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Posted Date: 01/4/2016

Shining Light on the Holidays

Julie Ritzer Ross, Contributing Editor

Basic holiday lighting — such as strings of incandescent bulbs — will always have their place. However, an increasing number of consumers and commercial establishments alike are gravitating towards more sophisticated and complex options.

“There has definitely been a shift, and we’re going to see more of that in 2016,” asserts Jason Loomis, vice president, product development at Seasons 4. “People want better lights, and to do more with their holiday lighting.”

Intricacy Wins Out
Evidence of this pattern lies partially in a trend towards intricate holiday lighting displays. Frank Skinner, director of marketing at Wintergreen Corp., cites as examples mainstream adoption of commercial laser lighting products, larger lit décor, and large projection displays. In keeping with such adoption, Wintergreen has rolled out the X1000 Laser Light. The product can project laser points and fill tree canopies more than 100 feet tall. It can be used to project laser light onto homes, businesses, roof lines, and hedgerows, as well as down onto lawns.

Similarly, Creative Displays now offers several residential versions of its top-selling commercial displays. The selection includes a ground-mounted Santa and reindeer team LED display, an LED nativity scene,  and an LED Star of Bethlehem that is said to consume less electricity than a standard 60-watt bulb. Paul Sessel, owner, says the residential versions are built with the same materials and attention to detail as their commercial counterparts and carry the same six-year warranty.

Interactive holiday lighting and lit decorations that may be controlled from smart devices are also gaining ground, report Skinner and Loomis. For 2016, Seasons 4 is working on an updated version of its Lumenplay  app-enabled lights that will be “more intuitive and have more bells and whistles,” Loomis states. The Lumenplay  app allows users the flexibility to choose colors and effects, play games, and visualize accompanying music for lighting displays.

In a related vein, Loomis adds, there is a push for battery-operated light strings. “People [are coming to] like them because of the flexibility and convenience — you can illuminate a mantle; hang them outdoors around a tree, across a fireplace; jazz up the dining room, etc. — things it would be impossible to do with power cords,” he explains.

Traditionally, Loomis continues, consumers’ ability to utilize battery-operated lighting products has been limited: For one thing, a set of batteries controls only a few strings of lights. For another, most battery-operated options “just don’t work very well. Either they’re not bright enough because they don’t have enough battery power, or they become dimmer over time.”

Seasons 4 has addressed this issue with Supercell technology, slated to make its full debut in 2016. “Most battery-operated light strings use two or three cells, but Supercell will make it possible to power light strings with four batteries and add a 33 percent greater energy reservoir, solving the operating problems without using too much voltage,” Loomis explains.

Ready For RGB, LED
Consumers’ affinity for “bigger” holiday lighting statements is also making itself known in the heightened popularity of RGB lighting, which allows for a seemingly infinite number of color possibilities.

“RGB is all the rage right now, “notes Brandon Stephens, president at The Decor Group, Inc., which recently acquired Barcana. “Our clients love it. They have control over the color patterns, and get extended use out of their lights. For example, they can install them before Halloween and have a purple/orange theme, then change to green/red for Christmas, or even the colors of their local high school/college or professional sports team on game night.”

In time for the 2016 holiday season, Barcana is rolling out what Stephens called “simple, but powerful” RGB kits that will be customizable to fit individual properties as well as “expandable for the future.”

Meanwhile, Northlight’s product lineup for 2016 will include an RGB lighting set with 39 different functions and 15 color options. “People can buy one set and have multiple lighting possibilities for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and Easter — not to mention clear for summer,” says Nathan Gordon, CIO of Christmas Central, which owns Northlight.

Just as common is the move away from incandescent holiday lighting options. “More and more customers are switching to LED lighting,” Sessel observes. “I would speculate that within the next five years, it will be virtually impossible to purchase incandescent holiday bulbs.”

Chalk up the heightened popularity of LED lighting in part to the product’s decreasing price tag. Sessel notes that when LED holiday lights were in their infancy a decade ago, using them was a cost-prohibitive endeavor; “the price was like $5 a bulb.” However, as is true of all new technologies, advancements in manufacturing have made LED lighting much more affordable. “Today,” Sessel says, “a C7 LED replacement bulb costs about $1, uses 80 percent less electricity, and lasts about 10 times longer than a typical C7 incandescent.”

Gordon agrees with Sessel’s assessment, adding that although LED options still cost more than their incandescent counterparts, many consumers are comfortable paying the difference because of a new parity in the number of bulbs on light strings. “It used to be that with incandescents, there was the 50-count and the 100-count, but with LEDs, it was 35 and 70,” he explains. “Even for icicle lights, it was 100- and 300-count on the incandescent side and 70 for LEDs. Now, it’s all 100s, which justifies things.”
Like Sessel, Gordon also believes the lower electricity usage afforded by LED lighting as compared to incandescent lighting supports its overall appeal. So, too, does the fact that “LED colors are truer than incandescent colors,” he asserts.

Continued Challenges
Innovation notwithstanding, players in the holiday lighting arena continue to face a few challenges. Timely receipt of shipments, especially from China, tops the list. “The biggest problem today is the lead time it takes to place an order and receive shipment,” Sessel observes. The current labor shortage in China has extended the interval between order placement and delivery from three months to five months, he explains.

Gordon agrees. He adds that factories abroad are also imposing higher order quantities than ever, making it very difficult for independent retailers to import lighting products on their own. “They’re looking at 5,000 to 10,000 pieces, per color, per style,” Gordon states. “It can be a staggering amount of inventory. For example, in incandescent lights, we have 15 different color combinations, spaced one-and-a-half, two, two-and-a-half, three, four, five, and six inches apart on several different colors of string,” he states.

Ensuring that lighting products manufactured abroad (primarily in China) offer consistent quality and reliability can be equally challenging, according to Loomis. To minimize problems on this front, Seasons 4 has a research and development arm in China. Experts from the organization remain in direct contact with Seasons 4’s manufacturer partners.  “They’re our boots on the ground to ensure the factories are making the right product and (imposing) quality control measures,” Loomis explains.

Some manufacturers have moved their production base from China to the Philippines, where no duty need be paid on lighting products. “Consumers get the benefit of the savings — but then again, they’re benefitting from many advancements in holiday lighting, too,” Gordon concludes.

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