified direction we’re all committed to moving toward.

Understanding and articulating your purpose statement is difficult enough, but applying it takes even more creativity and effort. However, we’ve worked hard to be intentional about living out our purpose and letting it guide how we run our business. Our purpose gives us a yardstick to measure our decisions against. Either consciously or unconsciously, we always ask ourselves: Will this decision make a positive impact on the lives of our customers, employees, family members, or friends?

So, when we design and manufacture high-quality products, our purpose underlies our choice not to cut corners to save 15% on a product that will fail in two years. Poorly-made LED fixtures that need repair work after a couple years will leave a bitter taste in your mouth. However, by using quality materials and cutting-edge technology, we’re able to offer you a product you’ll feel confident installing.

When we decided how we would sell our fixtures, our purpose guided our choice to sell directly to contractors instead of distributors. While this may have slowed our growth because we’ve had to build our brand from the ground up, it has also saved us 20-30% on our fixtures. We’ve then been able to pass those savings along to you! Selling directly to contractors has also allowed us to form stronger relationships with you, our customer.

Finally, when we asked ourselves what else we could do to positively impact our customers, our purpose underlay our decision to create marketing programs, such as Sterling Storefront. We wanted to help our fellow small business owners with an aspect of their business that, because of the time and money involved, often gets put off to the side. Our hope is that by offering affordable, easy-to-use marketing solutions, you’ll be able to more effectively get the word out about your company.

Other marketing programs are also in the works. Just last month, we went and visited a couple of our customers down in Florida, Tim Pleasant and Tim Salopek, to shoot company videos and testimonials for them. In the future, we hope to continue to use our video and marketing resources to help even more of our customers.

Ultimately, I believe that when we fulfill our purpose, we help your business thrive. This, in turn, gives you more time and energy to positively impact the people in your own life. This is why I encourage all entrepreneurs to form and embrace a purpose.

Once you know your purpose, you can form your core values, which determine how you act. With purpose influencing your decisions and core values influencing your actions, you begin to form an intentional culture in your company. You will spend so much of your life working in your business, why create an accidental culture that doesn’t align with the vision of what you want your company to look like? Purpose is just the first step, but it’s an important one.

Damien Sanchez

Co-Owner

Want to read more articles like this? Contact sarah@sllights.com and we’ll sign you up to receive our monthly newsletter.  

Simplicity is the Key to Successful Lighting Design

If you’re in the business of outdoor lighting, you can sometimes feel like the man with the spinning plates at a carnival. In any given job, you have to balance an overwhelming number of variables: the exact placement of each and every fixture, the style of the lights, the installation team’s work orders, marketing and advertising for your business, providing customer service, trade alliance management, and more! The last thing you need is an unnecessary complication that screws up a simple task. For instance, we can all relate to how frustrating it is to send a service technician on an hour drive across town to fix a minor issue, only to have him turn around because he doesn’t have the right part.

When we used a variety of insert LED bulbs, that problem would happen constantly. To suit our homeowners’ needs, we had to carry three different types of 200 lumen bulbs – narrow, wide, and very wide beam spread. We also had three bulbs for the 400 lumen bulbs, and we were brave enough (or dumb enough), to have a 600 lumen LED bulb that had three different types as well. That meant that each truck had to be stocked with a minimum of 9 different LED mr16 bulbs at all times. We then had to deal with updating inventory whenever manufacturers upgraded the bulbs, which was an additional challenge.

To complicate it even further, we also offered 3000k, 2700k, and 4500k bulbs. Our trucks looked like the light bulb aisle at Home Depot! Couple this with the fact that many of our homeowners needed halogen bulbs, the G4, bayonet single and double contact, and a variety of other specialty bulbs, it was all too easy to slip up and send a guy out unprepared. As a business, we needed to focus on providing great service and landing new jobs, so the amount of time wasted on these repair trips was maddening.

SL01 Up Light. Sleek. Innovative. Simple.

