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What Small Businesses Can Learn From Santa

CHICAGO (TheStreet) -- If crowded stores and bitter cold temperatures have you feeling like the Grinch, it's time to channel a different holiday icon: a roly-poly guy in red who just might be a small-business role model.

Yes, it's time to rethink Santa Claus. Rather than look at him as a shopping mall shill, let's give him his due as successful businessman. After all, this is a guy who runs a well-oiled machine, churning out an astounding number of products that ship out on time year after year.

Corporate Santa

Granted, Santa does have certain advantages over the rest of us. He's got elf employees who seem happy to work for free and don't complain about long hours. His ability to make deliveries to millions of houses all over the world in only a few hours is another big plus. But part of the reason Santa remains such a powerful holiday symbol is that he represents the ultimate in customer service, a cheerful, welcoming figure who makes dreams come true.

In the spirit of holiday cheer, here are a few lessons the rest of us can learn from Santa:

He listens to his customers.
Santa could save a whole lot of time and trouble in those busy pre-Christmas weeks by staying in his workshop and choosing appropriate gifts for each boy and girl himself. After all, this guy knows from toys.

Instead he hauls himself to malls and community centers to meet his adoring public. They may have runny noses and sticky fingers, but he welcomes them onto his lap, giving each child his full attention. He may nod here and there, but mostly he lets them do the talking. Showing a genuine interest in your customers' needs is a key step in building loyalty.

He never overpromises.
During those lap chats, Santa walks a fine line between being positive and realistic. He doesn't respond to pleas for a new bike or Barbie with a simple, "Sure! No problem!" He smiles, and says he might bring one, but with a crucial caveat: You have to be nice -- not naughty -- to get a present. Children are told that they bear responsibility for the end result (which gets Santa off the hook if the hoped-for toy doesn't end up under the tree that year).

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