Monday, December 08, 1997

Lights, Decorations, Action
by Vince Bourgault (

This past weekend I noticed that many of my neighbors were taking advantage of the weather to set up their exterior Christmas decorations. Adorning the outside of our houses every winter is one of the voluntary annual rituals that many Minnesotans go through. Some don’t do it, some do a little, and some go all out and have their front yards aglow with lights. The brightly decorated exteriors sure do brighten up what could otherwise be a long and dismal winter up here. Seeing all the Christmas lights makes it feel like the place is still alive, adding color to long, cold nights.

Seeing the neighbors setting up their decorations made me think of how similar wintertime displays are to investing in the stock market. Right now we don’t have any kind of decorations adorning our exterior (except a wreath). But it wouldn’t take much to get started -- just a simple string of lights. And if we start adding a little to the collection every year, eventually we would have something comparable to the best of them. Of course, we wouldn’t just haphazardly add to the collection. We don’t want a chaotic display of lights that would be an eyesore. We’d want something that comes together nicely and is pleasing to the eye. So before we got started, we’d have to come up with a plan or a goal for our display. We’d also want to decide just how much time would we want to spend on this every year. And we’d have to determine if we want something that is as good as the average display or do we want to do better than that?

If we just want to be as good as the average display, we can work around tried-and-true themes. We can go out and purchase lights and figures and set up a traditional Nativity, Santa, or winter-wonderland type of scene. These themes have done well in the past and will continue to do well in the future. Our display would be no better than anyone else’s and we’d have minimized the time we spent on it. Yet we’d be in the "decorated house" market.

However, if our goal is to be better than the majority of displays currently out there, then we’d have to put more time and effort into it. Again, we would still build around the traditional themes but we’d do it with more style, more pizzazz. It’d be a riskier venture, but the potential for greater rewards is there as well. We’d have to conduct research. We would gather some ideas by driving around and seeing how other people are using the same basic tools but in uniquely different ways. We would also look through magazines and catalogs to determine what else is available in the way of decorations but that not everyone is aware of (yet). With due diligence, we would undoubtedly come across some neat new display items that no one is using. These are items that would set our displays apart from everyone else’s. And by doing so, we would have a spectacular display that would bring people from all around. I can see it now: cars and busses would be lined up and down the street as they came to ooh and ahh at our set up. Our displays would win local awards and get written up in the local papers and covered on TV.

No matter which route we take, we’ll have to do a re-assessment each year and make changes accordingly. The more conservative display could be set up almost the same way every year, with some minor changes here and there and with a minimum of time spent. The more risky display, however, would require closer evaluation. We’d be ever vigilant for new decorations that would improve our display and replace ones that are outdated. We’d never fall in love with a decoration as we may have to dispose of it to make room for something even better. But that’s the price we’d be willing to pay if we wanted to keep those busloads of people coming by and those awards rolling in.

I think I am going to go home today and try and locate an extra string of lights or purchase some. I can at least wrap them around some shrubs and bushes. It won’t be anything to write home about, but at least I’ll be in the thick of it and not sitting on the sidelines.

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