Let Your Lights Shine…
... and let someone else do all the work
Across the U.S., people who want all the dazzle without all the hassle are hiring professionals who specialize in holiday light installations.
Lubbock, Texas-based Christmas Decor is a pioneer in the field, having started stringing up lights for customers in 1986 and branching out with franchises in 1996. The entire network now serves more than 40,000 customers in 48 states and Canada.
Christmas Decor has franchises in the Pittsburgh and Morgantown areas, as well as Charleston and the major cities in Ohio. Another company, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives, serves Pittsburgh and Hurricane, W.Va.
Locally, the choices are few. Tri-State Exterminating in South Wheeling has offered the service for a number of years but the owner declined an interview through his receptionist, saying he is “trying to get out of the business,” she said.
On the contrary, Chris Yensen, manager of Yensen Landscape Supply in Triadelphia, said it’s something he has considered starting.
“I’ve always thought about doing that, but I haven’t pulled the trigger,” he said. Landscaping business falls off in the fall and winter; he sells Christmas trees and wreaths and provides snow plowing services, but snowfall has been light the past few years. He thinks outdoor decorating might be a niche market.
“People don’t like to go out in the bitter cold to hang Christmas lights,” he said.
Brad Riser of Masterpieces of Old Town in North Wheeling has been providing indoor and outdoor holiday decorating services to clients for more than 20 years. While he doesn’t string lights along rooftops or eaves, he does design and install outdoor decor, such as lighted or unlighted wreaths and swags on porches, railings, doors, light posts and fences, for instance. He also sets up flood lights to illuminate exterior displays.
“This becomes actually a tradition with these people. The kids look forward to it. I intentionally schedule some of these houses so the kids are around for it,” said Riser, who added some even invite him to join them for dinner each year. He also does interiors, including fireplace mantles and 12-foot Christmas trees for foyers.
“We don’t do the family tree. That’s their own tradition, and they use their own decorations,” Riser said.
He provides the home installation services only for his regular customers and isn’t taking any new clients. The season is booked year after year.
“The home installations are pretty locked in,” he said.
He and his staff do, however, design wreaths and swags in his historic Main Street shop for customers to pick up and hang themselves. They can do fresh pine or artificial, and Riser works with customers on color schemes and styles.
One of the benefits of hiring someone to do outdoor installations is that the companies can keep up with the trends in lighting and design.
According to Christmas Decor president Brandon Stephens, “Do-it-yourself decorators who make a substantial investment in their own decorating supplies may feel ‘locked in’ to using the same lights and decorative accessories year after year, even though innovations in holiday lighting offer consumers new choices each holiday season.” The company uses its own lights and purchases the latest styles. The customers can choose a different design every year, if they want.
In addition, they don’t have to worry about replacing burned-out bulbs or entire strands of lights, nor do they have to find a place to store them. Perhaps best of all, companies like Christmas Decor and Outdoor Lighting Perspectives also provide take-down services.
“Those same professionals return throughout the season to maintain the installation, and then move in to store, refurbish and replace the holiday decorations in preparation for the next year,” Stephens said.
For do-it-yourselfers, purchasing quality lights is key. Spending a few bucks per strand at a discount store sounds like a bargain, but they probably won’t last.
“The real cheap lights you get at Wal-Mart are only designed to last for a season,” said Cathy Jackson, owner of the Imperial Christmas Shoppe in Center Wheeling. The lights she sells are more expensive, but they stand the test of time, she said.
“I have people come in and say they have had my lights for 10 years,” she said.
The classic, large C9 style lights are still popular, as are the slightly smaller C7s, which are the size of a nightlight bulb.
“We’ve sold those for years. I have people from all over come in for those lights,” she said. She also sells C9s by the case to municipalities for their outdoor displays. The benefit of those strands is the individual bulbs can be replaced, Jackson said.
In addition, she sells strands with empty sockets by the yard so people can cut the exact length they need. She puts a plug on the end for them, and they buy the lights separately.
She sells the large lights as well as mini or “twinkle” lights in both incandescent and light-emitting diode, or LED, forms. The technology of the indoor LEDs has advanced so they are not as harshly bright as they used to be, Jackson said. LEDs last longer, don’t burn as hot and save energy.
Jackson said customers who want outdoor mini lights may want to consider purchasing strands that don’t permit replacing bulbs. They are more water resistant, she said. The incandescents with replaceable bulbs do fine outdoors, however.
In terms of artificial Christmas trees for the home, the hottest item is the PowerConnect tree, which is a pre-lit and self-shaping tree with one cord down the center that plugs in to an electrical outlet.
“The power runs inside the pole. … It’s self-shaping. You put this tree up and it’s done,” she said. The tree is heavier and sturdier than a typical artificial tree, making it ideal for heavy ornaments. Its storage box is bigger because it is stored without disassembling or smashing the branches together. She has them in 7 1/2 foot and 9-foot sizes.
“We had 6 1/2- and 12-foot ones, but we sold out of them already. And it’s not even Thanksgiving,” she said on Tuesday.
If only Clark Griswold from the movie “Christmas Vacation” had had one of these for his old-fashioned family Christmas. No sap. No squirrels. And fire-resistant, so it’s protected from Uncle Lewis and his cigar.