By Teri L. Lanza
Festive panache goes a long way in creating holiday cheer for employees and customers ...and creates great marketing opportunities, too.
A special thanks goes out to the Bialek family of Manitoba, Canada, for allowing us to draw on its "Merry Christmas Page," www.mts.net/~tyndall/cmas/xmas.htm. The family claims to be setting a record this year for the largest rural Christmas display in "The Heart of Eastern Manitoba," with upward of 15,000 lights.
December is a time of celebration for most of your customers and employees, regardless of their individual holiday traditions. Creating a festive environment during this season will not only brighten people's spirits, but will generate warm sentiments about your business within the local community. Aside from the added visibility they create for your facility, decorations may even create unique marketing opportunities, particularly if paired with an event, such as a toy drive, or other publicity stunt, such as dressing your manager as Santa for a day.
Running a business is never easy, and finding time for those special touches can be daunting during an already harried holiday season. After all, you have families to shop for, gifts to wrap and food to prepare, just like your customers do. But taking some time to dress up your facility's office and exterior with some coloful lights, ornaments, wreaths, a menorah, ribbons and bows is plain good business. It generates publicity, and communicates to the people who work with you--employees and tenants alike--that you are about more than storage.
Things You'll Need
Before you begin, make sure you have everything you'll need to hang, fasten and secure your decorations. Some smart items to have include:
- Plastic cup hooks--available in packages at any hardware or home-retail store
- Thick wire--sturdy but flexible, this can be used to hang a number of items
- Sticky tabs
- Twist ties or pipe cleaners
- A large roll of velvet ribbon
- Heavy-duty extension cords, long and short--those approved for outdoor use are preferable
- Plenty of replacement bulbs in different voltages
- A sturdy ladder
- Plenty of patience
Don't Get Tangled...
Holiday lights, as dazzling as they can be once hung properly, can be a real nightmare. The cords get tangled, the bulbs will or won't blink on command, one string works, one won't--they can try your patience. But a facility outlined with these colorful beauties draws attention, and what business doesn't want that? Following are some decorating ideas for the exterior of your buildings.
Start with a plan. A diagram of your facility, including height and width dimensions, walkways and railings, will help you determine how many strings of lights you will need. Note also where your exterior electrical outlets are located. You can start with something simple and elaborate a bit more each year.
When purchasing lights, consider miniature lights intended for exterior use. They are energy-efficient and have cool-burning bulbs that pose less of a fire hazard. Read the packaging to determine how many strings can be linked together without overloading your circuits. The package will also indicate how many feet of lighting you have to run along roof edges, windows, etc. According to the Bialek family, hosts of the Merry Christmas Page (www.mts.net/~tyndall/cmas/xmas.htm), full-size C-7 and C-9 light sets have the longest life and most durable construction. They can be purchased in strings of 25 and connected in up to six string lengths. If you choose to go with miniatures, the maximum recommended amount of lights you can string together is 350 to 400.
To determine how many feet of lights you will need for a bush or tree, simply multiply its height by its average width in feet and then multiply by six. If you are using full-size rather than miniature lights, divide the final number by two. Miniatures are the best choice for deciduous trees. You can wrap each branch starting from the trunk and working to the end of the branches. For coniferous trees, use C-9 bulbs, beginning at the top and working your way down in a zig-zag pattern, or starting at the bottom and working up the tree in circles.
In general, strings of lights should be used to highlight architectural structures and shrubbery, while a floodlight can be placed to focus on a special feature, such as a wreath, plastic snowman or decorated tree. Be sure to purchase flood- or spotlight bases rated for outdoor use with plastic, double-insulated bases, and invest in heavy-duty outdoor extension cords. Be sure to keep cords out of walkways or door openings.
Plastic hooks or clips, which can be purchased at any major home-retail or hardware store, should be used to secure lights to your building. The hooks secure to the structure and the lights simply slide into place. Never attempt to staple light strings to any surface, as you may penetrate the circuits. For gable roofs with metal facia, special shingle tabs can be used that slide under shingles without causing any damage. Special sticky tabs can also be affixed to smooth surfaces that allow you to insert a nylon cable tie to hold the lights in place.
Inevitably, there will be light strings that don't want to cooperate. If any part of a string will not light, first try firmly pushing each bulb into its base to secure it into the socket. If that doesn't solve the problem, remove each bulb and base from its socket. Straighten the wires that extend from the base, bend them back around the base and re-insert the bulb into the socket. If the string has a fuse in the male end of the plug--and some do--then try replacing the fuse. Note: Burned-out bulbs should be replaced as soon as possible, so as not to cause the other bulbs to overheat.
Some final suggstions regarding lights: It's a good idea to store light strings separately so they don't tangle. There are special caddies made for this purpose, but looping strings and securing them with tape is also effective. This will not only help you avoid frustration when unpacking them, but will make it easier to test the lights. There are testers available that make locating problem bulbs a snap.
Photographing Your Light Display
Holiday decorating is a great way to draw attention to--and even market--your facility. An impressive holiday display should be documented, not only because of all the time and effort involved, but so its benefits can be reaped year-round. You may want to include a photo of your decorated facility in a brochure or on your website. Sending a photo card of your decorated facility to your tenants--don't forget potential tenants--during the holiday season lends a nice touch.
If you are not a professional photographer, it will be a challenge to take clear, impressive photos of your display. You can capture the "magic" of your lights, however, by following some simple tips provided by the New York Institute of Photography (NIP), the world's largest photography school.
