10 ways to get into the Christmas business

Get a slice of the 465 billion dollar pie.

This is the time of year when some of us start thinking about how we can make money getting into the Christmas business. It’s got to be easy, right?

Christmas expenditures are over $465,000,000,000 (that’s 465 Billion dollars) per year according to market studies. It includes decorations, gifts, food, and about anything Christmas related you can think of. No matter how you look at Christmas, there’s a huge amount of money being spent.

Rather than spending money during the holidays, it might make sense to consider taking advantage of the season and making money.

The good news is there are plenty of Christmas related opportunities around for you to make a little money. The not-so-good news is while most people are taking time off to enjoy the holidays, you’re working long hours, seven days a week.

Is getting into the Christmas business worth it? Maybe. If you view Christmas as the time of year to rest and enjoy being with family, then stay the course. If you have a knack for business, a passion for the holidays and maybe love putting smiles on faces, then get creative and figure out a way to tap into that $465B juggernaut called the Christmas market.

Since January of this year we have been interviewing just about anyone in the Christmas business willing to talk. We started with one simple question: is their opportunity for others to enjoy success? I’m amazed how eager people in the business wanted to share their experiences. Most said it’s incredibly hard work but very rewarding any many ways, including making money.

After almost 30 interviews we realized we were only talking to the successful Christmas businesses. We did some digging and found a few companies that hadn’t been so fortunate. Those entrepreneurs quickly shared their experiences including how getting into the business is a fool’s errand and you’re destined for failure.

What are the odds of starting a Christmas business and being successful? With most companies there’s a one in twelve chance you’ll still be around in five years. That’s not exactly encouraging. What sold great last year might be the worst product ever this year. You can lose a lot of money hoping-upon-hope the next big deal will save the company. We all read about the super-successful entrepreneurs but you don’t see too many stories about the majority that were only semi-successful or had a total flame-out and failed spectacularly. The bottom line is it’s tough out there.

But, a Christmas business is a little different than a normal business. It’s feast or famine. They make money hand-over-fist the last quarter of the year but it’s really hard to sell Christmas garland in March. Many build multi-line businesses realizing Christmas is a seasonal opportunity. These companies do something non-Christmas related the rest of the year to keep the business cashflow positive. Others take advantage of the seasonal nature and retire the first half of the year knowing they’ll start ramping up again in July.

The PlanetChristmas staff slogged through all of our interview notes and came up with 10 ways others have been successful and made money in the Christmas business. In reality, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential earnings. Getting into any these business opportunities is no guarantee of success. Dedication, hard work, being in the right place at the right time and a certain amount of luck factors into if it’s the right fit for you. These are in no particular order, other than how they ended up on the whiteboard in our conference room.

  • Outdoor Decorating
  • Indoor Decorating
  • Mall Christmas Store
  • Pop-Up Christmas Store
  • Huge Christmas Props
  • Christmas Light Tours
  • Light Show Guru/Sequencer
  • HOA Decorator Specialist
  • Drive Through Light Park
  • On-Call Santa

Some of these make total sense. Other, maybe not-so-much until you understand the market. Let’s dig a little deeper into each. We’re just scratching the surface so remember you’ll have to dig even deeper on your own if you want to pursue any of these ideas.

Outdoor Decorating

You would be amazed how many people want to decorate the outside of their homes for Christmas but don’t have the gumption to do it. Others avoid it because they know they’ll have to take stuff down after the season. If you are into outdoor decorating, doing this as a business sounds like a slam dunk. Word to the wise, though: it’s really hard work. How do you price your service? Should you use your own decorations or the customer’s? What about storing the decorations? Don’t forget you’re constantly on-call during December. How do you handle the customer saying his party will be ruined because a C7 bulb on the roofline is out? How about the grandmother on the other side of town saying she wants you to come by and change the timer so the lights go off at 9:30 instead of 9:45? Believe it or not, these are very manageable challenges. Where do you begin? If you have started a business before, you know the basics of cashflow and can come up with a good business plan. Focus on streamlining every process and spending money wisely. The key is to creating a decorating system. Put lights on the bushes the same way. Find a universal clip for holding a light on a roofline. Use the same type of light on all your jobs. By being consistent it’s easy to train employees and fix things when they go wrong. If running a business is foreign to you, consider a Christmas decorating franchise. Just follow their playbook and chances of success are high, though a cut of all your sales go to the franchiser. If you love outdoor decorating and want to get in the business, customers are everywhere.

Indoor Decorating

The experts tell us many companies want a professional to come in and handle all their holiday decorations. It runs the gamut from giant shopping malls to small businesses that want to get their employees into the spirit. Then there are all those homes in the fancy neighborhoods that want to get all decked out for family and that Christmas party where they can really show off. Where do you begin? Networking. It’s all in who you know and the referrals they can provide for doing a good job. If you have a creative streak, indoor decorating can be VERY profitable and it doesn’t hurt that all the work is done inside where the weather is always nice.

