Decoration firm has big season

WHERE HOLIDAYS BLOOM EARLY

December 17, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

James A. Goodyear has already received his best Christmas gift -- a 20 percent increase in sales of artificial wreaths and arrangements made by his company, United Decorative Inc.

He hopes to get the same present next year by expanding the company's sales territory and product line.

Everyday is Christmas in the company's showroom at 4000 Dillon St. in Baltimore. The walls and floor of the Highlandtown showroom are covered with wreaths, baskets and door and mantle decorations -- all festooned with ribbons, pine cones, red berries and brass horns.

A few yards away, in the former beer truck garage of a brewery, workers are busy attaching artificial flowers, leaves and ribbons to spring floral arrangements. While most other people are putting the finishing touches on Christmas decorations, United Decorative is making its spring products.

In fact, the company's Christmas season came to a close at the end of November, after the last of the holiday decorations were shipped out. United Decorative begins its Christmas season in early summer and by August, two shifts totaling 120 employees are at work. When the Christmas orders are filled, the work force shrinks to about 40, Mr. Goodyear said.

About 80 percent of the company's business is Christmas decorations and the rest is spring floral arrangements. Mr. Goodyear, the owner of the privately held company, declined to provide financial information, except to say annual sales are between $5 million and $10 million.

The company sells about a half-million wreaths and other decorations to chains of discount stores, garden centers, drugstores, department stores and supermarkets.

With artificial items accounting for only about 25 percent of the Christmas decoration market, Mr. Goodyear sees potential for growth.

Artificial decorations have come a long way since the aluminum trees of the 1950s. Using computers and other advanced design techniques, producers make the look of artificial branches, leaves and flowers more so resemble the real thing every year, Mr. Goodyear said. But unlike the real thing, they do not dry up and shed needles on carpets and they can be re-used. "You don't have to chop down more trees," he said.

The company also sells some artificial Christmas trees -- a line that will probably expand because of increasing demand from retailers.

Most of the unadorned wreaths, other artificial greenery, baskets, papier-mache animals, and brass horns are imported from Far Eastern countries, such as Hong Kong, Thailand, China, the Philippines and India. Ribbon, pinecones and packaging come from domestic suppliers.

A former salesman for a national corrugated box company, Mr. Goodyear bought the family-owned business in 1977 for an undisclosed amount. He moved the operation to Highlandtown in 1987 from 701 W. Pratt St.

"I wanted to be self-employed and run my own business," Mr. Goodyear said, adding that he was familiar with the company because he had sold boxes to it.

Although the company was in good shape, it did not offer a high-end selection. So starting in 1980, the company began offering upgraded decorations that were better looking and of higher quality, with prices to match: Retail prices range from about $49 to $90.

But it was not until 1988 that Mr. Goodyear decided to start offering a variety of Christmas decorations as color-coordinated packages. He came across the idea when he saw his designer, Jane B. Quinn, putting together some decorations for her home. The result was their first collection -- Snow Rose, a combination of silk roses and printed ribbon on wreaths, centerpieces, door decorations and baskets.

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