Several Calgary companies that professionally hang Christmas lights say they've had an influx of callbacks from customers this season to fix Noma-branded strands sold by Canadian Tire that keep burning out.
The CBC spoke to five professional installers in the city, all of whom said they've experienced issues with the Noma brand since the company changed its design two years ago.
"They used to be great lights, I always swore by them," said Yehudi Fleising, the owner of Vertical Services — one of two companies that agreed to go on the record with the CBC.
- MORE CALGARY NEWS | Calgary man makes impressive Christmas display for 4 decades
- MORE CALGARY NEWS | El Nino causes confusion in backyard ice rinks across Canada
- MORE CALGARY NEWS | Laid-off oilpatch worker buys fire truck to light up his job prospects
"It seems like the grade of the plastic and the wiring isn't as high as it used to be. They're just lighter, flimsier — break easier in the cold," he said.
And while the new design does allow for the replacement of individual bulbs instead of throwing out the entire strand, Fleising says the bulbs always come loose.
"Then you plug it in and you're like, 'Dear Lord, five strands aren't working.' Then you have to go up and testing each bulb to find the loose one. It can waste hours."
Hurting bottom line
"Christmas lights can be super profitable when you go out and do the job once. But when you have to return to a job two, three, four times… customers calling because their lights have all blown out? Obviously your profit margin goes way down," said Mary Ann Smith, general manager of Bugaboo Landscaping.
The company has 14 franchises in Calgary, but Smith says half of them don't install Christmas lights anymore — and more are thinking of getting out of the business — because of the issues they're having with the Noma brand.
Fleising says over the last two seasons, he's had to go back and fix about 25 per cent of his installations.
"These are brand new strands, right out of the box," he said.
"Whereas I have repeat clients that I sold the same Noma brand, eight years ago and those are better quality than the ones I'm putting up now. So I actually trust strands from Noma that I bought eight years ago more than the ones I am currently buying."
Canadian Tire stands by its brand
Noma is a U.K. company, but Canadian Tire is the official Canadian distributor of the brand.
"We are very proud of our Noma brand," Stephanie Nadalin, a spokeswoman for Canadian Tire wrote in an email.
"We actively seek feedback from our customers through many channels, including our website and our Tested for Life panel. In fact, Noma has received over 243 reviews on 126 different products and the results show that a significant majority of customers rate the product four to five stars (five stars being the highest)."
"So far, I have had to take them down and fix them three times. Just not worth it. Avoid these lights," was a Dec. 18 customer review on the Canadian Tire website for the Noma 25 outdoor super bright 9 LED quick clip Christmas lights.
"I was going to use these lights on my Christmas tree this year but was very unhappy to find that they didn't turn on when plugged in," wrote another customer a year ago about Noma 35 outdoor C6 LED Christmas lights.
While Canadian Tire strives to have every Noma light strand work out of the box, Nadalin says manufacturing defects do happen.
"If a customer has an issue, we invite them to return to the store with the product," she wrote.
Time is money
"That's all nice that I can return the strands and get my money back," said Fleising. "But if I'm having to constantly replace strands, then drive to Canadian Tire and return them… that takes time."
Smith, who now calls the Noma brand "the absolute worst," says before 2013, her clients almost never called to complain about bulbs blowing out.
"Sometimes it ends up costing us money just to do the install because we have to keep going back to fix them up."
When asked why they don't just change lighting brands, both companies say there are not a lot of options out there.
"It's hard because they're just one of the leading [brands] in the industry," said Smith.
Fleising even discussed alternatives with his supplier at Canadian Tire.
"And he said, 'Honestly, all of the lights come from the same factories, they're just put into different boxes.'"
Fleising worries that if he can't find a better product, he'll have to charge customers more for his services.
Canadian Tire says it has not seen a decline in customer satisfaction with the Noma lights, nor has it experienced an increase in returns of the product to its stores.