JT Luginski has had it with putting up – and taking down – holiday lights and decorations.
"I've always celebrated Christmas with the family," the 33-year-old father said this week, recalling how growing up his dad would put up the holiday lights each year. "But it became harder to find the time to do the decorating myself, and, honestly, a professional can do a better job."
So last year Luginski ended the holiday decorating tradition and hired Michigan Holiday Lighting to cover his 3,500-square-foot brick colonial in Clarkston, Mich., with thousands of white lights – and is paying them about $1,700 to do it again his year.
The trend is driven by busier family schedules, changing attitudes about holiday decorating and enterprising businesses – including landscapers, florists and interior designers – that have seized an opportunity to make money.
When Indianapolis-based online referral service Angie's List started tracking holiday decorators in 1990, it identified just 42 nationally. This year, it said, there are 7,073 nationwide.
"There's a lot of pain when you do decorate yourself," said Brandon Stephens, president of Texas-based Christmas Decor. "But when you hire someone, you get someone who is trained, who knows the newest products and the newest designs."
Companies charge anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars to decorate for homeowners, and in many cases the lights are leased and stored by the holiday decorator.
Christmas Decor, which was a lawn care business that started offering holiday decorating in 1986 as a way to offset the lull in the winter, ended up shedding the lawn care business to focus on decorating full time and selling franchises.
The company now has $55 million in annual sales with about 370 operations nationwide.
Alex Grougan, the owner of Holiday Light Express in Novi, Mich., said his business has exploded since he started it six years ago, as a way to expand his lawn care business. A few homeowners – mostly in upscale neighborhoods – even paid him to decorate the inside of their homes, with Christmas trees and fresh garland.
Florists also have also found a growing demand for holiday decorating.
"We've got more and more members who go to houses and create a special environment for the holidays," said Rodney Crittenden, executive vice president of the Michigan Floral Association in Haslett, Mich. "It could be to put up a fully decorated tree – or just some wreaths and plants."
Steve Erdodi, the owner of Michigan Holiday Lighting in Waterford, Mich., said most of his residential customers aim to have their decorations up by Thanksgiving, but a few customers were still calling last week.
"A lot of people intend to do it themselves," Erdodi, 52, said. "But when they find out it's zero every weekend, they call."
In addition to holiday decorating, Erdodi said he also offers landscaping, snow removal and asphalt repair and rents tents for parties. But decorating, he said, makes up about 40 percent of his annual revenue – more than any of the other businesses.
He said many of his customers hire him because they don't want to slip off an icy roof or ladder, a real problem for many homeowners. In 2010 alone, an estimated 13,000 people were treated in emergency rooms nationwide for holiday decorating mishaps, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
"There was a time I looked forward to putting up the lights," said Luginski, who works in digital marketing. "But with three kids and busy hours at work, it has become a trade-off."
Still, not everyone in Luginski's family is happy about outsourcing the decorating. Luginski said his father gives him a hard time about it, going into a nostalgic talk about how he would do it in his day. But, Luginski said, he'll probably do the same thing during the holidays with something else with his own kids when they grow up.
That's one holiday family tradition that perhaps never changes.
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