Specialty outdoor lighting firm grows with expertise

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Job: Founder and president of Pinnacle Lighting Group

Family: Married, five children, 11 grandchildren

Education: Owens Community College in Ohio (no degree)

Lives: Cumming

Hobbies: Spending time with grandchildren

Last book: "Killing Lincoln" by Bill O'Reilly

To Jim Burks, moonlighting means something other than having a second job. Burks, president of Pinnacle Lighting Group in Cumming, provides moonlight effects for homeowners who want their houses illuminated without garish spotlights.

Pinnacle is a family-owned and operated lighting firm that specializes in architectural, landscape and specialty lighting, working in Georgia and 11 other states.

The firm has five employees and also hires sub-contractors to help boost annual sales, which exceed $1 million.

Q: How did you start out?

A: With a pickup truck and a shovel installing projects by myself. Now, we have one design vehicle and one larger truck and trailer rig that is a warehouse on wheels.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake homeowners make with outdoor lighting?

A: Not remembering that the bitter taste of poor quality lasts long after the sweet taste of low price is forgotten.

Q: Who is your target customer?

A: Large scale, estate type property owners, people 55 and up. Millionaires mostly.

Some are people who worked all their lives. They are living in the “I have arrived house.” The lighting is more for aesthetics and security than anything else.

Atlanta ranks right up there with California when it comes to outdoor lighting demands, and companies. Ninety-five percent are residential projects with home values ranging from $3 million to $20 million plus.

Q: Why do they do it?

A: Usually safety and security. And the lights we install simulate a bright moonlit night. The architectural lighting is placed close to the house, so it does not shine in the windows and highlights the architectural features. It sets their property apart from all others.

Q: What percentage of your work is installation vs. maintenance?

A: New installations are 85 percent of our business, and maintenance makes up 15 percent of our business.

Q: Why would homeowners use your company instead of buying lighting at a big-box store and putting it up themselves, or hiring someone to do that?

A: Designing and installing projects in 12 states has helped us create very reliable and effective lighting systems.

Q: Why do you put lights in trees?

A: Lights in the tops of trees shine light downward and illuminate areas. Night viewing is very important. It's important for security, not showing off.

We use stainless steel staples to put lights in trees. In the summer it takes 12 hours for a tree to heal over. We do tree pruning because our biggest goal is to keep the trees healthy. A lot of the trees are 130 to 150 feet tall. There are 180-degree floodlights, and the light is real soft, simulating moonlight. You get the shadows on the ground.

Every job we do is different. It’s a challenge.

Q: What is atmospheric moonlighting?

A: It is a soft light that creates natural-looking shadowing. It also adds a cohesion for all other lighting on the property.

Q: How is business this year?

A: We are blessed to be up about 25 percent over last year, so far. Our future project tracking board is full for the first time ever, telling me the economy is picking up.

Q: Did your business take a hit in the recession?

A: We had a dropoff as far as the number of projects we had and the volume of phone calls. But all through the downturn, profits were good. We scaled back and did what we could do to cut costs, so profits kept growing.

Q: Are your sons in the business?

A: Yes, Nick is 36 and Stephan 31.

Q: How long does a project take?

A: We will do whatever needs to be done, from a half-day to over a month on the larger estate properties. We average $25,000 to $35,000 for projects that last three to four days.

Q: What’s the average cost of a project?

A: I would say our projects now range from $25,000 to $55,000.

Q: Where is most of your work?

A: The bigger percentage is out of state. We work in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, the Washington, D.C. area, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Q: What about in metro Atlanta?

A: It's a pretty good spread all over the metro area. We do a lot of stuff in Brookhaven, Midtown. We have an eight-story apartment complex in Midtown with color changing and lighting at the top. We don't do much commercial work, although we are starting to.