By Joanne Von Alroth
If you’ve driven along any of the Chicago-area major highways recently, you’ve probably seen the billboards. You know, the ones that feature an apparently frustrated, middle-aged guy draped with Christmas lights, accompanied by the question, “Can’t Get It Up?” and a web address for hclights.com.
Just in case you didn’t get the joke, it’s not what you think.
The ads are the brainchild of HC Lights/Holiday Creations Pro Inc., a Romeoville-based business that specializes in exterior Christmas lighting design and decoration. That’s right; they get your lights up.
You might not know it, but it’s likely you’ve seen their work; they count about 1,000 clients in the six-county area, many of them in the Southland.
The billboards are “just another way to stand out, and it works for us,” said Dave Nolan, the company’s spokesman and senior lighting specialist.
It’s not just the month of December that has HC Lights hopping.For us, it’s a five-month-long, intense season of setting up and taking down displays, and then we spend the rest of the year checking equipment, contacting suppliers, planning what we need to do and getting the personnel to do it,” Nolan said. “It might seem like it’s just a holiday business, but behind the scenes it’s a year-long effort.”
For those struggling to meet basic needs in this economy, paying someone to string up your Christmas lights might seem excessive. But Nolan notes that many HC Lights clients are older folks who simply can’t put Santa on the roof safely anymore.
“So many of our customers are people who’ve done this for themselves for years, but this time, trying to get up on a ladder and put up lights might just be too much,” he said.
The company offers 240 residential decorating packages starting at around $300, and expanding to what Nolan calls “the full-blown Griswold: lights everywhere.” One residential client — who’d always wanted to do it up really big for Christmas — recently dropped $50,000 for a lighting scheme, he said.
Initially, HC Lights customers pay for the lights, labor, storage and maintenance. The lights then become the client’s property, and return customers who choose the same designs pay only for storage, maintenance and labor. Customers also can choose to have permanent LED lights mounted, which are invisible until turned on and can remain mounted year-round. Clients who decide not to re-up the next year keep the lights.
The service also has bottom-line appeal for corporate clients. Walter Fisher, vice president of construction for Cooper’s Hawk Wineries and Restaurants, said the convenience and cost savings convinced him to choose HC Lights to decorate his company’s Orland Park and Arlington Heights locations.
“The reality is I could have some facility guy put lights up and maintain them and take them down after the holidays, but then what do I do for the other 10 months of the year?” Fisher said. “Where am I going to keep them? It’s just not worth the headache — we have so much more to worry about.”
Once crews remove the lights, they truck them back to the warehouse. The lights — currently numbering more than 2 million bulbs — are all stored, tested and replaced as needed during the off-season to ensure they’re ready to go come next Christmas.
“That’s the part that really takes some time,” Nolan said. “I mean, we’re talking about a couple hundred miles worth of lighting. We go through 10,000 replacement bulbs a year.”
He anticipates adding to that inventory next year if HC Lights’ customer base continues its growth trajectory. Nolan said curious entrepreneurs have called asking about franchise opportunities.