Our solution to this nightmare was to simplify. We did this by creating a fixture that was as close to perfect as possible. We spent many long nights with our engineers designing an LED fixture that does not fail, and we are very proud of how well it performs. However, we all know that there will be times when a service call is needed, but those service calls are a whole lot easier with this ideal fixture. The SL01 Up Light LED insert has five different brightness settings and five different beam spread settings. That’s like carrying 25 different LED inserts in a single box! With a long-lasting bulb and an incredibly versatile replacement insert, we accomplished our goal of simplifying a complicated issue in a way that would make repairs easier for lighting technicians.

What we didn’t expect was that this simplification didn’t just make repairs easier, but it also made installations easier. In the past, when we had a homeowner who wanted their system a little brighter after the install was finished, we would have to change out every bulb. We then ended up with tons of spare light bulbs rolling around in our trucks. Now, we’re able to make that change with the flip of a switch inside the fixture! How much simpler can it get?

This solution is also a win for homeowners. When we’re consulting on a design, we can comfort them by explaining that we can easily change the brightness or beam spread after the install. We can even adjust brightness over the years as their trees grow and the appearance of the lighting system is altered.

In business and design, we always try to keep things simple, so you can focus less on service calls and stocking your trucks and more on growing your business and providing excellent service to your customers.

Patrick Harders

Co-Owner

The Benefits of Trade Alliances

Generally, a trade alliance is a partnership between two companies in complementary trades with the goal of mutual growth. And the green industry especially offers unique opportunities for lighting professionals to develop such partnerships. Finding a few good ones can be unbelievably beneficial.

However, creating trade alliances can be very challenging. They aren’t as simple as attending a business-networking meeting and handing out a few business cards. If you’re serious about long-term trade alliances it will take time to set expectations and to build trust. Still, if you’re diligent, these partnerships can grow your company in ways you will not find elsewhere.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when pursuing trade alliances.

  1. Seek out companies that have a good reputation. There’s nothing quite like working alongside a company with a good name. You’re more likely to have a great experience with a homeowner who has had a great experience with a partner company.
  2. Give first. Once you’ve found other, good companies, find ways to introduce them to your customers. The best way to gain referrals is to give referrals.
  3. Setting up a referral fee agreement is a great way to show partner companies you value the hard work it takes to garner new customers. It’s nice to know they’ll get a little bonus when their customer becomes yours too.
  4. Keep it simple. Most contractors don’t want to add your landscape lighting to their own contract. Make sure they know that you’re happy taking care of the consultation process, initial installation, as well as future service calls, so they won’t have to.

We know that there are other things to take into consideration, but if you have ever considered pursuing trade alliances, we know these suggestions will help give you a head start. While the process can sometimes be challenging it is definitely worth it.

Our 2017 Photo Contest is Under Way!

Photos are rolling in for our 2017 Photo Contest! Check out these beautiful lighting designs from our Sterling Lighting customers!

From Dusk to Dawn St. Louis

From Radiant Exterior Lighting

From Radiant Exterior Lighting

From Radiant Exterior Lighting

From Radiant Exterior Lighting

From Radiant Exterior Lighting

From Radiant Exterior Lighting

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to win a professional video marketing package for your company! For more information, visit our Photo Contest Page.

To vote for your favorite photos, look for #SterlingLighting on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram!

The contest ends July 1st, so go ahead and send your photos to photocontest@sllights.com!

Maintenance Agreements 101

Now is a great time to contact your customers and remind them of the value of routine maintenance on their lighting system. Regular maintenance will ensure their lights look great for years to come. And, of course, it’s a great way to stay in front of your customers, it provides extra revenue over the course of the year, and it can be a great opportunity to offer discounts for new work!

Why should your customers sign up for a maintenance plan? Here are some key service benefits you can offer them:

Averting system problems early.

Maintenance can reduce the possibility of a breakdown. While it is impossible to avoid all repair situations, preventive care can save a lot of money on unanticipated landscape lighting emergencies – especially those last minute service calls just before a big, backyard BBQ!

