Tammy Peters was working as a United Way executive when the lights came on.
Peters said she realized that more and more municipalities were looking at holiday light shows as a way to raise money for worthy causes and to also increase the city's coffers. But the fund-strapped cities and counties seldom had the money for the initial hefty investment.
There were lights to purchase along with extension cords, wiring and other pieces of expensive electrical equipment. There was the cost of the set up and maintenance and the cost of taking down the equipment once the holiday season was over. Peters learned that many localities that truly wanted light shows simply couldn't afford them.
That's when she decided to start her own light business - North Pole Productions. She calls the shows festivals of light or holiday light shows. She started in Branson, Missouri in the year 2000. The Branson Chamber of Commerce was her first client, and it remains an important customer today.
The Branson show starts the day after Labor Day. By February, everything is put away for the year. The months of February through August might be considered a little slow for holiday light shows, but Peters said she stays busy.
"It's a seasonal thing, sure," she said. "But the rest of the year, I'm selling, promoting, traveling."
Peters said she has a seasonal staff of eight to ten employees to cover five to seven locations. This past holiday season, for example, she helped put together light shows in Orlando, Florida, Albany, New York, Bella Vista, Arkansas, Branson, Missouri, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and Springfield, Missouri.
Gate admission usually runs between $10 and $18 for a "car load." She usually brings in amusement companies to provide additional entertainment options. Many of the attractions don't open until Thanksgiving.
"The time of year is a slow time for carnivals," she said. "So it's often a light show and carnival rides."
The light shows are usually put on in city parks, fair grounds or at colleges or universities. For example, a light show on the campus of the University of Central Florida is one location for the company. In Branson, the city closes a mile and a quarter of its city streets for the show. On the company's website, northpoleproductions.wordpress.com, you can see some of the shows firsthand, said Peters.
North Pole Productions usually partners with organizations like the Chamber of Commerce or the Old Threshers Museum in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
Peters also owns her own consulting, public relations and advertising business.
Peters' business started with a love of these types of shows. She used to enjoy riding through holiday light shows. "And, finally, I thought, "I can do this,'" she said. "They are designed to make people happy. Location is the key. You've got to have the power built in. You've got to pick the appropriate location to keep the costs under control."
Peters works with corporate sponsors who contribute to the light shows. That business arrangement also helps to keep the costs down. The cost for even a small light show lasting for just a few days can be as much as $50,000, she said. Most localities work with their parks and recreation departments to help run the shows, she said.
A special program she offers allows clients to change the light displays so that customers won't be looking at the same light displays every year.
"It allows the client to change out the displays every other year," she said. "We put it up, take it down, restore and refurbish it. It's a lot of work."
Her seasonal labor force works ten months a year, said Peters. The labor force includes electricians, laborers and welders. Holiday music, of course, accompanies the shows, so there's also a need for loud speakers, wiring, sound systems and experts to oversee the bells and chimes of the Christmas season, to keep them continuously playing loud and strong.
"We offer clients a variety of services - marketing sponsorships, layout and design of shows, installation, tear down and the refurbishing program," she said.
The company also offers an entire concessions department. During these chilly winter months, they sell cotton candy, snow cones, hot chocolate, hot cider and other snacks and food.
The company is always looking for amusement companies who want to work in November and December, she said, especially in areas with larger populations.
But Christmas isn't just at Christmas time for North Pole Productions. In the last couple of years, they've started to do holiday light shows at fairs and fairgrounds, said Peters. The promotions include Christmas at the fair, Christmas in July, for example.
"There's a lot of money invested in this kind of thing," said Peters. "We get a fee for our services, and we get paid for the set-up, for running it and for the tearing down."
Profits from many of the light shows go directly to the sponsoring parties. Admission often goes in full to a non-profit organization, Peters said. Her profits are taken from ride tickets or money from concessions.
Once the busy season passes, Peters keeps busy looking for new clients. She said she'll use the summer months meeting with potential new clients and working out contracts.