Jennifer Creighton, The Post-Standard
on November 06, 2012 at 6:30 AM, updated November 06, 2012 at 6:59 AM
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By Jennifer Creighton
When Ted Peterson was faced with the decision to relocate with his employer, to start a new career path in his late 40s or to start his own business, he turned to his college-age son, Garrett.
Ted had an idea for a holiday decoration business serving the decor needs of municipalities throughout the Northeast and was looking for a partner.
A born entrepreneur, Garrett jumped at the idea and Downtown Decorations was conceived.
Since opening its doors in 2003, Downtown Decorations has added one or two new employees each year.
“We’ve seen 25 percent to 40 percent growth per year, every year since we’ve started, with the exception of 2008, but nobody had a good year that year,” says Garrett.
Today, the company has 13 employees and is bursting at the seams of its 10,000-square-foot headquarters on Deere Road in DeWitt.
Last week, the Petersons purchased a 20,000-square-foot building on Joy Road, also in DeWitt. “Hopefully, that building will sustain our continued growth for the next 10 years,” Garrett adds.
The company specializes in commercial holiday decorations and light pole banners. Its clients range from cities, towns, parks and commercial offices to shopping centers and malls. The company has a team of designers, including an interior architect, which travels to a site, meets with the client, walks and measures the site and then creates designs and plans to implement them. Garrett says, “We work with our clients to select what is the best decor package for them and what they are looking to do.”
Once plans are approved, Downtown Decorations works with several manufacturers to create the elements and ship them off to the client. Downtown Decorations occasionally is involved in the installation process, but Garrett says most of its clients choose to do the installations themselves.
Garrett and his father take pride in doing business in Central New York when it’s available and they make a strong effort to stick with U.S. manufacturers whenever possible.
“We went through a big phase of importing from China,” Garrett says. “It’s so cheap. It’s hard not to get caught up in that. But we have brought back a lot of our production domestically, except for the things you can’t get domestically. We are now working on manufacturing our garland 100 percent in the U.S.”
While Garrett says he’d love to start working with his clients in February, 60 percent to 70 percent of his business is done between September and Dec. 1. That means the company needs supplies readily available on demand, which is another reason Garrett and his father choose to work with local manufacturers. “It’s great to do work locally. You can call them up with an order and a week later run over and grab it,” Garrett says.
For example, Downtown Decorations was getting its printing done in Georgia and decided to bring that production back to Upstate New York. Garrett says now they are using a company that is right down the road and he’s able to stop by and check on an order whenever he feels it’s necessary.
Downtown Decorations’ decor and designs can be found coast to coast, in the downtowns of some major cities: Los Angeles, Houston, Anchorage, Philadelphia and Syracuse. Their designs also will be on display in many of the Wegmans stores throughout the Northeast in a few weeks. “We’re all over the nation,” says Garrett. “We have clients in all 50 states, every province in Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Honduras, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Jamaica.”
Four years ago, the company took a call to design the holiday decor for the entire nation of Turks and Caicos. “We sent them over 300 pole wreaths.
They ordered the day after Thanksgiving, we had it to them a week and a half later,” says Garrett.
Garrett estimates that 15 percent of the company’s business is international. The Petersons are looking at the international market as a great growth opportunity.
“I want to expand internationally,” Garrett says. “There’s a big learning curve with doing your first international job and your first exporting job, but after that you have a real sense for it and it becomes easier. There are a lot of business opportunities worldwide that aren’t being tapped. People seem afraid to do business outside of the U.S.” Not Downtown Decorations though, according to Garrett.
Recently, the company completed one of its most challenging yet rewarding projects, in Ecuador. Downtown Decorations came up with design concepts for four separate malls that each had its own identity and design needs.
“There really wasn’t one stock element to the entire program in Ecuador,” Garrett says. “It was a challenge for us, but it gave our designers and myself a fun project to work with where we could stretch our creativity. We got to design some products that had never been done before. We are really proud of that project.”
That project alone required 60,000 ornaments and the installation manual, which Downtown Decorations provides to each client, was over 1,100 pages long. It also has the largest wreath chandelier ever built — as far as Garrett knows — at 16-feet wide, with 2,000 ornaments and weighing more than 1,000 pounds.
It seems that Garrett was a born entrepreneur and grew up coming up with business ideas, some he implemented. “When I was 12 or 13, my dad came home one day with an extra carpet shampooer that someone had given him,” Garrett remembers, “I started shampooing carpets and cars for people. I’ve always had these different business ideas and I still have them.”
When it comes to holiday decor, though, Garrett says while some crazy projects have come along, he hasn’t seen a project come across his desk that hasn’t been possible. “No matter what our clients bring to us, we try our best to find a way to make it work, a variation to make it work or a recommendation that will be even better,” Garrett says. “We never want to tell our clients, ‘No we can’t do that.’ If you can dream it, we can build it for you — well within reason. “