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    Credit: PHOTO COURTESY CHRISTMAS DÉCOR

Dennis Marunde got more than he bargained for when he pitched holiday decorating services to one of his pool customers.

“We called a client, who happened to own [several] Burger King [franchises],” said the president of Arvidson Pools & Spas, based in Crystal Lake, Ill. “We weren’t even thinking about his business facilities, but when we called about his house where we built the pool, he said, ‘I’ll give you 13 jobs.’”

Arvidson is one of several industry firms to diversify its offerings during the off season to include the service and successfully market it to its existing client base. The company is now entering its third season as a franchisee of Christmas Décor, a holiday decorating and light installation firm.

Marunde first was introduced to Christmas Décor in 2008 at the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo. Though it has been four years since the Lubbock, Texas-based company has displayed at the largest conference for pool experts, as of press time the firm was scheduled to return in 2012 as part of an aggressive attempt to recruit additional members.

In fact, it was Marunde’s enthusiasm for the franchise that reinvigorated the firm’s interest in working with the industry, said Brandon Stephens, president of the Décor Group, parent company of Christmas Décor.

“Pools and spas is the second biggest industry we are chasing right now,” Stephens said. “We are seeking good, quality companies that know what it’s like to be in a seasonal business and that are interested in growth and maximizing revenue.”

Founded in 1986, Christmas Décor later began franchising in 1996 and now is available in 48 states and Canada. Currently, it has more than 45,000 customers. To claim an exclusive territory, an interested party pays a franchisee fee of $7,900 along with 5 percent of gross sales as royalties and 1 percent for marketing development.

For its part, Christmas Décor provides training and access to business management software, as well as assistance with marketing materials.

“To me, the model made a lot of sense, and the hunch that it made sense [has been] proving out over the last few years,” said Marunde. “Right now we are projecting more than double the business this year than last year. [Overall], we’ve been on upward, double-digit growth.”

For decades, retailers have transitioned to selling holiday merchandise to maintain profit margins between seasons. However, this approach is gaining popularity for builders and others who wish to capitalize on resources in otherwise slow periods.

Marunde is aware of roughly 12 industry members who are either existing franchisees or who have expressed interest in becoming one. In 2012, four additional pool firms became franchisees and will begin offering the service this holiday season, Stephens said.

One such company is Puryear Custom Pools in Fort Worth, Texas. The firm sees the decorating franchise as an ideal solution to a downturn in jobs during winter.

“We are in the process of getting our marketing materials together, and I expect to hear a lot right after Halloween,” said Jennifer Satterwhite, vice president of the company, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder.

In addition to adding a new revenue stream, businesses are able to retain their employees instead of laying them off for the winter. This is especially important to those in areas with cooler climates, where the swim season is cut short.

“I’m trying to be the kind of employer who doesn’t go through feast and famine, and who keeps people year ’round without layoffs,” Marunde said. “That’s an unstable situation, and I don’t like that.”

This likely won’t be an issue for Marunde, who has found alternative ways to utilize the lighting equipment for non-holiday purposes, including graduations and weddings. Recently, a client hired Arvidson Pools to decorate a barn for a reception. A guest at the event liked the work so much that she rented the same venue and paid Marunde to keep the lights up for the future event. He’s also targeted a variety of other potential projects, including park districts, retirement communities and even Chicago’s famous Grand Victoria Casino. If that bid is won, the job will pay a whopping $100,000, he said.