Clearing away the junk.

Over the course of the summer, grass clippings, mulch, silt and growing plants can block or limit light output. Uncovering fixtures, trimming plants, and cleaning lenses can ensure the system shines.

Improved efficiency.

This is specifically for the customers who still have halogen systems in place. Did you know that if one halogen bulb fails that the other bulbs on the system are put under greater stress and could fail prematurely? Keep the bulbs up to date and keep your customers delighted.

Identification of faulty parts.

During the summer, a system can experience wear. Even when using high quality products, lights can get bumped out of alignment or wires and connections can be exposed or broken. A quick trip allows for parts to be repaired or replaced as needed.

In the end, maintenance visits don’t just keep a system looking great all year long, they also help you avoid unhappy customers. So, when preparing your agreements, these are a few specifics you can include so you’re sure to be the hero!

  • Inspection of all parts, noting those that may need to be replaced or repaired.
  • Inspection for moisture intrusion.
  • Inspection and adjustment of tree and cable mounts as needed.
  • Inspection of fittings and connections.
  • Inspection and cleaning of LED components.
  • Cleaning of all fixture lenses.
  • Cleaning all fixture finishes (we recommend WD-40 for our brass products)
  • Adjustment of fixture positioning to ensure proper illumination.
  • Minor plant and tree pruning around fixtures to optimize night effect.
  • Testing and re-setting of system controls (timers/photocells)
  • Testing amperage at the transformer.
  • Evaluation of overall system performance.

With all these things in mind, you can go out there and keep your customers happy with their outdoor lighting for many years to come.

Lessons From My Grandfather

My grandfather was a key figure in my life. He instilled in me a hard work ethic, often enlisting my siblings and I to help with heavy-duty cleaning chores at his house. He also taught me many life lessons. As a child, one lesson he tried to drive home with my siblings and I was: let your yes be yes and your no be no. It sounds so simple, right?

Apparently a lot of business people didn’t have someone like my grandfather to teach them about integrity, because I see a lack of it in the business world today. However, I’m thankful for my grandfather’s lesson. I attribute my success in the lighting industry to always trying to do right by my customers. Whenever I tell my customers yes or no, I mean it.  

As I expanded my business to include designing and manufacturing light fixtures 5 years ago through the formation of Sterling Lighting, I tried to follow this same, simple principle in all our dealings.

I want to be upfront with my customers and tell them how it is. So when a manufacturer offers a low quality product at a cheap price, I couldn’t care less. Many manufacturers have been doing this for years. While it may save money in the short term, I think it’s a dangerous practice to buy from manufacturers who market their products to the general public.

Imagine going out and giving an estimate for a 100 fixture system. If your estimate includes your design time, proper installation, and follow-up service, one would expect the cost to be over $20,000. However, most of your customers are not savvy enough to understand that product costs should be between 20-30% of the overall expense. So while they are researching landscape lighting online, ads from a manufacturer or direct lighting store lure them into purchasing 100 fixtures for $25-55 per fixture.  

Suddenly, you’ve become a commodity. Instead of your customer relying on your knowledge and expertise, you’ve simply become labor. It might have saved them a few bucks, but they’ve traded that for a quality lighting system.

A company that sells their products to homeowners are offering a DIY solution, not a professional-grade service. If you are a professional lighting company and you’re using a product like this, you do so at your own peril. You’re helping commoditize the industry.

At Sterling Lighting, our focus is to enhance the livelihood of other lighting professionals. I know how difficult this business can be. I’ve spent many evenings away from my family, adjusting a fixture to make certain everything we installed was perfect. The last thing we want to do is commoditize your efforts and disrespect your expertise. We’re here to help you thrive, and one of the ways we do this is by having integrity and making the choice to only sell directly to lighting professionals.   

Patrick Harders
Co-Owner

Three Reasons Our Mini Flood Light Shines

If you haven’t already added the SL04 Mini Flood Light to your design repertoire, we think you should. Here are three reasons we know you’ll love using the SL04 just as much as we do. Some of our reasons may surprise you!

