To Demo or Not to Demo … That is the Question

My travels across the country have granted me the opportunity to visit with many contractors. While visiting with them, the subject of night demos is often discussed. I have always found it interesting how different contractors decide ‘how’ or ‘if’ they are going to perform a night time demonstration. All contractors have their own system that works for them. But don’t think that demos are only good for the customer; demos are actually a great way to educate yourself in the landscape lighting business, so the benefit is two-fold.

When first becoming involved in landscape lighting I would carry my demo bag and a variety of MR16s mounted on a block with switches. I also had an emergency light battery with a small post light, a wall wash light, an underwater light and several path lights. The MR16 array consisted of 10 lamps in different wattages and beam angles. One evening while driving home, I was forced off the freeway due to an accident. While driving through a neighborhood I noticed a yard with a huge Aleppo pine tree. The tree was magnificent and dead center in a residential property. Being that it was dark, I pulled over and decided to see which lamp would look the best. Using the MR16 array, I pressed the button which launched a 50w 55-degree beam angle. Since there was no ambient light in the area this one lamp made short work of the entire front side of the tree. The next thing I heard was a voice coming from the opened garage “Hey what are you doing in my yard!”.  I said ‘,” Hey watch this!”. Turning the light on again, the man said, “Wow what is that and who are you?!”.  I explained who I was and that I was getting into the landscape lighting business and I just had to see what his tree looked like lit. Fortunately for me he was cool about a strange guy with a light box trespassing on his property. I ended up spending a good part of the evening with him trying out other lamps and fixtures. This led to my first job. Talk about a cold call! I do not, however, advise anyone perform this trespass style of demo!

In past articles we have discussed two styles of demonstration, virtual installation and single vignette. Both are great ways to sell and learn about beam angles and proper fixture placement. Many of your distributors have demo kits for sale or rent. I would highly recommend that you first demo your own home or a city park. Experimenting in this manner can prepare you for your customer’s questions. Your local manufacturer reps also will be able to help. Many carry demo equipment with them. Bringing the factory rep with you on the demo can give your customer a sense solidarity. Reps can also teach you some “tricks of the trade”.

Contractors that have been doing lighting for many years rarely perform evening demonstrations. Most rely on high resolution photographs of previous jobs to educate the perspective customer. They may also arrange to have the perspective customer visit a previous job. Past satisfied customers can become your greatest sales agents. As you become familiar with how fixtures and lamps work on different aspects of a landscape, the need for a demo to sell a job will be less necessary.

 However, please keep in mind that when you do provide a demo you are exposing your intellectual property. As such, it is not out of line to charge for this service. This can help eliminate the DIY customers who only want you there for your ideas. Time is money. What are your evening hours worth?

Lastly, be sure to schedule a demo when it is convenient for you and the customer. You are the professional. Missing the children’s dance recital or little league game is time you cannot get back.

Kevin SmithComment