It may only be July, but for designers and retailers who offer holiday decor products and services, the time is right to start thinking about stockings, trees and everything in between. Holiday decorating may not be a year-round design service, but it can be a way for designers to supplement their income and diversify their service offerings.
“I promise you, there’s not a single town in America that does not have people who do Christmas decorating for a living,” says Colleen Waguespack, founder of Colleen Waguespack Interiors in New Orleans and Fig & Dove, a holiday decor company. “That’s not what we do. We’re a full-service interior design firm that will do Christmas decorations specifically for our clients.”
Waguespack has been in the design industry for 25 years. In 2007, she shifted from commercial design to residential design, and with that shift she found her clients requesting holiday decorating services.
“One of the things that was surprising to me is every time we did a new house, I found at Christmas time, the clients would say, ‘You’re going to hate our Christmas decorations,’” she says. When she took a look at their decorations, they were often “sad and dated” and did not match the Colleen Waguespack Interiors design style.
Waguespack set out to find holiday decor that matched her clients’ interiors, launching Fig & Dove in 2015 to fill the void she saw in the marketplace. She started with tree skirts, lining them and adding cording to create a luxury product specifically for Christmas. Today, Fig & Dove offers a curated collection of holiday decorations in a neutral palette that complements both modern and traditional design styles.
Kade Laws-Andrews, Owner of Kade Laws Interior Design & Remodeling in Magnolia Springs, AL, has always offered holiday decor services, even as the business she co-owns with her husband shifted to focus more on design planning and remodeling.
Demand for Christmas decorating is high, she says. Having moved to Alabama from Arkansas in 2012, Laws-Andrews’ former clients were still asking her for help with decor, so for years every November she would drive to Arkansas for two weeks to decorate around 10 houses, putting in 18-hour days. But for the last two years she’s only taken on holiday design clients in Baldwin County, AL, where her firm is located.
Being on both sides of the holiday decor business, Waguespack says the design side informs her product business and vice versa. According to Waguespack, large retailers start shopping for next year’s products at the January markets, while designers and smaller retailers select product in July. From a manufacturing perspective, it can be more difficult to serve the July market based on availability.
“In January, any store can come and buy at any volume because we haven’t put production in yet,” she says. “The benefit of buying in January is you can get whatever quantity you want with any modifications. Smaller stores, which are the majority of the stores in America, buy in July and at that point we have limited stock that we can sell. So if we sell out of something, we’ve sold out. If somebody comes and they want more than what we have, they can’t get it. But financially for a smaller store, it’s difficult to use your cash flow in January for inventory.”
Laws-Andrews does her holiday decor shopping at the Atlanta and Dallas markets, starting the planning process with her clients in mid-summer.
“If you called me at the end of October, saying, ‘I need to get my house decorated,’ there’s a good chance I probably would not be able to accommodate for this season because usually people either secure my services for the following holiday season right after I finish their job, or I start booking my holiday schedule around July and August.”
She begins the projects a few weeks before Thanksgiving, working until around the first week of December. This schedule also helps in securing product. This past year, LawsAndrews says product availability was her biggest obstacle.
“Everybody bought Christmas trees, trimmings, ribbons — everything was gone by the second week of November,” she says. “It was so hard to find anything. I like to try to place my holiday decor orders by the end of August, just so I can get everything in and before it’s out of stock and picked over.”
Waguespack noticed a similar trend on the product side, noting that sales start earlier every year, but 2020 was particularly notable. “I feel like this year, it went from Halloween to Christmas,” she says. “It used to be, at the end of October we started getting Christmas sales and then November was our biggest month, but this year it started in September.”
Keeping With Traditions
Holiday decor can be very personal and carry with it a host of traditions and meaning. Whether the shared experience of decorating the tree to bringing out homemade or meaningful personal ornaments, for many homeowners the thought of bringing in an outside designer can be seen as a break in tradition. But designers have techniques to incorporate sentimental decor while adding a designer’s touch.
Waguespack suggests finding commonalities among the ornaments, layering items that go together, and then interspersing the personal decor once a base has been established.
“I might say, OK, we’re going to do three-and-a-half inch clear balls,” she says. “We’re going to do clear icicles that I love that I put on the ends of branches to sort of tie it together. And then we might do maybe a four-inch mercury ball and then maybe a two-inch mercury cone, and I’ll buy those in high volumes and put them on one layer at a time.”
The act of decorating can also be part of a family’s tradition, and LawsAndrews says she’s happy to let families do their own decorating privately, and she’ll come in behind them adding accessories like ribbons and berries.
“A lot of times people think, ‘I really can’t hire somebody to do this because my kids love Christmas and they love putting the ornaments on the tree,’” she says. “No problem, get the tree up, get it fluffed and let your kids go to town. I can come in after and work some magic on it.”
Holiday decor trends are often rooted in these traditions, she says.
“I really feel like people’s styles and what they want at Christmas have a lot to do with how they grew up,” Laws-Andrews says. “Some people want traditional Christmas, even though their house may be all neutral tones throughout and very minimalist. When it comes to Christmas, they want it to feel like Christmas, with traditional reds and greens; they’re never going to go out of style.” She’s also done whimsical themes, as well as more neutral styles, with whites, golds and silvers.
As trends come and go, Waguespack doesn’t encourage her clients to replace their holiday decor every year. Rather, she suggests building a cohesive collection of timeless pieces. To freshen up her clients’ designs year after year, she’ll make simple yet effective swaps, like changing out the color of ribbon. Her goal with her product line is to allow customers to return every season to build their collection, adding a few pieces at a time. New collections always complement each other, so there’s never pressure to buy it all at once.
“Most people can’t afford to just say, ‘This year, we’re just going to do it all Fig & Dove,’” she says. “One year they buy the stockings. The next year they get the stocking holders. The next year they get the Christmas tree skirt the next year they get the acrylic star topper. Our return rate for customers is crazy high because people are buying one layer at a time.”
Every year, Laws-Andrews gets calls from all over the country — potential clients looking for professional holiday decor, as well as designers looking for advice on adding holiday decorating to their service offerings. Many of the client calls are outside her geographical scope of holiday design work. She’s one of the first Google search results for “holiday decor designer,” which could explain the client phone calls. But her advice to designers? Customers are searching for this service from a professional designer, and the demand is there, so it’s worth considering.
“If you’re wanting to build your business into holiday decor, do it,” she says. “We make really good money over the holidays. I would encourage other designers to come up with something that links people to their website with some of their holiday decor pictures, because there’s a huge opportunity there.”