By Stephanie Snodgrass
The holidays are all about making memories.
For one Andalusia family, it’s a mission they’ve taken to heart.
Whether working with their company, Burr Industries, or watching families build memories while visiting one of their countless holiday creations – for Justin and Sarah Sightler, it’s all about creating family tradition.
And while the Burr Industries name might not sound familiar, odds are you’ve seen their work. Burr Industries is quickly becoming one of the nation’s leading wholesale holiday display companies. Their work is featured in the annual Christmas scenes in cities and towns across the state, including Andalusia, Brewton, Atmore, Opelika, Elba, Luverne, Auburn, Foley, Birmingham and more. Over the years, pieces have gone as far as Canada, South America, Hawaii and Dubai.
“When you begin a business, you dream about what you can accomplish,” Justin says. “But when you see families loving what was created by your team, that’s what fuels us to continue improving each day.”
In the mid-1970s, Alabama’s economy was changing from agricultural to industrial. Many farmers converted cotton land to planted pines or pastureland. Others shifted to soybeans and other cash crops. Roger Sightler, the founder of Burr Industries and longtime cattle farmer, recognized the need to keep his crew employed between harvests. He took a hobby started in his barn to the next level in 1975.
“Dad’s first piece he ever made still hangs in my office,” Justin says. “He saw a need for quality décor and started with pine burr wreaths. Then, he moved on to vine deer, Santa sleighs and nativity scenes using natural elements from the farm. He started going to ‘market’ in Atlanta and Dallas and made some great connections to build a network of distributors.”
In the mid-1980s, the company created its iconic building-sized red Christmas bow, which is now the company’s staple product.
From there, the inventory, staff and client base grew. In 2012, after operating his own local business, Justin, a 2006 Auburn graduate, and his wife, Sarah, became the owners at Burr and began to focus on growing the business.
Lighting the way
The Burr Industry catalogue now features signature Burr bows, fiberglass ornaments, Christmas trees, greenery and elaborate lighted holiday designs.
“It really is a niche that we fill,” Justin says. “We are always looking for new ideas and educating ourselves on how to take a concept into reality. We are surrounded by talented people, and they are the key to our success.”
In its beginning, work was done with a handful of employees. Today, the roster has grown to more than 20 full-time workers. As seasonal work comes in, that list grows by another 12 to 15, who all work five days a week to meet the company’s growing demand.
“We work very hard to create an environment where people don’t have a job with Burr Industries, but a career,” Justin says. “When our people are successful, we’re successful.”
The Sightlers believe in keeping it in the family when it comes to hiring. On staff is Justin’s brother-in-law, Zach Jones, who is responsible for leading the company’s day-to-day operations and product development. Sarah joined the staff in January as a project manager, and her dad, David, runs the shipping warehouse. Justin also has plans to employ his three kids on the bow floor as soon as they are “table height,” he says.
Although 2020 presented numerous challenges for most small businesses, the company was able to pivot and overcome setbacks. The campus grew with new buildings, managers, and machinery, paving the way for new products and opportunities for growth.
“And, thankfully, a global pandemic can’t cancel Christmas,” Justin says.
In October, production began for the holiday season. Giant ornaments dot the grounds, while production crews were sweating in the lingering summer heat. Orders come in every day from clients looking forward to carrying on Christmas traditions for their families, visitors, and residents.
For those on staff locally, they know that their hard work is appreciated – especially considering their families get to enjoy the fruits of their labor during Andalusia’s CandyLand experience throughout the month of December.
For those unfamiliar with the month-long Christmas celebration in Andalusia, the concept began in 2013 by its Chamber of Commerce and features “snow,” ice skating and tubing, a cottage village on the Court Square and, of course, holiday light decorations created by Burr Industries. The free event earned the city recognition in Southern Living and Country Living magazines and continues to draw tens of thousands of people to the small Alabama city. It is open every weekend in December.
“I can’t describe the feeling knowing our people helped to create – and continue to help create – so many memories,” Justin says. “It’s not only for themselves by creating those pieces (at CandyLand) with our own hands but also knowing that we had a part in bringing so much happiness to all those children. It’s something we are very proud of.”
The same can be said for those visiting Brewton’s Nutcracker Holiday event, Wind Creek Casino in Atmore and OWA in Foley, also during December. Their products are also featured across the country in various lightshows, botanical gardens, zoos and other holiday events.
“Every year, our people work so hard to take those visions that our clients have and transform them into something that people can enjoy,” Justin says. “We are grateful for the opportunity we get every year, and we look forward to what the future holds.”