While many have been up in arms against the audacious Christmas-fiends that put up decorations before Thanksgiving dinner is even in the oven, Fred Schwam is neck deep in illuminated angels, reindeer, and candy canes all year round. As the CEO of Mount Vernon-based American Christmas Inc., a company whose holiday light installations you’re probably very familiar with, Schwam and his employees are always in the Christmas spirit.
“We have meetings this week to plan for next year already,” Schwam explains over the phone, after sitting on hold listening to upbeat renditions of classic Christmas tunes. Currently, American Christmas is preparing to take down the installations they have spent all year putting together. Starting Dec. 26, each installation takes about two and a half weeks to remove. But the task is practically effortless compared to the eight weeks needed to set each installation up.
If you think that sounds like too much work for some measly Christmas decorations, think again. Ever heard of the Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Light Show, synchronized to “Carol of the Bells”? That’s American Christmas, and it’s “literally become a world famous display.” His company boasts 300 clients and, while you’re cursing your string lights for a missing bulb, is busy with almost 750 installations worldwide, including Saks in Mexico City and Dubai and numerous Ann Taylor, J.Crew, and Banana Republic locations.
“I will admit to having some moments during the installation season where saying it’s hectic would be an understatement,” Schwam admits.
Schwam acquired the company back in 1988 when he was about to graduate from college. His father originally started a corporation in the ’60s that included the Christmas decorating company and a company dedicated to animated dolls. After selling off the corporation, Schwam’s father orchestrated a deal with the new owners, who were only interested in the dolls and wanted to liquidate the Christmas inventory, for Schwam to buy back the Christmas division. At the time he had one full-time employee, eight seasonal employees, and only began producing decorations in November.
Since then, growth has been considerable for Schwam, who now has 58 full-time employees and 125 seasonal workers. He attributes this progress, as well as the average 14 percent revenue growth per year, to his “extraordinary staff that is passionate about what we do. They genuinely care for our clients and are the foremost experts, I believe, in the world on commercial Christmas decorating.”
Their Mount Vernon office is an all-out collaboration between every department; from their sales team scoping out potential installation locations to their creative and production teams providing unique opinions throughout the process. “Once someone starts developing an idea, everyone on the team has the freedom to share their input and give their twist,” says Schwam.
With so many moving parts, American Christmas has to be extremely organized (think the opposite of Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation). But with yearly company-wide meetings to go over needed improvement, and Schwam “paying attention to everything that’s happening in the business,” there is always room for more growth. Plus, as long as there is a Christmas, Schwam and his team will have an installation to get to work on. Hopefully you don’t feel inadequate that your home set-up isn’t synchronized to “Carol of the Bells.”