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 

Why We Use Marine-Grade, Virgin Brass

You are a lighting professional.

And whether you’re new to the industry or can remember having to keep a voltage meter in your back pocket, your customers count on your expertise. And you, in turn, rely on manufacturers to provide materials that will last.

But have you experienced the frustration because that beautiful powder coated aluminum fixture you installed 2 years ago has already begun to chip and corrode?

And what about the PVC well lights with aluminum covers? Sure, they were less expensive but how quickly did the PVC turn gray and the aluminum lose its paint?

Don’t you wish these fixtures would last as long as you were told they would?

Then there’s brass. We all know it’s better than powder coated aluminum and plastic but did you also know not all brass is the same quality?

Brass and other metals ready to be recycled

After working with dozens of engineers and material specialists since 2011, we found out the truth! Our team discovered that many manufacturers continue to use recycled brass but that virgin, “pure” brass really is the better material for several reasons:

Recycled brass is made from an enormous variety of discarded objects often containing non-brass metals. They are thrown together, melted down and poured into molds for new products. And, in most cases, nothing is done to remove impurities like lead and aluminum, which can lead to pitting and an overall faded looking fixture.

Recycled brass contaminants can also have differing melting temperatures and corrosion resistance, which can create small cavities compromising the structural integrity of a fixture during and after production.

Because of what we’ve found we now exclusively use marine-grade, virgin brass to manufacture our fixtures so they’ll last longer and look better for all of your projects.

Don’t lose any more time or customers because of flaking powder, fading plastic, or broken brass fixtures. You don’t plan on quitting in five years, so why would you choose a product that won’t last that long?

If you haven’t already, give us a call today at 703-454-8207 and learn more about how Sterling Lighting can help you grow your business.

Why We Chose NOT to Use LED Bulbs

LED has become the hottest buzz phrase in the lighting industry today. LED bulbs are cheaper, easy to replace, and easily interchangeable. However, for all the benefits, there are still many limitations. That’s why Sterling Lighting’s fixtures feature integrated LEDs instead.

Many people ask us how we came to this decision. It ultimately came down to one question: “What is best for our customers?” After considering our collective experiences with LEDs, our engineers’ advice, and the mistakes of others currently manufacturing LEDs, we knew that integrated LEDs were the best choice.

The Problem with LEDs

The biggest issue with LED bulbs is heat.  95% of LED bulbs installed in landscape lights today are not designed for an enclosed fixture.  Most LED mr16 bulbs are designed to have air circulate around them, such as for track lighting and recessed lights (this usage is very popular in Europe and Asia). These types of fixtures do not encapsulate the bulbs and therefore allow heat to dissipate.

Drawing heat away from the LED is a challenge that every engineer faces when designing bulbs. That’s why you often see heat sinks such as fins, air gaps, etc. built into LEDs. When LED bulbs are tested alone in an ideal setting, such as a laboratory, they perform very successfully.  The problem is that an open air, indoor test is much different than the real conditions of a sunny, 100-degree day when the bulb is inside an enclosed brass or aluminum fixture. The result is a dramatically reduced performance when installed on a property.

In fact, many bulbs will see lumen depreciation in the first few months and burnout in the first year.  This is not a new problem. One of the largest LED bulb companies told us that they experience a 3% failure of their bulbs in the first year. This number only continues to climb as time goes on, and it could reach a 25-30% failure rate by the third year.  For a landscape lighting professional who installs 100 systems a year with an average 20 lights per system, the number of problem bulbs quickly becomes overwhelming.

Our Experience with LEDs

We personally have encountered problems with LEDs as well. We began using LED bulbs in 2010. After testing bulbs from seven different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), we settled on the one we believed to be the highest quality. We were able to save 80% in energy efficiency and use less wire and smaller transformers, but ultimately, we experienced too high of a failure rate to make the bulbs worthwhile. Even though our OEM guaranteed that the LED was designed for an enclosed fixture, the heat buildup was too great and caused the bulbs to burn out.

Why Is There a Discrepancy?

This is a puzzling situation: If LEDs have major problems with heat dissipation, why are there so many LEDs on the market that are supposedly designed for closed fixtures? One reason is that some OEMs are willing to bend the truth in order to make a sale. There are also design companies that will roll the dice and use an LED bulb even though the OEM specifically states that the bulb is not designed for an enclosed fixture. Ignoring the realities of the technology and marketing LEDs for closed fixtures is simply not sustainable.

