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You Need a Marketing Plan

This article appeared in the sixth issue of our newsletter. If you’d like to read more articles like this, visit our newsletter page and sign up to receive our free newsletter in the mail! 

Very few businesses can succeed (and remain successful) on word of mouth alone, which is why marketing is so important. For small businesses, it is especially important to use your marketing to raise brand awareness and to help you compete against other companies offering similar services. Marketing is essential to growing your business. But where do you begin?

While marketing may seem like a huge—and expensive—task, once you have a plan in place, it becomes much more manageable. A marketing plan is the key to marketing success, and it all starts with establishing a budget.  

The key to marketing success is making a plan and sticking with it!

If you want to see growth in your business, you should plan on budgeting at least 10% of your annual sales on marketing. Some businesses will set aside up to 20% of the annual sales for marketing, but 10% is a good amount when you’re just getting started. Once you have a budget in place, you can start setting goals and dates.

In marketing, timing is everything. Early spring is very effective because homeowners make purchasing decisions based on their income flow and cash availability. In the early spring, many homeowners will be getting tax returns back, which frees them up to spend a little extra on things like outdoor lighting.

Deciding what types of marketing you want to pursue is also important. Although we now live in an age of technology, direct mail is still one of the most effective tools for B2C marketing. According to the Data and Marketing Association, from 2015 to 2016, direct mail customer response rates increased by 43% and customer response rates increased 190%.

Because we’ve seen for ourselves how effective direct mail marketing is, we created Sterling Storefront to help you launch your own direct mail campaign, providing you all the resources you need to get started, including a library of high-quality, professional photos.

Incorporating social media into your marketing is another way to reach thousands of potential customers simply and effectively. One of the reasons social media is such a popular way to market is the ease in which you can interact directly with your customers and target potential new clients.

Video is another effective tool to use on your social media platforms, emails, and website. In a survey of consumers by Animoto, 56% of those surveyed said that if a company has a website, it should have a video. And, in fact, if a company did not have a video, a quarter of those surveyed said they lost interest. Visual content, especially video, should not be overlooked when considering how best to market your services to your customers.

Finally, and this may be the most important thing yet, stick with it. I’ve seen so many lighting professionals start marketing their company and then drop it when they get busy. If you want to see your marketing pay off, don’t stop just because other things pull your attention away. Marketing is too important for you to put it off or quit.

Jim Heim – General Manager

Light Travels: The Florida ASLA Annual Expo and Conference

Last week, our Sales Representative, Scott, and I went down to Florida to attend the Florida ASLA Annual Expo and Conference in Boco Raton, FL. We had a great time connecting with so many talented landscape architects!

Thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth and took the time to talk with us about Sterling Lighting’s fixtures.

 

Scott and Jim at their 2017 FLASLA booth.

 

Jim Heim

General Manager

Introducing Our New SL07 Bollard Light!

Sterling Lighting is excited to announce our latest fixture design, the SL07 Bollard Light! This low voltage, fully dedicated LED fixture has all the power of the SL07 Path Light in the simple, elegant style of a bollard light. Illuminate paths, driveways, garden beds, and more!

 

SL07 Bollard in the daytime.

SL07 Bollard illuminating greenery.

SL07 Bollard illuminating a garden bed.

Specs:       

  • Watt: 4W
  • Wire Lead: 10’-0” 18AWG
  • Color Temperature: 3000K
  • Operating Voltage: 9-15 volt range  

For more information about our Bollard, call us today at 1-703-454-8273. And be sure to visit our blog again soon, because we have a video in the works for the SL07 Bollard!

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.

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

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 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.