The SL04 Mini Flood Light

The not-so-standard flood light

Even though it might look like a standard mini flood, it’s anything but standard. With a 140° beam spread and five adjustable lumen settings*, it just goes to show that not all lights are created equal. This mini monster of a light is a prime example.

Brighten dormers and gables with ease

Second and third stories on homes can be challenging to illuminate. Larger fixtures with more light output are heavy and unsightly, while lighter, smaller fixtures lack the appropriate output. But the power behind the SL04 means it only takes a few to light a large space all at once. Its compact size and weight means mounting it won’t be a chore, so mount it on the roof, in the gutter, or above a portico, and watch it shine!

A path light In disguise

The SL04 is amazing at highlighting vertical surfaces. But pair it with a 6”, 12”, 18” or 24” brass extension stem, and it transforms into a single direction pathway light! Who knew it could be so versatile!

SL04 illuminating a walkway



Do you have any creative ways you’ve used one of our fixtures? Have another topic you’d like to see us address? We’d love to hear about it! Give us a call at 703-454-8207 or send us an email at Sarah@SLLights.com.

*Adjustable lumen options: 400lm, 320lm, 240lm, 180lm, and 100lm. 

Introducing Sterling Storefront!

For many small business owners, it’s difficult to find the time (and money) to work on marketing. That’s why we created Sterling Storefront. Sterling Storefront is an online marketing tool Sterling Lighting customers can utilize to create high-quality, customizable marketing material for their businesses at an affordable price.

The Storefront Advantage

Storefront has many advantages over traditional marketing alternatives. It’s affordable because it’s an automated print site. That means you don’t have to pay for design or prepress charges. Since you’re designing your mailers yourself (with help from Storefront’s templates), the only things you have to pay for are printing and mailing costs. There are absolutely zero overhead fees!

We designed Storefront to be simple. The learning curve is small because we understand your schedule is busy, and you don’t have hours upon hours to devote to marketing. From the layout to the templates to the instructional videos, Storefront was built with you in mind.    

Finally, Storefront is versatile. Whether you’re looking for business cards or mailers, Sterling Storefront has you covered. You can design your products using our library of photos or you can upload your own. The choice is yours.

Sample business cards made on Sterling Storefront

Sterling Storefront’s Layout

Sterling Storefront’s layout is simple. It is broken up into four categories: Business, Targeted Marketing, EDDM, and Product Brochures.

In the Business section, you can create personalized business cards, letterheads, presentation folders, and more.

The Targeted Marketing section is where you can customize postcards and mailers, enter in the zip codes and home-values you’d like to target, and then have your marketing material mailed right to your potential customers’ doors.

The EDDM section stands for Every Door Direct Marketing. This section lets you stay in complete control by offering you the ability to create marketing material and send it off yourself to specific addresses.

Finally, our Product Brochure section is where we have created specification sheets for our four main fixtures: the SL01 Up Light, the SL02 In Line Light, the SL04 Mini Flood Light, and the SL07 Path Light. These spec. sheets can be customized with your business’ information and placed in presentation folders to give to your customers.   

Spec sheets printed from Sterling Storefront

At Sterling Lighting, we love helping our customers grow their businesses, so we hope you take full advantage of this new service! We’ve already heard some great success stories!  

If you would like to learn more or to create an account, please email info@sllights.com or call 800-939-1849. We would love to help you get started!

The Pros and Cons of Design Demos

In the lighting business, a design demonstration is a double-edged sword. It can be a fantastic tool to secure a project, but it can also be a waste of time and effort if nothing comes of it. So, how do you know when you should do a demo? We’ve broken down some pros and cons that could help!

PROS:

There’s nothing else like it

It’s hard to beat that moment when you flip the switch to show your client their beautifully illuminated home. Pictures or explanations just can’t compare. Seeing the design come to life can be an emotional experience, and it helps homeowners get excited about the beauty and security that lighting can provide. There’s no doubt a demo is a very helpful sales tool.

