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Lighten Up!

Show of lights, squeeze play, chakra cosmetics

Everybody loves Christmas lights, which mesmerize kids and adults alike. But those lights don't just magically appear like Santa's stocking stuffers. A lot of time and effort goes into putting together spectacular light shows. And because most homeowners don't have the time or patience to decorate their homes, Christmas Decor Inc., a holiday and event decorating service, does the job for them.

Louis Petrik, 30, heard about the franchise at the Associated Landscape Contractors of America Convention. He and his wife, Lynn, 31, liked what they saw and thought it was a great addition to their 4-year-old landscaping business, L&L Lawncare in Austin, Texas. "The demand for [holiday decorating] is there, and once it starts, it's like a rollercoaster trying to keep up with it," says Petrik.

With a baby on the way, the Petriks' first year was even more hectic than usual, but they ended the season with $60,000 in sales--surpassing their landscaping sales for the entire year. According to Christmas Decor, most contractors double or triple their numbers the second year.

Most Christmas Decor franchisees use the business as an add-on to bring in sales for existing businesses during the slow times of year. "It's really good revenue in an off season, when most [lawn-care] contractors aren't making any money," says Louis Petrik, who believes his 200 customers this year will help him top last year's sales figures.

During the year, he has three regular employees, increasing to 14 or more during the holiday season. (Business usually starts to pick up in late October.) Christmas Decor franchisees work with residential and commercial customers to create the best designs for their homes or office buildings, and provide the supplies, such as lights, wreaths, garlands and yard art. Some projects only take a few hours, while others take an entire day and can cost up to $4,000. Franchisees go through three days of training, are offered advanced training sessions each year and attend the company's annual convention.

One of the more memorable projects Petrik worked on was a Mexican restaurant. The order called for pink, green, orange and purple lights wrapped around the palm and oak trees surrounding the property. "When we first got the order, I thought `God, this is going to look so gaudy,' " says Petrik. "But it looked wonderful."

With 200 locations, Christmas Decor is seeking franchisees nationwide. Start-up costs range from $17,600 to $38,900.

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This article was originally published in the December 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lighten Up!.

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