One of the most delightful traditions of the holidays for many people is decorating their homes and businesses with inventive, colorful Christmas lights.
While stringing festive lights from trees, eaves and chimneys can be fun, it also is a time consuming and even dangerous process - scaling ladders, climbing on roofs and running electrical cords.
But a new business in Columbia called Illumineers of South Carolina, founded by Clemson alums Jason Shannon and Jacob Crowder, makes having the most glittering home on the block a breeze.
“We wanted to take the hassle and the hazard out of the holidays,” Crowder said.
The two met while attending Clemson from 1996-2000, along with mutual friend Bill Frey. A few years after graduation, Frey moved to Atlanta and started a Christmas and wedding lighting company called Illuminating Design. In the past 11 years, that firm has grown steadily, landing clients as large as the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.
Shannon, who sells doors and locks, and Crowder, a mortgage banker, for years thought a similar business would work well in Columbia and provide them with a little extra income during the holidays.
Two years ago, they pulled the trigger after training and entering a partnership with their old friend, who provides them with advice, training and some marketing.
The new firm joined other companies such as Outdoor Lighting Perspectives, Christmas Decor of Columbia and some landscaping companies and electrical contractors who also provide the service.
But hanging Christmas lights is more than just two men and a ladder. Shannon and Crowder subcontract with roofers and electricians to actually hang the lights - professionals who have taken OSHA-approved training in hanging lights.
“I don’t get on the roof,” Crowder said. “This is a slow time of the year for them so it’s a way for them to supplement their incomes.”
Crowder handles marketing and works with the homeowner on the design, even though he doesn’t have any formal training. “I don’t know why I’m good at it,” he said. “But people like what I do.”
Shannon handles the logistics, the crew and the materials. “We both kind of split the sales,” he said.
This year, the two had 15 accounts. Most are private homes; clients who pay from $1,500 to $2,000. The price includes the purchase of lights and other decorations, which become the property of the client.
The service includes design, installation using non-invasive fasteners to shingles and gutters, removal and storage. The next year, the client gets a 25 percent discount if they choose to use the same lights; but, they have the option of purchasing more.
The firm also provides a warranty - replacing lights that go out or are damaged. “Our biggest service calls are mother nature-related,” Shannon said.
In addition to homes, the firm also decorated Cantina 76 on Devine Street and the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce. But the firm’s biggest client was the Galeana car dealership on Greystone Boulevard. Their contract was $40,000, Shannon said. “That was half of our sales for the year.”
One of the duo’s most unique jobs was a home in Spring Valley.
For nearly a decade, Matthew and Sissy Flemming decorated their eight palmetto trees with pink and white lights around the trunk and green lights on the palm fronds.
“We liked pink before pink was cool,” Sissy said.
But two years ago, the family realized that the trees had become too tall for them to handle on their own. “So we started looking for a service,” Sissy said.
Shannon and Crowder get a crush of business around Thanksgiving: “It’s like trying to drink water out of a fire hose,” Shannon said.
Their advice is to plan ahead.
“The hard part is to get people thinking about decorating their houses in October,” Shannon said.