The last thing John Gendron wants to do during the holidays is climb high on his steep-pitched roof to hang a wreath from his chimney.
These days, he doesn’t have to. Instead, he hires a contractor to put one wreath on his chimney and two others high on the house, and to hang Christmas lights on his home and in the crabapple trees in his front yard.
Tens of thousands of Americans this year will do the same.
Short on time, leery of ladders and lacking expertise for sometimes-elaborate lighting displays, homeowners are opening their wallets and hiring others do the work.
This is the third year that Gendron has hired Lucas Tree Experts, a Portland tree service company that installs Christmas lighting and decorations for homeowners and businesses during the holiday season.
When it gets closer to Christmas, Gendron and his family will trim indoor and outdoor trees for the festivity and pleasure of it, while also enjoying the lights and wreaths put up by Lucas Tree.
“These people are professionals at what they do, much like we’re professionals at what we do,” said Gendron, who owns a commercial real estate firm. “We’re not able to do what they do as well as they can do it.”
Christmas tidings, for a price
Lucas Tree is a franchisee for Christmas Decor Inc., a Texas-based company with 375 franchises in 48 states and Canada that will put up holiday decorations for 40,000 customers this year, according to Christmas Decor marketing director Brandon Stephens. The company has been adding 30 to 40 franchises and 5,000 to 6,000 customers a year, he said.
For a price, the company will design a Christmas display, install the lights and decorations, take them down after the holidays and store them until the next year. The average initial cost is $1,500, with the cost going down in subsequent years because the commercial-grade lights already have been purchased.
In Maine, Lucas Tree will put up lights, wreaths, silhouetted Santas and other decorations on about 50 homes and businesses for prices ranging from $500 to $10,000. Gendron declined to reveal what he paid, other than to call it a “good value for the money.”
Customers include working couples who have little spare time and older folks who don’t want to climb ladders, said Chuck Cotton of Lucas Tree. Others don’t have the skills or the equipment needed to put up intricate displays.
“It’s more a convenience than anything,” he said. “They don’t have the time or the ability to do some of the things that we can do.”
Hiring people to hang lights was once considered something only the wealthy could afford.
But with the cost of lights going down and companies able to install them in an efficient manner, the jobs are no longer reserved just for the rich, said Virginia Postrel, author of “The Substance of Style,” a book that examines the link between aesthetic pleasures and American commerce and culture.
Many people who hire contractors to install Christmas decorations could be described as upper-middle class who simply want nice-looking holiday displays, she said.
“Their time is worth more than their money,” Postrel said. “And if you don’t have a giant mansion, it’s not that expensive of a job.”
Not just for the rich and famous
Brite Ideas Decorating Inc., a national Christmas decoration installation company based in Omaha, Neb., says its distributors will decorate more than 23,000 homes this year — up from just over 1,000 five years ago. Customers include tennis player Andre Agassi, country singer Travis Tritt, boxer Evander Holyfield and basketball player Grant Hill, said Reed Nyffeler, national sales director.
The company has put up elaborate displays with hundreds of thousand of lights that cost up to $75,000. But the average initial cost is $1,500 to $2,000, Nyffeler said.
“They don’t mow their lawn, they don’t do their landscaping, they don’t paint their houses,” he said of the typical customers. “And they don’t put up Christmas lights.”
Besides giving homeowners a way to brighten up their homes, the Christmas decoration industry gives local seasonal businesses — such as landscapers and tree trimmers — a way to make a few extra bucks during a slow time of the year.
“Once the growing season ends, business drops off,” said Cotton, of Lucas Tree. “This picks us up during the holiday season.”
As the companies become more efficient in installing lights and decorations, prices will continue to come down so that even more people can afford the luxury, Postrel said.
“This is a classic case of how new industries take off,” Postrel said. “It’s just a small version.”