Holiday spruce-ups a sign of a surging economy

Cities are back to buying holiday decorations from Bloomington-based Display Sales Inc., a sure sign of a better economy

By Kevyn Burger
Monday, November 30, 2015

Across the country, in small towns and city neighborhoods, workers are on ladders, stringing lights and hanging holiday decorations. The giant wreaths or fixtures shaped like snowflakes that are suspended from streetlights help create that festive feel of “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song says.

Display Sales Inc., a Minnesota company, is a major supplier of these Main Street decorations, and this holiday season the company is seeing its strongest performance in several years.

It’s a sure sign that the economy has perked up.

“Purse strings have loosened. Cities have money again,” said Display Sales president and owner Nancy Peterson, who employs a staff of 24 at the company’s offices, showroom and warehouse in Bloomington.

Once November arrives, communities are eager to get their decorations up, Peterson says, because it’s part of what sets up the atmosphere that puts shoppers in the mood to celebrate — and spend.

“Cities understand that the merchants need this, it helps their retail sales. It’s part of the tradition, people say, let’s go out and look at the lights, let’s go downtown and shop,” she said.

Display Sales products are dressing the Uptown neighborhood in Minneapolis in holiday style this year. Peterson says the city spent $60,000 for decorations for 175 streetlights, with garlands loaded with twinkling lights twisted around them.

The city of Hutchinson spent $4,300 to purchase new red and green holiday banners to spruce up the area around Library Square, the town’s centerpiece park and historic Carnegie library that’s adjacent to its business district.

“That’s a pretty small investment to beautify that area,” said Matt Jaunich, Hutchinson’s city administrator. “Our downtown represents the heart of our community and it’s a great asset and attraction. We want to invest in it to continue to keep it a focal point.”

Display Sales products not only bring the holiday spirit to Main Streets in Minnesota; the company’s sales force works with communities in all 50 states. Peterson calls the company “a big player in a niche industry.”

It’s a second-generation family business. Peterson’s mother Jane Heither began working for the founder of Display Sales shortly after it was established in 1966, then purchased it 22 years ago. With a background in accounting and an MBA from St. Thomas, Peterson, 52, came in a few years later and the mother-and-daughter team ran the business together until Heither retired.

During the recession, Peterson said many communities held back on expenditures that could be regarded as discretionary. But they’ve returned in a big way. Display Sales is on track to hit $5 million in sales this year.

Display Sales also markets flags, banners, brackets, lights and other forms of decorations to municipalities and college campuses throughout the year. But the holiday season is its major calling card, responsible for over half of its annual deals.

“Our customers tell us that new decorations create the look and feel of a vibrant city, it says, we’re doing well, we take pride in our town,” she said. “It’s a sign of their optimism and prosperity.”