What they see is what they get

A demo helps the client get a concrete understanding of exactly what their lighting system will look like – from the fixture placement to the color temperature. This can prevent post-installation changes if expectations were not communicated well.

It gives the client control

Lighting demos make the design process much more fluid. Often, the homeowner will make requests to add or move lights, eventually creating their ideal layout. This is especially helpful for less experienced designers (though, it’s great for the experienced as well!) because the customer will have more control and can make requests easily.

Before… and After!

CONS:

It’s inconvenient

Honestly, spending an evening showing a customer lights without a guaranteed sale isn’t the most appealing proposition. We all have things we would rather be doing after the workday is done.

You could be giving away your expertise for free

A demo is a great way to showcase your design skills, but if you have a lighting-savvy client, they could potentially just take your ideas and install the fixtures themselves. Plus, if you leave flags in the ground to mark lighting locations, you could be giving tips to your competition!

An incomplete demo looks worse than no demo at all

If your lighting demo kit doesn’t have enough lights to show a complete design, then your final product won’t be very impressive, and you may actually hurt your chances of getting the job.  
 

If you decide that a demo is worth it, here are some of our suggestions to ensure yours is as successful as possible:

 

  • Find out your client’s budget and make sure your design fits it beforehand.
  • Ask what they hope to accomplish with their lighting project. Increased curb appeal? Improved safety and visibility for dark walkways and steps? Added security on the property? Make sure your demo addresses all these needs.
  • Determine their desired timeline. If they’re not ready to commit yet, a demo may not be your best move.
  • Be direct about the business relationship. It’s important to know your client’s intentions before you invest your time. Politely ask, “If I’m able to accomplish what you are looking for within your budget after performing the demo, will we earn your business?”

 

The Story of Sterling

When we started Sterling Lighting, we set out to solve a problem. We already owned a local installation company, but we didn’t trust the light fixtures we were installing. Initially, I had found an LED manufacturing “expert” that ordered premium fixtures out of California with a 20-year warranty on their products. We were on a roll with installations for Enlightened Lighting, when our worst nightmare happened—our lights started failing. After 12 months and 700+ fixtures, we had a 50 percent failure rate and warranty claims were taking four to six months to be fulfilled. We went into panic mode.  

How could we focus on our beautiful lighting systems when we spent most of our time repairing the lights we’d already installed? This not only cost us time and money, but also cost us the chance to build trusting relationships with our customers. So, my business partner, Damien Sanchez, and I set out on a mission to find the best fixtures, which led us to found Sterling Lighting.    

Sterling Lighting’s Founders: Josh Palmer, Damien Sanchez, and Patrick Harders

To begin, we researched our options and found that even the largest manufacturers were having major issues with LED. Since we couldn’t trust the products currently on the market, we started working with a group of engineers to solve the LED’s technical problems. We kept our first design line simple. We used the retro LED bulbs, but also built heat sinking materials into the fixture. These design changes gave us enough confidence in our product to replace all the faulty fixtures we had previously installed and to begin growing our new company.

In order to satisfy our commitment to offer our customers the best fixtures available, every day we implemented small improvements and tracked our development. We were shocked by how much progress we made. Soon we exhausted our possibilities with retro LED bulbs, so we began designing an integrated LED with the proper heat dissipation. Our goal was to design a light that gave the heat sink of an integrated LED with the ease of service of a drop in bulb.

Our new light design had five brightness settings and four different beam patterns—all in a single fixture. By early 2014 we finally had a premium-quality LED fixture that could be installed without having to worry about it failing. We continue to keep testing our fixtures and keep our hands in the dirt so we can continue to innovate and improve.

At Sterling Lighting, we are committed to developing beautiful new fixtures, while improving the quality and performance of our current line, and selling our products directly to you—no middleman involved. Our goal is to help your business become more successful, so you can have more time to focus on the important things in life.  

-Patrick Harders – Co-Owner