A Rallying Cry or a Last Gasp of Air
I was recently scrolling through Facebook looking at pictures of food and cat videos when I happened across a targeted ad from a manufacturer who shall remain nameless (I am certain many of you will be keenly aware of who I am referring to). In the ad the manufacturer urged tradespeople to inquire to them about how landscape lighting could be offered as additional revenue for their company.
This manufacturer has prompted a lot of conversation amongst people in our industry about how the brand chooses to go to market. Their sales strategy for better or worse is to target ads directly to homeowners through Google and social media. The strategy has worked very well for them but the general consensus is that this particular manufacturer is contributing heavily to the decline of our industry.
There are many reasons this is believed to be so, aside from the fact that they make a truly inferior product. But the most important way, from my perspective, is that they are inferring that landscape lighting design is not a specialized skill. They are suggesting that anyone can do it and that it should be thought of as an add on service that will create additional revenue for any business that happens to work outside.
So, that got me to thinking about other manufacturers in our industry. There are heated debates amongst landscape lighting professionals about the manufacturer referred to above but if you boil it down to the fundamental belief that landscape lighting is not a specialized craft there are hundreds of manufacturers out there who believe exactly the same thing whom we are all happy to support. And I am genuinely curious, why?
Any manufacturer that makes its primary means of distribution any channel other than lighting (be it lighting showrooms, online lighting distributors, or direct to lighting designers), is fundamentally saying that lighting is a non specialized discipline. They are going through distribution channels like irrigation and doing their best to train non-lighting specific businesses how to install lighting quickly and efficiently in order to generate additional revenue for those companies.
And hey, I’m not saying that’s a bad strategy. The goal of any business ought to be to make money. And this is a great way to make money in the short run. At the end of the day training everyone in America to install their own lighting will definitely put more landscape lighting fixtures in the ground. But where does that leave us? How is that any different from what the manufacturer I first mentioned is doing? They just happen to be doing a better job of it.
Maybe it’s our fault. Maybe there aren’t enough lighting distributors out there so these companies are forced to go through other channels. Maybe specialized lighting people are so scared of charging more money that we’ve forced manufacturers to find ways to sell en masse. So they’ve had to make cheaper products that distributors are willing to keep on the shelf making their higher end product less appealing. Maybe we just haven’t done a good enough job educating the public as to why they need someone who specializes in lighting and not just someone with thumbs who can twist a wire nut together. Maybe this is all on us.
I don’t have the answers here. I’ve been told by many people in this industry that I care way too much about lighting to be a good businessman. That may very well be true. After all, it’s not up to the industry to change. It’s up to me to adapt. I’m just very reluctant to race to the bottom with everyone else and I think that it starts with the idea that anyone can do landscape lighting. It starts with removing the idea that landscape lighting is an art.
Maybe that’s self-aggrandizing or pretentious but honestly, if it’s not an art and our design vision and knowledge isn’t worth anything then the industry itself is going to self-canabalize. And if the manufacturers that we do business with don’t even believe it’s an art how are we going to survive? As for me, I think I need to take a very long hard look at who I am supporting and if their interests really align with my own. There are plenty of manufacturers out there that make very good products (albeit more expensive) that are doing their part to elevate the lighting specialists out there. Maybe we should all be supporting them as well.