The Solution

In order to provide the best option for our customers given these limitations, we had a few choices:

  • Design an LED mr16 bulb that could be used in an enclosed fixture. This would have required a very low lumen output in order to reduce the risk of failure. (Which is why you see many low-lumen bulbs on the market.) However, 200-350 lumens just isn’t bright enough for many professional lighting designs.
  • Design our own fully integrated LED. While this option posed many challenges (perfectly matching the LED and driver with the fixture, ease of changing parts, lumen output, etc.), we knew this was the only way to ensure the quality we were looking for.

So, we took on the challenge and designed Sterling Lighting’s signature integrated LED with the best of both worlds: high lumen output, ease of changing parts, premium components and proper heat sinking. We know that this product is one of the best on the market, and we hope you’ll be as pleased with the overall performance as we are.

In an upcoming post, we will break down every decision in designing our fixture and compare our product to the others on the market. Stay tuned!

 

Color Temperature Was Essential When Designing Our LED Light Fittings

When we first began working with LED lighting there were a number of prerequisites for us to put our name to the Sterling Lighting fixtures. We needed the light fitting to look visually beautiful, for it be durable and last under various outdoor weather conditions and be fitted with LED bulbs that are rock solid. Above all though, the right color temperature and light output was essential.

Our product development started with using a traditional 35 watt par 36 bulb. This light provided a more even spread than the standard MR 16 bulb used in many fittings which is so important when lighting up a landscape. Once we were able to perfectly match a par bulb, we began to look for ways to improve and enhance it.

We first increased the color temperature by a 100 degrees. This may only sound like a minor difference, but adjusting the temperature slightly can have a big impact in the overall result. Too cool and the light can appear too white and wash everything out especially in an outdoor garden setting and have it too warm the light can be too strong and overpower the subject you are wanting to highlight.

Further into our product development we noticed that a halogen bulb gave a “hot spot” near the fixture.   Our objective wasn’t to just recreate the exact same look using an LED bulb, we wanted to make the best light source possible. So we chose to incorporate a Cree chip that is known for not producing an intense spot near the fixture itself.

You might notice that Sterling Lighting LED fittings distribute light from side to side as well as front top to bottom. The optics we had also designed helped distribute the light more evenly and further afield than the usual par bulb could.

So with these modifications, we started to achieve the quality of light we wanted to see within landscape projects to enhance design elements, architecture and gardens. We are very happy with the results and can proudly stamp out Sterling Lighting brand our fixtures!

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Pros and Cons Series of Light Fixture Materials

Pros and Cons Series of Light Fixture Materials

When we design any light fitting we are extremely conscious of not only the light output but also the quality of the fixture. The materiality of outdoor lighting fixtures is important not only from a visual perspective but also from a durability standpoint. So what should you know when selecting the best fixture for your project and clients?

In this series we will discuss the pros and cons of various materials used in outdoor lighting and provide you with the necessary information when specifying and selecting fixtures with your clients.

Aluminium light fittings

Let’s start with is aluminium as aluminium fixtures are seen on many if not most lighting installations out there today. As with anything, there are different grades of aluminium. If you are using a fixture that uses a machined piece of aircraft quality, virgin aluminium, it will obviously perform much better than the typical cast aluminium fixture. Unfortunately there are very few fixtures made using the premium quality aluminium which will affect the durability of the fitting.

The benefits of aluminium

There are some benefits of using aluminium as a material in the production of light fittings. These include:

  • Light weight
  • Resistant to rust
  • Inexpensive compared with brass or copper
  • Good conductor of heat (aluminium fixtures can be used to draw heat away from LED lights
  • Easy to mould into the shape required for the design of the fixture
  • Easy to finish with a paint or powder coat in any color imaginable

The number one reason aluminium fixtures are so popular is that they are typically 1/3 the price of the quality brass or copper fixtures.

The drawbacks of aluminium fixtures

  • The surface pitts causing the powder coat or paint finish to no longer adhere to the fixture
  • The material corrodes causing the fixture to first look chalky before it starts to dissolve
  • The paint or powder coat finish will fade over time in the sun

These drawbacks are why most manufactures will have short warranties on the finish if they provide any warranty at all. Aluminium is not recommended by most companies to ever use in salt water environments as the salty air will destroy these fixtures quickly. Just some of the reasons at Sterling Lighting we don’t include aluminium fittings in our lighting collection.

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