The business behind Christmas

Santa Claus, in his red suit, works on a laptop in a living room filled with presents and a Christmas tree

We have to mass produce some parts simply because it's more efficient.
- Santa Claus

December in Australia means the coming of summer and the festivities of Christmas: flaming puddings and white-hot sun, festive lights and, of course, Santa Claus.

Santa has been in the business for several centuries, but the logistics of delivering presents to billions of children throughout the world remains daunting.

In the lead up to Christmas Day, we had a chat with Santa about what it’s really like to run the business with all the toys.

First off, you have many names. What do you prefer to be called?

I don’t mind so long as you call me. In my younger years I was called Nikolas the Wonderworker, but my miracle-working years are now behind me!

Your brand is synonymous with Christmas—in itself a commercial juggernaut. How did the business start?

Back in Asia Minor, where we started about eight or so centuries ago, we didn’t have much of anything except chickpea dip. So we figured why not turn the dreary winter months into an excuse for feasting and presents? The idea took off and before we knew it we had to bring on board elves and flying reindeer to keep up with demand.

Has it been difficult being an independent toy manufacturer in today’s competitive market?

The elves take pride in their toy making and in all the different components being handmade. Inevitably, over the years, we have to mass-produce some parts simply because it’s more efficient.

But this has posed other problems too. Modifying human-scale equipment for elves is a challenge. We’ve had to make sure it meets occupational health and safety requirements.

You and your wife Mary Claus are partners in marriage and business. Is it hard juggling work and home life?

The reality is that we’re a thoroughly modern couple and Mary's really the brains of the operation. She responsible for procurement and recruitment.

Aside from being the face of the business and delivering gifts, I just have to be jolly and keep my BMI at a certain point, which can be difficult because the private me actually prefers light dishes.

And the reindeer? How do they cope with the long distances?

When we started this business reindeer would sometimes work 24 hours a day. Now we factor in regular breaks (negotiating commercial flight paths is stressful) and safety equipment (solar panels on roofs can be pretty slippery). From an efficiency perspective it hurts but hey… happy reindeer equals happy kids.

What’s the most challenging aspect of living life in the highway of the skies—have you ever contemplated outsourcing delivery?

Sometimes the wind chill isn’t comfortable and after seventeen hours flying you get a bit hoarse. It makes shouting “Ho ho ho!” a bit difficult but I keep a cough lozenge on hand.

In terms of outsourcing delivery it occurred to me when the market got more competitive—but on some level it would defeat the purpose of what I do. It’s like a singing waiter. People expect to see the jolly man in the red twin set. I can’t disappoint.

How have you taken advantage of technological shifts in your industry?

Everything used to be done by ledger. Quill on paper. Today, even though we do deliveries the old-fashioned way, we take advantage of technology to streamline many aspects of our business. Accounting, warehousing, procurement - are all done online or in the cloud.

On Christmas Eve I used to be all on my own out there delivering presents. Now if I have any issues I just jump on my laptop and chat to the elf crew back at the North Pole on Slack. I really can't image business without these digital tools at my fingertips.

Chimneys or through the door?

[Laughs] Contrary to popular belief we generally deliver by prior appointment with parents. If that falls through then we have ways and means. I once had to airlift a doll to a remote village in Swaziland on Christmas morning because a Wildebeest stampede toppled a strategically important telegraph pole and we had no other available communications channels. You do what you need to do.

Finally, any seasonal message for our readers?

Ho! Ho! Ho! Happy Christmas!

Red and gold Christmas baubles hanging on a tree.