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.
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).
He stays positive.
The Night Before Christmas
, Santa is described as "a right jolly old elf." Good-natured cheer is a key part of the Santa brand. Yes, he may be run ragged by mid-December, but he never lets the stress show. Not only does that confidence inspire trust from the public, his can-do spirit motivates his team to slog through the final rush of toymaking. Ever heard of the elves going on strike? Santa must be doing something right to keep them working productively in the run-up to Christmas.
He doesn't overpay for real estate.
Santa must have cash-flow problems -- giving away all those toys for free isn't really a sustainable business model. But he knows how to cut costs where it counts. Real estate is a bargain in the weather-challenged North Pole, and that's just the way Santa likes it.
For some small businesses, location and decor are competitive advantages (think spas and restaurants). But if you're working on a more artisanal model -- like Santa -- getting the job done is more important than dazzling your customers. While exact details of Santa's workshop headquarters are sketchy, storing all those toys must require a lot of warehouse space. By building where land was cheap, Santa kept his fixed costs to a minimum.
While it may be impossible for any company to replicate Santa's business model, we can all be inspired by his sheer staying power. After all, this is a guy whose brand has stayed relevant for hundreds of years. He must be doing something right.
>To submit a news tip, email:
Follow TheStreet.com on
and become a fan on
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.