Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Decorating As Business

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The following is an excerpt from the book, Tinsel by Hank Stuever.

Tammie, who most of the year is one of those mothers devoted to her children’s success in school, maintains a business on the side: She does people’s Christmas decorating for them, because they no longer want to do it themselves. She charges by the hour. It’s not that she needs the money. It’s that Christmas needs her.

It is still well before Thanksgiving, but Tammie is already booked to do one or two houses per day, six days a week. Her last job can be squeezed in as late as Dec. 11 or 12. (There would be something seriously wrong with a woman in these suburbs to not, as Tammie puts it, “have her Christmas up” by the 12th.) The jobs in her clients’ homes take anywhere from a few hours—she’ll charge $400 or so to do the living room only—to 14-hour marathon efforts to fully decorate several rooms in one of those 6,000-square-foot Hummer houses, those red brick or limestone-covered mini-castles with Rapunzel-ready turrets in front. On these big jobs, Tammie recruits mercenary elves (her friends, usually), charging the client $1,200.

Tammie recognizes opportunity in another woman’s meltdown moments. Her clients eventually tell me about how overwhelmed and helpless they felt until Tammie arrived in their lives. The sheer size of their dream houses got the best of them. On a first consultation, Tammie has a new client drag out all her cardboard boxes and Rubbermaid tubs of Christmases past from spare closets, extra bedrooms, garages, and walk-in attics. These spaces are usually filled to bursting with the signs of full-blown affluenza: never-ridden bikes and hardly trod treadmills, abandoned lamps, vases, pots, boxes and boxes marked “keepsakes.”

Tammie will take a long look at the Christmas junk, zeroing in first on the key item: What condition is the family’s artificial tree in? (Tammie’s rule on prelit Christmas trees is that anything less than 100 lights per foot isn’t worth assembling.) Next, she wants to know what the client had been doing on her front door, porch area, and foyer. (A wreath? Of greenery or of decorative twigs? Ribbons?) What sort of Nativity scenes does she own? (This is also Tammie’s way to ascertain, if she does not already know, the degree to which the house is, in her words, “Christ-centered.”) What objects should go in the kitchen? How to decorate the dining room table, sideboard, and chairs? What rooms upstairs will need decorating, e.g., auxiliary trees? How does the client feel about a tree in the master bedroom?

I ask Tammie if anybody has a real tree, or if she ever uses real greenery on the mantel. Almost never, she answers bluntly. None of it is real. She tells me to underline this one fact in my notes: Fake is okay here. “Absolutely,” she says. “Fake is okay here. Diamond earrings. Christmas trees. If you want me to prove that fake is okay here, let’s you and I go to the Stonebriar Country Club pool one day and check everyone out. You will see that fake is okay here.”

Many times a client will just shrug when Tammie asks her questions. They tell her to do it all, signing off on a Tammie shopping spree. “Those are the ones who want to go off to work or wherever and come home and have it all done and looking fantastic,” she says, “and they just want to write you the check.” Which is fine with Tammie. It accommodates her idea that she is working magic.

This was an excerpt from the book, Tinsel by Hank Stuever.

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