Ho ho ho! Most people don’t know it, but I started Santa Industries, Worldwide roughly 1,600 years ago. I’ve survived the dark ages, depressions, recessions, wars, and encroaching competition from retailers. Over the years, I’ve learned an enormous amount about running a successful business and I want to pass on a few tips to you.
#1 – Have a Plan
Contrary to the lifestyle portrayed in popular Christmas movies starring Tim Allen, I’m not lounging around in an oversized track suit or Hawaiian shirt waiting for Thanksgiving to roll around before I start preparing.
My business is year round. The reason we’re able to pull off Christmas Eve so successfully each year is because of what we’re doing on the 364 other days. Christmas Eve is just game time for us.
Everything from toy production to mall Santa training programs occurs behind-the-scenes all year long. I meet with my team early each January to review the successes and missteps of the previous year and to layout a plan for the upcoming year.
I’m a big fan of goal-setting. Every member of my team has goals that they put together for themselves. I also make sure that the team knows what my goals are. I find that level of transparency and accountability keeps me performing at my best.
#2 – Delegate
From teams of elves to mall Santas across the globe, I have long accepted that I can’t be everywhere all the time.
When I first started out, it was me and a sack of toys in a small town. After that first year, I knew that my dream was to give gifts to kids in other towns in other parts of the world. I learned early on that the only person who could prevent that from happening was me. Giving up control wasn’t easy at first. It felt like I was getting further and further away from the kids. And, in a way, I was. But at the same time, doing that has allowed kids all over the world to have an experience they wouldn’t have otherwise had were I to have micro-managed the process. It also has allowed others to experience the same joy that I did during that first Christmas.
I talk to a lot of business owners who struggle with giving up control. They think that they are the only people who can do the job correctly. As a result, they are stressed, frustrated, burnt out and overworked. Remember, the only person who can keep your business from growing is you.
#3 – Solicit Feedback
It’s amazing to me how many companies try to guess what their customers want rather than just asking them. My goal is to deliver what the kids want – not what I think they want. The easiest way to determine that is to ask them. This doesn’t have to be boring or clinical either. We made the process fun and magical for them. More recently, we’ve partnered with postal services all over the world to give kids the ability to submit their letters to Santa. The kids have fun and we deliver better service. Everyone wins.
When is the last time you asked your customers what they want? Are you delivering the product or the service that best meets their needs or are you just guessing?
#4 – Add a Personal Touch
I would love to meet every single child but it’s just not feasible. However, I can give them a personalized experience with me. My mall Santas understand that the kids don’t necessarily want to meet me as much as they want to know that I care about them. Therefore, the goal of each mall Santa is to reflect my love for the kids on an individualized and personal level. My elves add a handwritten tag on each gift they wrap. Everything we do is about trying to make every Susie and every Johnny feel like the most special children every Christmas. I think too many business see their clients as a nameless and faceless mass of people and forget that each one is unique and each one needs to be made to feel important.[Editor’s Note: I pressed Santa to provide some examples of other companies that are doing this well.]
You’re putting me on the spot! You know, it’s a bit cliché right now to mention Zappos, but the team over there is really doing such an incredible job at this. I think Richard Branson and his team at Virgin understand this very well. I know Richard quite well – Ms. Claus and I have vacationed with him and his family on his island a few times. Here’s a guy who runs a multi-billion dollar organization with over 300 companies and yet everyone feels like they know him. He’s really quite personable and that shows through on the front lines of his organization. Every level is focused on delivering outstanding service with incredible attention to detail.
Not surprisingly, I think the kids get this principle better than their parents do. Do you realize how special I feel every time I show up to a house with cookies and milk set out for me? In all honesty, some of the cookies are horrendous. But that’s not the point. The point is that they did a little something special and personalized for me. Executives could learn a lot from their kids.
#5 – Maintain Brand Consistency
We are fortunate to have one of the most recognizable brands in the world (other than, perhaps Coca-Cola). But I’m often asked why I don’t updated it with the times.
Trends are just that – trends. They come and go. Imagine if every time the wind shifted I updated my look. The poor kids wouldn’t recognize me! I remember when bell bottoms and tie-dye shirts were all the rage. One of my elves suggested it was time for me to change in order to survive. I had a momentary lapse in judgement and allowed a team of specialists to create a new suit for me. I looked like an old hippie on my way to a Grateful Dead concert. Thankfully, we conducted a small focus group with a few kids before rolling out to the entire organization.
I’ll just put it this way: I have enough trouble with kids crying and wetting themselves on the laps of my mall Santas. It was a disaster.
Does this mean that I don’t try to adapt my business?
Of course not! We change with the times. We’re always looking at ways of making better use of social media and technology. We’re not stagnant at all. But we understand the importance of staying true to the core part of the brand. Look at Coca-Cola. One of the reasons our partnership with them is so successful is because they’ve been as consistent with their brand as we’ve been.
Now, compare them with Pepsi. Pepsi is a fine company but they’ve become stuck in this pattern of having to rebrand themselves every few years. It all started in the 80’s when they did that “choice of a new generation” thing. Problems arose when that generation grew up. So they had to adapt again. I don’t think they’ve ever quite recovered from that.
Your brand can evolve and grow as you and your company evolves and grows. However, be careful not to change just because of temporary trends and fads. People value consistency and predictability with products and services.
#6 – Focus on and Exploit Your Strengths
Over the years, a lot of people have questioned my decision to focus solely on Christmas. I’ve been told that I could give the Easter Bunny and “The Turkey” some serious competition. But the reality is, those holidays aren’t my areas of strength. Were I to venture into them, they would distract me and divert my time, energy, and resources away from our “core competencies” (as MBAs always like to say).
This would open Santa Industries up to increased pressure from outside competition. A distracted competitor is a weak competitor. We’ve had year-over-year growth for 1,600 years and I’m not arrogant enough to believe that I can be all things to all people. You’ve heard the old adage: if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. The same is true in the holiday industry.
Too many entrepreneurs can’t define who they serve and how they serve them. How do I know? They put it at the top of their Christmas list each year. But you don’t have to be Santa to figure this out – just ask an entrepreneur who their target market is and watch while they stutter all over themselves trying to answer the question. Clarity of mission and the ability to focus on developing your unique strengths is what will set you apart from the competition and make it nearly impossible to compete with you.
#7 – Have Fun
While running a business isn’t all fun and games, that doesn’t mean it should be misery and drudgery either.
I love what I do. It’s a gift from God and I try to have as much fun doing it as I can. Fun is part of our culture and it starts at the top of the organization. It’s amazing how many companies try to create programs that are designed to get people to have fun inside the company. As if you can mandate fun. Fun is either part of your culture or it isn’t. If you run a company or own a business and you’re not having fun, don’t expect others to either.
Does that mean that every day is filled with sugar plums and reindeer games? Of course not. I have my bad days – just like everyone does. However, I’m living out my dream and it’s something I’m passionate about. The minute it stops being fun is the minute I hang up the suit. I wish more people could experience the joy I have at work. Unfortunately too many people are too afraid to step out of their comfort zones. They’re missing out. God put everyone here for a reason and, when you discover that purpose and pursue it with passion and diligence, you will find fulfillment.
Merry Christmas To All…
And to all a successful New Year! Which of these 7 Magical Business Tips From Me (Santa) need to become priorities for your business next year?