Darrell Huckaby was camping last year on Jekyll Island, Ga., when he and his wife saw what he described as “thousands of lights dancing in the Spanish moss” of live oak trees. Like characters in a Spielberg film, they followed the ambient glow and were surprised to discover the source: a small box stuck in the ground.
The electronic gizmo is known as Star Shower Laser Lights, and for the past two Christmases, the light projector has been a retail juggernaut, the latest craze in holiday home decorating.
Indeed, Star Shower, which sells for $39.99, was such a popular item at big-box stores last December that it recalled the great Teletubbies sensation of 1997, or the Cabbage Patch Kids frenzy of the mid-1980s. Shoppers elbowed one another other to grab them off Walmart and Home Depot shelves. People who were left wanting swiped them from front yards, in a rash of thefts that made local news across the country, with the inevitable Grinch references.
Though Mr. Huckaby first encountered Star Shower in the wild, when he returned home, outside Atlanta, he bought three units at a local hardware store and projected them on his farm at Christmas. “It just looks like the sky comes all the way down to the ground,” he said, adding that for a month after the holidays, he and his wife left the lights up because “we just liked sitting out on the deck looking at them.”
Star Shower is made by Telebrands, the company behind those “As Seen on TV” products like Doggy Steps and the Lint Lizard dryer cleaner. A. J. Khubani, the company’s founder and chief executive officer, said he first saw a similar product four years ago when his wife paid $199 for a gadget from a mail-order catalog that projected green lights onto their New Jersey house at Christmas.
“I didn’t care for it that much,” Mr. Khubani said. “It was very different, and I didn’t think it was that appealing to the mass audience.”
But after recognizing its sales potential, Mr. Khubani’s company made some design refinements, like adding red lights to make it more Christmassy and engineered a deep price cut, and in July 2015, he said, Telebrands introduced “something that changes the way people do holiday decorating in a big way.”
Star Shower is back again this year — new and improved, as they say — for $49.99. Now it’s the Star Shower Motion, with red-and-green laser stars that oscillate in a matter that recalls at least to some spectators the more powerful, high-impact lights used at Manhattan nightclubs. In a true sign of its success, competitors have introduced their own versions, including the Startastic and the Star Night Laser.
Jordan Pine, who runs SciMark, a consulting firm for the direct-response marketing industry, and reviews products on his blog, said Star Shower’s popularity had caught everyone, including himself, off guard. “My earliest review was, ‘O.K., this is for people who want a Las Vegas nightclub on their house,’” Mr. Pine said. “I didn’t see it catching on.”
The appeal of Star Shower is its ease. There is no retrieving braided cords of string lights from the basement and untangling them. There is no need to stand on a ladder in the freezing cold. There is none of the frustrating wiring malfunctions that will lead you to drop-kick a plastic Santa and his reindeer, as Clark Griswold does in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
“We had thousands of lights on our house in five minutes,” said Tammy York, who runs the lifestyle website 719woman.com and bought the product last year to decorate the house she shares with her husband in Colorado Springs. The couple are using Star Shower again this Christmas.
“We’re getting older, so we didn’t have to worry about injuring ourselves,” she said.
One wonders if Star Shower, like the iPhone, will revolutionize and disrupt an entire industry — in this case, the Christmas industrial complex. Will string-light makers go belly-up? Should executives from the Christmas Tree Shops chain hold strategy meetings to reframe in a post-Star Shower world?
So far, the old guard seems to be holding its own. Glen Bailey, the marketing director for Neave Décor, which does custom holiday decorating for homeowners in Manhattan and the surrounding suburbs, starting at around $2,500 per project, said it had been business as usual.
“The Star Shower? I know of it,” Mr. Baisley said. “Our designers don’t use them. They really aren’t a substitute for the real thing. There’s nothing more aesthetically pleasing and magical than a fully decorated house and landscape.”
The semipros, the enthusiasts behind those megawatt holiday displays that attract families from miles around, don’t seem keen on the concept, either.
“The Star Shower thing is the lazy way to decorate your house,” said Michael Cook, whose holiday home display in Jackson, N.J., incorporates 15,000 string lights synchronized to music, a project he begins undertaking each August.
Mr. Cook said he wasn’t antitechnology. This year he installed a pixel matrix to create even more complicated lighting effects. And, he admitted, like many people, “I don’t find much pleasure in putting the lights up.”
But “once all the lights are up,” he said, “we have a steady flow coming by.”
“I go out to say hi to every person,” he continued. “If I had the Star Shower projecting on my house, you wouldn’t get that.”
Nevertheless, as sales have shown, the world is full of people who like a quick fix. Mr. Khubani counts himself among them. For the past two years, he has installed Star Shower at both his home and his office building.
With ramped-up production this Christmas and television commercials on a constant loop, he is hoping lot of people feel the way he does about decorating.
“After Thanksgiving, it can get pretty cold out there,” Mr. Khubani said. “You’re on a ladder, the wind is blowing. And the world is full of procrastinators.”