by Matt Delaney
Each holiday season brings with it new toys to be had, and for the area’s dedicated bunch of Christmas decorators that means new technologies to outfit their holiday light displays with. But the real question is, are the decorators buying in?
Light displays have gone from rudimentary to technologically diverse in recent years. From discrete changes such as moving on from power-sucking incandescent string lights to making way for energy- and environmentally-efficient LED lights, to more significant alterations such as supplementing string lights altogether with laser light projectors, new tech has staked its claim in the mind of decorators new and old.
Falls Church’s Home Depot in Seven Corners is stocked with many of these new gadgets. “Obviously any time the holiday kicks in there’s a lot of excitement for what’s new,” says Joe Zuniga, district manager of Washington D.C. and Maryland-area Home Depot stores. “For those tech-savvy people that includes mobile apps [and] it is what’s really popular now.”
AppLights, a string-light set and accompanying mobile app that can change light colors, theme and effects, is a product that Zuniga has noticed elevated interest in this holiday season. The versatility and ease of use with the lights have made it a highly-sought after addition to residential light displays, and along with motion-exclusive projectors like the Star Shower Motion Laser Light Projector, serve as Home Depot’s heavy-hitters for holiday decorating.
Even with all the efforts to promote new technology, however, Christmas remains a very traditional holiday. The Clarke Griswolds of the world are the people who give the season its cheerful glow and who deck out their houses from head to toe in lights and ornaments. As expected, they’re also the folks who give retailers like Home Depot a bulk of their holiday business. But they aren’t jumping at the new tech the way novice decorators are.
“A lot of people haven’t made the transition to these new technologies. In fact, there’s some resistance because there’s a lot of tradition related to Christmas,” president of Christmas Decor Inc, a Texas-based holiday lights installation company, Brandon Stephens tells the News-Press. “Very few people call and ask for RGB lights (a close substitute for AppLights) just off the cusp since it’s still at that stage where the people that want it are the early adopters.”
Stephens does acknowledge that these technologies are steadily gaining traction in the market and will one day become staples of holiday decor industry. Christmas Decor Inc is a major proponent of the innovations and they work with manufacturers to help refine the products and ensure they can acquire some footing on store shelves. Still, change is incremental, and currently these items are sideshow attractions to the more intricate and time-consuming light displays. They have yet to supercede mainstream string lights and inflatable Santa Clauses altogether.
“The world is beginning to move into a phase where people like convenience, and they want good results, but they also like options” Stephens adds. “I think you’re always going to have your traditional folks – and we love those people, that’s what makes up the bulk of our clients – but it’s also nice to have something for that [person] who wants the latest and greatest thing.”
So what exactly do the locals think of the new decorating technologies? The results are mixed.
“I use the Star Shower and a few [string] lights in front of the house,” Arlington’s Nadia Conyers tells the News-Press. “It’s much easier [to set up] and gives you a lot more bang for your buck.” She said that since she acquired her Star Shower a year ago, she’s never thought of going back to the old way of decorating. But others lean more traditional with their holiday designs.
“Until there’s a reason not to, we’ll probably just stick to the old school way of doing it,” Mike Horn, who sets up his mother’s Christmas lights in McLean, says. “There’s definitely something to say about the hard work and doing the strings and all the bushes versus using a [Star Shower], where you can buy one of those things, push a button and you’re done.”
Marguerite Shaffer, a resident of Falls Church whose grandchildren decorate her house on Roosevelt Street every year, echoed Horn’s sentiments. “I prefer the [traditional way] over new technology because it’s more thoughtful and allows you to be different from everyone else,” Shaffer says.
Retailers have lured in more casual decorators for sure, but they have a while to go before the new products become must-have items for the traditional crowd. But that doesn’t stop Zuniga. “You’ve got people who’re stuck in their ways, and I was one of those guys,” he said. “But is it really worth spending an entire day [decorating] when you can get this thing done [with new technology] in a fraction of the time?