Mall Christmas Store

You’ve seen them in some shopping malls. It’s typically a space that has been vacant for way-too-long and mall management has cut a special short term lease of less than six months. Don’t be scared to wheel and deal with management. To the mall owner a space with a tenant selling merchandise beats an empty space selling nothing. Where do you get all the Christmas stock for your store? The best bet is to visit one of the Christmas markets to find the wholesalers. Think America’s Mart (Atlanta) or the Dallas Market Center in January or Christmasworld in Hanover, Germany in January/February. Many wholesalers have some creative financing or what they call holiday billing to make it a little easier for you to purchase their inventory. The key is to research your area and stock the popular items. Typically lights are a poor seller but themed indoor decorations move well.

Pop-Up Christmas Store

Have you ever noticed those little shopping islands down center court of the mall? Specializing in a unique Christmas decoration is the key. It might be ornaments for the regional university or localized holiday scarfs. The key is it’s small and only requires one employee during normal mall hours. You can also extend this idea to an empty storefront on Main Street or a kiosk in a business center. What’s typically the top seller in these popup stores? Ornaments of the local sports teams.

Huge Christmas Props

A lot of people would love some over-the-top decorations but only for one night of the year. It might be for a super-special occasion or their once-a-year Christmas party. What’s an over-the-top but portable decoration? Think pixel tree, giant wireframe of a reindeer or a 30 foot inflatable snowman. If you can set it up in less than an hour and it is guaranteed to get people talking, you’re on the right track. Don’t forget you have to take it down and travel to another job the next day. Don’t be bashful about the pricing. People will pay for “the wow factor” and it doesn’t hurt they don’t have to do work.

Christmas Light Tours

The limousine services latched onto Christmas light tours years ago. Scout out all the decorated houses in your area and drive people around to see the lights. You’ll need the proper vehicle, but be creative. Give tours from buses, muscle cars, convertibles, horse drawn sleighs or about anything else you can get covered by insurance. Be unique, tell a good story during the tour and make the money.

Light Show Guru/Sequencer

We’ve seen it more times than we can count. Someone has purchased a lot of technology to make their Christmas lights dance to the music but have no idea how to connect everything together, much less blink the lights in any sort of patterns. If you’re used to the technology and have a track record of a great display in your community, become the local expert and hire yourself out as a consultant.

HOA Decorator Specialist

If you have HOAs (Home Owner Associations) in your area, getting in with them is a path to easy profits. Not only do they want a beautiful display for the neighborhood entrance, but they would prefer all houses to decorate the same way. If you have an ‘entrance package’ and several versions of ‘home packages’ then they will do much of the selling for you.

Drive Through Light Park

If you have access to several acres of land, then putting up a huge display is a natural draw during the Christmas season. Charging people to see the display makes total sense (or is that cents…) and it’s not unusual to charge $15-$25 per car. There’s one challenge you have no control over: the weather. If you have constant rain or other uncomfortable weather events your potential customers will stay home no matter what you do. Another challenge is your first year you’ll lose money. You’re an unknown entity so people will be reluctant to pay money. The second year everything changes. People know you’re going to be around for awhile and feel comfortable about getting the family out of the house and creating a Christmas tradition. Now you can attract sponsorships and start relying on word-of-mouth advertising.

There are many different ways of getting started all the way from building your own designs, to renting entire drive-throughs to joining forces with other respected business in your area.

Now for the shameless plug: Where do you get all the lights and decorations? Checkout PlanetChristmas and especially the ads in this magazine!

Traveling Santa

Invest in a high quality Santa outfit (think $500+), practice your Santa patter with kids/grown-ups and put on the Santa circuit. For about a month in November/December, there are not enough Santa’s to go around and organizations will pay handsomely for a good one. Make a really good impression and word of mouth referrals is your best friend. You might want to consider Santa school or think about joining one of the many Santa organizations and/or booking companies. Being Santa is easy money but it can also be a grind. If you don’t have the passion, being trapped inside that really hot outfit for long periods of time isn’t fun. If you do have a Santa personality, bringing the Christmas spirits to all ages is something incredibly heartwarming.

Wrapping up

There you have it. Ten proven way to make money in the Christmas business. Is one right for you? Can you take one of these ideas, tweak it and make is just right for how you want to work? Are you in a position to take on a job like this knowing it’s going to be tough in the beginning? Give everything serious thought, make sure it’s what you want to do and get out there and make a difference.

This article was included in the September 2014 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Fred Garvin

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