For Christmas Thrills Without The Spills, More Decorators Turn To Lasers
Not everyone can be as nimble as Saint Nick traversing wintery rooftops.
That was made apparent to Lou Lentine in 2011. His father was setting up Christmas lights when a ladder slipped out from beneath his feet. "His whole entire side was scratched up," Lentine says.
Thousands of people get hurt this way in the winter. In the last two months of 2015, 14,000 Americans ended up in the emergency room with decoration-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And those numbers don't take into account cases like Lentine's father, who refused to go to the hospital.
Lentine himself spent a few years paying professionals to decorate his home. But Lentine is an inventor — president of a company called Viatek that develops a wide variety of consumer products. And a few of his past creations used lights. So Lentine decided to come up with his own decoration solution.
His idea was to use a laser instead of bulbs to decorate homes. A lens would split the laser so one point could become thousands, instantly decorating the entire surface of a house. The new device had to be able to keep warm in winter weather while also not overheating from the laser.
Lentine called his new product "Night Stars," and in 2014, he brought it to the Home Shopping Network. The laser lights lit up the sales. Once the infomercial started, Lentine says, Night Stars were bringing in $25,000 a minute – much more than the typical $2,000-to-$5,000 average for the network.
"The next day we called up TeleBrands and AJ Khubani (the company and the man behind the "As Seen On TV" label) and said, 'Guys, we got something that's magical here,' " Lentine says.
With Khubani on board as co-inventor, Night Stars dropped in price as its makers switched from metal to a cheaper plastic casing and used Telebrand's resources to buy components in bulk. In 2015, the newly re-branded "Star Shower" hit the market.
"We sold out by Black Friday," Khubani says. "People were buying them at $40 and reselling them on Amazon for over $100. That's how popular they were."
And Millions of Star Showers have sold this year, too — not including knock-off brands that TeleBrands and Viatek have been fighting with patents.
A short drive through the neighborhoods surrounding TeleBrands offices in Fairfield, N.J., makes it apparent how quickly the Star Shower has been encroaching on the territory of traditional lights. Nearly every block has one house decorated with lasers.
Elina Roytbak says she wouldn't have bothered lighting her house in Fair Lawn, N.J., without the lasers. "It's too much work," Roytbak says. "I would have to hire somebody. I would have to spend money on it. Then I would have to take it off."
A huge part of the Star Shower's appeal is the simple setup, which requires lodging it in the ground with a stake (included), connecting it to an extension cord (not included) and pointing the projector at the house.
The aiming seems to be the one safety concern — lights from a Star Shower went into the cockpit of a coast guard plane last year, causing the crew to alert the police. The Federal Aviation Administration has released a statement warning homeowners "to make sure that the lights are hitting their houses and not shinning off into the sky."
For some Christmas light connoisseurs, however, the convenience is part of the problem.
"It seems kind of like the cheap way out," said Amy Vertucci. "I want to see you out there like Clark Griswold stapling them to the roof, like really working for it."
Just a block away from Roytbak's Star-Shower-lit home are the fruits of exactly that kind of labor.
Mark DeSomma has decorated his home with a light show, powered by 23,000 traditional bulbs, programmed to flash and shift in sync with music. About nine cars line the block to watch the demonstration on a Monday night, and DeSomma says weekends draw more traffic.
"I like normal lights better," says Mark's 9-year-old daughter Mia, who is a purist, preferring old-fashioned string lights to lasers. "I think they're more pretty."
And though DeSomma's elaborate light-bulb display draws far more oohs and aahs than Roytbak's Star Shower, she prefers the lasers' aesthetic — and convenience.
"It's very simple but very classy at the same time," Roytbak says. "You put it there and then when Christmas is over you put it away."