First, turn off your flash. That's right--even at night. Your flash will overwhelm the miniature tree lights, and their color will be imperceptible. What this means, though, is that you won't have enough light for a normal, split-second exposure. If you have an automatic camera, it will compensate by holding its shutter open for a longer period of time (its meter will gauge how long). This creates a risk of blurring if either you or anything in the camera's view moves. NYI suggests the following: 1) Use a high-speed film, such as ISO 800, to cut down on the duration of the exposure; 2) use a tripod to steady the camera, or use a solid surface such as a table top. For more information, visit www.nyip.com/tips/topic_holidaylights1298.html.
Other Decorating Ideas
Lights are a perfect holiday addition to the dècor of a facility's exterior, but you should also consider decorating inside your rental office to further the festive spirit. The obvious embellishments include a Christmas tree or menorah, colorful pin-ups, glass bulbs or other decorations, tinsel, garland, wreaths, candy canes, etc. Here are some more specialized concepts:
- Make a wreath out of branches from your Christmas tree and deck them with traditional items, like bells and bows, or personalize it with items indigenous to your region. For example, Christmasmoon.com suggests that if you live in a warm climate, you could attach plastic sunglasses, flamingos or toy lizards.
- Use your holiday cards as decoration by hanging them on a string along the top of a room, or affix them to a wall or door in the shape of a tree, wreath or candy cane.
- Cut some boughs from your Christmas tree or out in the wild. Bunch them together in small groups with wreath wire and tie them with a ribbon. Add wired pine cones for a festive touch. Hang them in doorways, over windows or on walls.
- Many facilities sell boxes to their tenants. Try wrapping a few empty boxes in holiday paper to look like gifts and pile them on your counter.
- Play some holiday music in your office. If you have music piped into your facility, you can play it there as well.
- Fill a glass bowl or vase with shiny ornaments. Hang decorations from your houseplants and indoor trees.
- Set up a miniature holiday village somewhere in your office.
- Put a bowl of holiday candy, a gingerbread house, fresh fruit or cookies on your counter.
Whatever you do to commemorate the season, consider spreading the cheer--to your employees, your tenants and the local community. Team up with your local chamber of commerce, Boy or Girl Scouts, or other organization in a Toys for Tots drive. You probably have several tenants with old toys, clothing or other items they might like to donate to charity this time of year. Ask them to go through their units and leave you with any such items.
Consider organizing a caroling outing or participating in a Sub-for-Santa program. And don't forget to contact the local media well in advance if you're going to feature an unusual or elaborate light display or participate in a holiday fund-raiser. Decorating your facility will put you in the spotlight--now is the time to do something worth noticing.
Holiday Safety Tips
With the end-of-the-year holidays come lights, Christmas trees and other potential fire and electrical hazards. Following some simple guidelines will keep you, your family and tenants free from harm.
- Place Christmas trees away from fireplaces, heating vents and other heat-producing appliances.
- Cut Christmas trees can be extremely flammable, particularly if they are dry. Trees should be kept well-watered. A dry tree will lose green needles when tapped on the ground.
- Saw at least an inch off the bottom of a cut tree and place it firmly in a stand that holds at least one gallon of water, with the water level above the cut. A 6-foot tree will use a gallon of water every one to two days.
- All natural decorations used indoors--including trees and wreaths--should be treated with fire retardant.
- To fire-retard a tree, allow the sawed-off trunk to soak overnight in a bucket of the following mixture: 2 gallons of hot water, 2 cups of corn syrup, 1/4 cup of liquid bleach, 2 pinches of epsom salts and 1/2 teaspoon of Boraxo.
- The use of candles as decorations is strongly discouraged. If you must use them, place them in sturdy holders away from flammable objects. Remember that melted candle wax can cause burns, especially for children.
- Never attempt to burn any portion of the Christmas tree in the fireplace. Dispose of the tree properly.
- Use tree lights that bear the Underwriters' Laboratory (U.L.) label, and check the strings for signs of wear and tear. Do not use lights that are frayed or that have missing or broken bulbs.
- Always unplug a light string before replacing a bulb.
- Extreme caution should be observed when rigging holiday lighting. Metallic decorations--including artificial trees, some types of icicles and tinsel--should not be strung with lights, as they conduct electricity and may become energized by faults in the electrical wiring.
- Avoid overloading wall outlets or extension cords. Use no more than three sets of lights per extension cord, and do not run cords under rugs or in other paths of travel. If the cord ever feels hot, that means it's carrying too much electricity.
- Use miniature lights that have cool-burning bulbs.
- Use only outdoor lights on the exterior of a building. Point the light sockets down to avoid the collection of moisture. Keep outdoor electrical connectors above ground and out of puddles of snow.
- When connecting light strands outdoors, wrap a plastic bag around the connections and tie the ends with teflon tape.
- Never staple lights to fasten them to walls or other surfaces. Use plastic or metal hooks for hanging.
- Remember to turn off all lights and other electrical decorations before leaving the premises for extended periods of time or going to sleep.
- Do not obstruct exit doors, corridors, fire alarms, sprinkler heads or any other emergency-response equipment with decorations of any kind.
- Check fire alarms and smoke detectors regularly. Be sure to keep them stocked with fresh batteries.
- Always keep a fire extinguisher in an easily accessible place.
Inside Self-Storage wishes you a happy and safe holiday.
Holiday safety tips were provided by the Environmental Health and Safety Department of the University of Maryland (www.ehs.umaryland.edu); the Summit Area Jaycees of New Jersey (www.angelfire.com/nj/summitjc); Swift Office Solutions of Tempe, Ariz. (www.sosnet.com); KWTV of Oklahoma City, Okla. (www.kwtv.com); and Christmas2000.com.