Most New Yorkers have seen Joe Cuozzo's work, even if they've never heard of him or his company, Urban Holiday LLC; they pass by it as they hustle to work, window shop or stroll through Times Square during the holiday season.
Although it's just two years old, Urban Holiday is the creative force behind some of the city's prominent holiday displays, from storefront windows and interiors to building facades. Clients include some of the nation's largest and best-known retailers, including Macy's, Burberry, Michael Kors, Target, Old Navy, The North Face and Nine West. This is work that goes largely under the radar until it's unveiled, but it contributes to New York's iconic image as one of the most festively decorated cities during the holidays.
The behind-the-scenes work is grueling and complex. It requires months of planning and design, materials sourced from all over the world, precise fabrication and, in some cases, sophisticated engineering. About 50 percent of the company's work takes place during the holiday season, managed by a staff of only six full-time employees, plus seasonal help. Most of the installation work is done in the overnight hours.
"I hardly see my children this time of year," said Cuozzo, founder and president of the Bronx-based company. "We work ridiculous hours. You wake up, and it's nighttime already. I'm making sure all the right people are on the job, that everything is there. It's just constant."
Cuozzo has spent more than 15 years in this niche industry. He was formerly the director of production for Holiday Image, a New Jersey-based company that also transforms city stores, windows and facades for big brands during the holiday season. Before that, he was a visual production manager for Macy's who helped coordinate holiday displays.Joe Cuozzo's business, Urban Holiday, is responsible for many of New York's festive holiday windows.
For Cuozzo, the holiday season begins in the spring. Ideally, that's when Urban Holiday starts the planning process with retailers.
"We love to have a conversation starting in March, but that doesn't always happen," Cuozzo said. "If we're hitting July or August, we're getting late. Some of these programs take months."
Projects range from exterior lights that blanket the front of buildings to window displays featuring classic holiday scenes. The company has built multistory Christmas trees made entirely of lights and elaborate winter scenes in Times Square to promote the launch of blockbuster children's movies. A moderate exterior facade typically costs a retailer $150,000 to $300,000, Cuozzo said, and the average window display costs $20,000 to $40,000.
Although the months leading up to the holiday season are, by far, the busiest for Urban Holiday, it offers its services year-round. The company also has done Fourth of July and Mother's Day displays.
Sometimes, clients approach Urban Holiday with specific ideas about the design they want and an artist's rendering in hand, Cuozzo said. In many other cases, Urban Holiday handles all the design work.
"A lot of times, they'll come to us and say, 'We have no idea.' They'll say one word, like 'Christmas,'" he said. "Then, everyone sits down with the client. Production people, sales people, the creative team — everybody has design input."
Once the client has approved the design, the logistical challenges begin. There are tasks like figuring out how much garland will cover a certain amount of square footage. There's the job of ordering materials from overseas, which can take three or four months to ship, and making sure they arrive on time. There's coordination to be done with outside engineers, fabricators and installers.
"We pull a lot of parts together to make the whole," Cuozzo said.
The installation is the shortest part of the process, lasting between one and five nights on average, depending on the scale of the project.
Cuozzo credits his sales teams with establishing relationships with major retailers and winning their business. Urban Holiday's business tripled in its second year, he said. The visual world is small, Cuozzo said, but there's a lot of turnover, which means the sales team is constantly building and rebuilding relationships.
Like most business owners, Cuozzo is hoping for continued growth. But he wants to go about it strategically, controlling the pace.
"I don't want to grow too fast because that's counterproductive," Cuozzo said. Instead, he'll grow his business one window, one installation at a time while making sure to perfect every detail before moving on to the next.