Big Picture Local Focus 2008
By Jean Murphy | Day Herald Correspondent
Wishing you a hassle-free holiday season
While driving through the suburbs, enjoying people’s outdoor lighting is one of the pleasures of the holiday season. These drives are a cheap way to entertain everyone from the youngest child to grandma, especially now that gas prices have dipped… But behind that annual ritual are countless hours during which homeowners teeter on ladders, untangle long strands of wire and replace tiny bulbs that have caused entire strings to go out-tasks often done out in the cold.
Let’s face it. The final product may be wonderful to behold, but the work involved in putting up those enchanting holiday lights is time consuming and, according to Kathy Menighan Wilson of Glenview, a painstaking, miserable experience.
So seven years ago she and her family contracted with Kelly Fitzsimmons of Light Up Your Holidays to design their outdoor display, put up the lights, take them down and store them in the off-season. And the experience was so good that they have renewed that contract every year since. “It is worth every penny we pay her,” Menighan-Wilson said.
“You can go to a store and buy generic holiday lights and use them. But the next year they are all tangled up and many don’t work any more and you just have to go out and buy more,” she explained. In addition, there you are, up on a ladder in a compromising situation where you could get hurt,” she continued. “I would rather just hire someone to do it like you hire someone to do your landscaping. It looks beautiful and the lights are all taken down in January and stored in their warehouse until the following year.” Two years ago the Wilsons scaled back on the display on their historic house because they felt they should donate additional money to a charity instead.
“I cannot say enough good things about Kelly,” Menighan-Wilson said. In business since 2000, Light Up Your Holidays began when Fitzsimmons heard that an electrician friend of hers had started a similar holiday lighting business in the South suburbs. With her background in art, she felt that it would be the perfect business for her, too, so she passed out fliers and got 35 clients that first year. Working out of the trunk of her car, she did all of the lighting herself that year with occasional help on roof peaks from day laborers.”It was incredibly difficult,” she recalled. “There was a steep learning curve and I almost didn’t do it again the next year. But I hate to leave anything undone, so I just jumped into it again and things were much easier that second year.”
Today Fitzsimmons has more than 100 clients all over the North and Northwest suburbs and 85 percent of them have been with her for several years. They are my family now,” Fitzsimmons explained. “I am creating an experience for their family that reflects how they celebrate the holiday.” “Through my business, I get to celebrate the holidays in a much better way than if I had any other job,” she said. “I have developed a great rapport with my clients and I am happy knowing that I am creating a feeling of joy and happiness for so many families and for whole communities who get to drive by these houses and businesses.” And she has a vested interest in how each home looks. “My reputation is based on how beautiful each of my client’s homes looks,” she said. Her clients of her fall into several categories.
Some are people who hold large annual corporate or family parties in their home and want it to look special. Others are people who have a new home or a newly-rehabbed home who want to show it to its best advantage. Still others are new parents who now want to recreate their holiday memories for their children.
Finally, according to Fitzsimmons, there are the “Christmas fanatics who love this holiday and want to celebrate it with as many lights as possible.” The nagging feeling of “we have to get the lights up” has caused many a marital rift, Fitzsimmons said, so that is also alleviated when a company like hers is hired.
And the fact that Light Up Your Holidays takes down and stores all of the decorations promptly in January or early February makes everyone in the neighborhood happy, Fitzsimmons said. “It is an investment upfront because you have to buy the lights that first year,” Fitzsimmons admitted. “But the commercial quality lights I use last for five years or more and the garland and wreaths I use are made of nylon with berries and pine cones that look amazingly real.”
Depending upon the job, that first year quote can come in at anywhere between $1,000 and $20,000, Fitzsimmons said.But most of the high-end quotes have been for commercial properties, she added.And those jobs can include lights on foliage and buildings, free-standing light sculptures and pre-lit wreaths and garlands. Fitzsimmons also does limited indoor decorating like pre-lit garlands on handrails, balconies and mantels and high-end indoor trees. “I am always willing to work within people’s budgets,” Fitzsimmons said. “I am very mindful of the economy right now and some of my clients are cutting back.
“But we are trying to get everyone lit up to some degree. We don’t want this economic turmoil to be the Grinch who stole Christmas,” she continued.
“A critical component to my success,” Fitzsimmons added, “is my repeat seasonal workers. These are individuals who have worked alongside me for years – many when I was doing much of it myself. I have a high level of respect for these workers and encourage them to take ownership of and pride in their work. And each year when our season is done in February, we have a big party to celebrate our holiday.”