Kevin Huggins, 52, runs a hair salon and spa business in Ashland. Little did he know 10 years ago when his now ex-wife begged him to get a 9 to 5 job that it would turn into a thriving new side business.
He and his crew install holiday lighting and other decorations for a growing list of clients, including the Rogue Valley Mall, Rogue Valley Manor, Harry and David and a few residential jobs.
Irregular hours at the salon prompted his wife's plea, Huggins says. Figuring he could delegate more of the salon business to his staff, he acquiesced and applied for work at Harry and David.
"They put me right to work in Candyland," he says, comparing the job to an "I Love Lucy" episode in which a panicked Lucy and Ethel stuff chocolates in their mouths, blouses and hats.
"I worked on a conveyor belt, placing chocolates into boxes lined with plastic trays. Sometimes it was hard to keep up."
He'd work an early shift at the plant and then cut hair in the afternoons, but it wasn't long before he started applying for other Harry and David departments.
"I definitely wanted to get out of Candyland," he says, laughing.
Every day he'd visit another Harry and David department, do some research, go home and prepare a resume just for that department. He landed in maintenance.
"It was soon after that when they told me, 'Have we got a job for you!' They wanted me to put up the Christmas lights on the 13 buildings in the Harry and David complex." Here are the lights, go put them up, they told him.
He learned as he went, calling on his limited experience decorating the salon for the holidays, a familiarity with hydraulics to run lifts and other equipment, and experience running a crew when he used to salmon fish in Alaska.
Though Huggins was laid off, he got the urge to decorate again the following holiday season. He enjoyed the creative outlet. And the extra money.
"So I approached Harry and David as an independent contractor, and was hired to do the lighting job again," he says.
They liked his work. He thought other people would, too. So by word of mouth, he began to grow the business.
"I took on some homes, got a car dealership, and continued to do the 13 buildings at Harry and David," he says.
Today his client list includes the Rogue Valley Manor and Rogue Valley Mall, in addition to Harry and David, and he was called upon to decorate The Commons for the Medford Winter Lights Festival.
"This year we're working with the mall crew to do the inside, too," he says.
"We not only hang lights and decorations, we also build structures," he says. "We come up with ideas and designs. Plus, we have to know welding, woodworking, mechanics, electrical, wiring and more."
It's hard work, but it's fun too, he says.
"One of the best times I had was designing giant sugarplums and hanging them in the orchard at Harry and David near the rose garden," he says. "Families and kids loved it."
Huggins' crews put up lights in the two months prior to Christmas and take them down in January. It takes at least twice as long to put them up as take them down, he says.
"For some clients, we leave them up longer and change the lights to red and white for Valentine's Day."
There have been some memorable experiences over the years.
"I remember the time a guy was working beside me up on a ladder, hanging giant icicles in a tree. It was snowing and miserably cold. When he was done, he came down the ladder and said, 'I quit. I'm going back to college.' I told him, 'That means my work here is done.' "
Weather is always a factor. One time the wind blew a Santa off the roof. His crew made it more secure on the second installation. It's a learning curve.
"Another time I decided to add some fluffy glitter to a 30-foot Christmas bow I constructed. The fluff turned it into a kite. No more fluff," he says.
Even during the busy holiday lighting season, he still works at the salon a few days a week. His first salon was Hair City on Lithia Way in Ashland, which he has operated since 1996. He added the Plaza Salon and Spa on Ashland's North Main Street in 2006. Today he has 25 stylists who work at the two locations as independent contractors.
Huggins, now single, has a daughter, 18, and a son, 25.
He doesn't see himself getting out of the holiday lighting business anytime soon. He continues to get referrals from customers, and for him it's a satisfying gig.
"It's fun creating some magic out there," he says.
Jim Flint is a retired editor and publisher living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, Huggins can be reached at 541-890-6108.
Correction: A typographical error in this headline has been corrected.