Article Date: 12/1/2006

Holiday Memories That Last a Lifetime

The ghost of Christmas Past can still teach a few painfully obvious lessons.

Jim Thomas

Let me say that while I have no experience in managing an optometric practice, I did once work as a shopping mall Santa Claus. What do Santa Claus and optometry have in common? Looking back, there were a few similarities.

First, let me tell you that a top St. Nick, the guy with a real beard and jelly belly who works at a top shopping mall, can make $75,000 or more a season. I worked for minimum wage. So I didn't represent the high-end Santa. I was the polar opposite — call it the South Pole.

Lesson #1: Dress professionally.

On arriving at work the first day, my boss handed me my costume. The outfit didn't include boots, rather, the bottoms of the pant legs were black. "Always wear black shoes," he instructed. "It gives the illusion of boots." After several sprays with Lysol, the suit, hat and beard were as ready as they would be.

In this get-up, folks just weren't buying the idea of a 6-foot, 2-inch, 170 lb. Santa who uses pillows to round out his mid section. One of the more positive parents commented, "Well at least with the kids on his lap, you can't see how bad the suit looks."

To which her spouse replied, "What about that lame beard? Can't we take the kids to get their picture with a real Santa?"

Lesson #2: Use only the best equipment and furnishings.

Yet families decided to take their kids to a "real" Santa even before they saw my costume. They left when they saw "Christmastown," the place where kids wait in line, which included a broken train and electronic reindeer that moved with such a loud creak that several of Santa's Elves would unplug them. One child told his mom, "I didn't ask this this Santa for a train. I want one that works."

Lesson #3: Your staff makes the difference.

A good elf sets the pace. Compare an enthusiastic "Welcome to the Christmastown — Santa will be so happy to see you!" with the monotone "The line starts here."

My best elf, Louise, alerted me to the tougher customers. She would rub her forehead to indicate that the next kid would ask for the impossible, such as, "I want a hippo."

"How do I answer that?" I asked.

Louise replied: "Relax. You're not really Santa. Your job is to make kids smile so their parents walk away with a nice picture. For years to come, they'll see the photo and laugh. What more could you give them?"

On behalf of our team at Optometric Management, we wish you a prosperous, joyous and safe holiday season.

Optometric Management, Issue: December 2006