Thinking about going pro?

Pursuing commercial projects.

Even with the current economic struggles, there are still entities that want to attract attention and excitement to make their facility noteworthy in the community. A computerized light display (we call them animated lighting shows) is a novel and proven effective way to do this. Attention means visitors, and visitors mean business.  Animated Lighting, Inc. has been involved with hundreds of commercial projects over the past decade. Each one is exciting and many times challenging based on a variety of factors. If you’re thinking about tackling a commercial project, I’ve pulled together some hints that should make things easier to understand and provide insight so you can be assured a successful installation and happy customer.

Who are Commercial Prospects for Animated Shows?

We’ve been doing this a long time and are often surprised who wants something to really wow their community. Here’s what we’ve discovered the hard way:

Stand-alone Businesses

Restaurants/Bars: They have a need to attract business at night on a year-round basis. An animated lighting show has real appeal plus it can change with the seasons.

Nursing Homes/Retirement Communities: They want to entertain the members of their community. An animated lighting show brings back memories and is exciting to their residents and visitors.

Hospitals: (especially children’s hospitals): Similar to a retirement community where they want to entertain their patients and visitors.

Real Estate Projects: We get calls from these businesses no matter what the economic climate. They need to attract attention to their venue to make sales. One proven way to stand out from the crowd is an animated lighting show. This category is one that has interest all year round.

Shopping Centers/Entertainment Districts: Many of these sites install red, white, blue and green LED light strings as well as DMX controlled LED light fixtures and never take them down. Depending on the time of year they tailor an animated lighting show: Red, white blue for patriotic holidays, Red and white for Valentine’s Day
Green and white for St. Patrick’s day, Red, white and green for Christmas, Purple and orange for Halloween (with the help of DMX fixtures)

Municipalities: In most cases the Parks and Recreation department of a municipality is tasked with setting up the holiday lighting for the town because they’re in charge of the most real estate and have the available personnel during the holidays. Typical venues for an animated lighting show can be focused on one of two areas:
Downtown or central district: For many smaller communities, this is where city hall, the county courthouse and all of the older, yet prominent businesses are located. An animated lighting show consists of animating their existing or city-owned Christmas tree and dozens of street lamps or utility poles. You can help them tremendously by offering some creative ideas like outlining the buildings in lights, adding design items to the existing street lamp poles (wreaths, snowflakes, etc.) and synchronizing all the lights to local music to bring people downtown.
Local Park: Many communities create a “drive thru light park” out of an existing facility but it has become stale with age. An animated lighting show with plenty of new design elements is a big draw to bring people back to the area. Money for the community coffers is generated from admission fees, corporate sponsorships of displays and state monies for travel and tourism.

Zoos: Most zoos want to attract visitors multiple times per year but they don’t know how to generate the buzz. An animated lighting show for various events combined with corporate sponsorships is a needed addition to attract the crowds and create excitement. Because the same hardware can be used for each event (just the musical content changes), many zoos have moved to purchasing hardware and leaving it up year-round.
Cinco de Mayo on May 5th, Summer Party (many zoos call this “Jazzoo”) is a fundraiser targeting the younger professional crowd in their community, Halloween (many zoos call this ”Zoo Boo”), Christmas (“Wild Lights”, “Wild and Wonderful Christmas”, etc.)

Casinos: Casinos are all about “WOW’ and DMX-controlled LED lighting has led to interest in providing architectural lighting that has animation. For special events such as Christmas, an animated lighting show combining traditional holiday lighting with their architectural lighting creates real excitement and drama.

Amusement Parks: Many amusement parks are adding animated lighting shows to their rides (roller coasters, etc) to enhance the experience. DMX-controlled fixtures are also used in many cases to add extra pop. Most amusement parks stop operating their rides at the end of October but now open at Christmas for a “Winter Wonderland” display. In these cases multiple animated lighting shows are a great way to attract even more visitors.

Selling these customers animated lighting displays for the Christmas season is pretty easy but don’t forget to add design items like stars, snowflakes and wreaths to provide a more dramatic display. Putting out decorations from the local big box store only gets them an ordinary looking display. They need larger, heavy duty design items that will last many seasons. New decorations combined with an animated lighting show gives them something to draw people in, talk about and tell their friends so more want to see what the excitement is all about.
All of these potential customers can also be sold patriotic displays. Having an animated lighting show synchronized to patriotic songs is an alternative to spending the money for an expensive fireworks display. The biggest advantage is it can be used multiple times a year (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Founders Day, the town’s birthday, etc.) Most customers never stop to think when the fireworks are shot their short term investment is gone forever.

Bidding the Project?

Now you finally have the customer interested and you’re not real sure what to do next. Confirm the customer really has the money to spend on a project, figure out the final decision maker and start pulling together all the information needed to get a yes. Here are a few hints:

Determine the final “stage” for the animated lighting show (where people will be watching) and be specific about exactly what the customer will be receiving.

Pinpoint exactly where the exiting power sources are located and if there are power feed limitations. Don’t propose more lights than power available or if you do, provide options for generating additional on-site electricity. If enough power is available but in the wrong places, work with the on-site facilities director or local electrician to determine what’s needed.

Draw maps and/or schematics to locate what will be decorated, how many lights are needed and the amount of power required for each.

Determine the number of lighting channels involved so you can determine the size and number of animated lighting controllers needed.

Figure out how the animated lighting controllers will be connected (cable and/or wireless).

Pin down the type of show the customer expects

  • Lighting effects only.
  • Lighting effects plus channels synchronized to music which means you must include tying into an existing sound system or installing a new one.
  • Determine the amount of programming/sequencing time required.

Here’s a rule of thumb: sequencing the lights ALWAYS takes longer than anticipated. Double your initial estimate and don’t be surprised if it still takes longer to accomplish. No matter what you do, the customer will want to make last minute changes so they can call it their own.

Factor in a spare parts kit that typically includes an extra master controller and one or more animated lighting controllers so problems can be fixed very quickly.

Anticipate the following challenges:

  • Hardware/networking issues.
  • Wrong products shipped to the site.
  • Design items mounting problems.
  • Programming issues/changes.
  • Sudden budget changes.
  • Issues out of your control (late electricians and/or riggers, weather, traffic, labor strikes, etc.)

Family emergency? Have a safety net in place.

Be sure to include installation of design pieces (stars, snowflakes, wreaths, etc.), maintenance during the season and possibly removal and storage of everything at the end of the season.

Here’s another rule of thumb: animated lighting show controllers and sequencing/programming typically run a little less than 20% of the total project.

Finally, make sure you include being compensated for the time invested in this huge project. Make a profit so you’re around next year.

What happens when you win the deal?

Nothing beats experience and we’ve gained it by being in the field, talking to the customers, working through the unexpected problems and leaving with a smile on everyone’s face. Time is the biggest enemy and the customer doesn’t care whose fault it is when a problem needs to be addressed. The show must go on and everyone will look to you to make sure it happens.

Detailed planning makes a huge difference as well as a deep workforce to tap into. Something is going to go wrong, we can guarantee it. Prepare for the worst and be pleasantly surprised when things go as planned.


From the August 2009 edition of PlanetChristmas Magazine

by Paul Smith of Animated Lighting


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