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'A real beard, a real belly and be real jolly': Inside the high-demand world of Santa

The holiday season is upon us, and that means — among other things — a certain bearded fellow in a red suit is in high demand. And, it turns out, the demand for Santa this year is outpacing the supply of people available to play him.

To get a sense of the market for Santa Claus this Christmas season, The Show spoke with Mitch Allen, founder and head elf at HireSanta.com. 

Interview highlights

MITCH ALLEN: You know, business is booming this year. We have more requests for Santa Claus entertainers than we've ever had before. And primarily from small and mid, mid-size businesses. We're really seeing just a huge increase in the demand to help associate their brands with Christmas.

MARK BRODIE: Why do you think it is that you're seeing such an increase this year?

ALLEN: Well, I think we're coming out of COVID. Everyone's back to planning the way that they have before. Not only do we have record demand, but it's also earlier than we've had for the last several years. So, you know, people have some certainty about what's gonna go on. We know how to deal with COVID, the flu and we sort of just I think come back to some, some sense of normality. And then I think that the economy is better than I think most people, or at least the pundits are suggesting right now, that I think we're going to have a very strong holiday season. And from the crowds, we've seen to see Santa, if there are any indication, it's going to be a big year.

BRODIE: So are you finding that you are staffing Santas in retail stores, for example, places that are trying to really pick up on holiday shopping? Is this more like holiday parties? Like, what kinds of places?

ALLEN: I wish it was just one type but it's not, it's all types of things. But you know, retail establishments or small businesses are using Santa to help associate their brands with Christmas, but also to help drive traffic. And you know, Santa has been used for 100 and 20 or 30 years to bring traffic into a re retail establishment, whether that be, you know, a stand alone store or a mall or even like a realtor that's having an open house and wanting to, to show off a house and also to bring in their customers for customer appreciation. Any type of place that really wants to have a holiday event, there's no better way than to help bring in the holiday on Christmas season than to have Santa there.

BRODIE: Did you say that there are realtors that hire Santas to come to open houses?

ALLEN: Oh, absolutely. We, we get so many realtors, in fact,, that have open houses where they're having,, really client appreciation events where they're bringing in all their past clients,, to have pictures with Santa and really are just trying to establish themselves in that community.

BRODIE: What is the most unusual client, I guess, that has called you and said, hey, we, we really need a Santa this year.

ALLEN: Yeah, there's so many interesting ones that I could bring up. But the one that comes to mind first is Ski Dubai. There is literally a ski slope in the middle of the desert in the Middle East called Ski Dubai. And they have a ski slope and a what they call a grotto, which is basically Santa's house on the ski slope, it's 26 degrees. And we send Santas from America two Santas, two Santas every year over there to sit and take pictures and to greet these people in the Middle East. And so it's a, it's a very unique they're a great client and a great partner to work with. But it's pretty unique.

BRODIE: That definitely sounds pretty unique. So like how many, how many Santas are we talking about? How many, how many Santas do you have out in the field this year?

ALLEN: Hundreds and hundreds, you know, we added here at hiresanta.com, we added over 1,100 Santa Claus entertainers this year alone, we have thousands in our database and, you know, on any given day, we'll have several hundred Santas across the country and across the world out there helping to bring the love and joy of Christmas to life.

BRODIE: What is recruiting like?

ALLEN: You know, that's a full, that's, that's a year-round process here at hiresanta.com. We really try to be part of the Santa Claus community. We're very active online. We go to conventions and schools around the country and yes, there are Santa conventions in Santa schools around the country and Santa organizations that we're a part of, and we go to, we put on lectures, we put on classes as well as try to connect with Santas who don't already know about hiresanta.com. And that's how we are able to increase the number of Santas that we have because that's really our limiting factor is we just need more Santa Clause because we sell out particularly on weekends every single year.

BRODIE: Wow. Well, so like, is there a big demand of people who are, who are clamoring to, to put on the suit?

ALLEN: Oh, yeah, there's a huge demand for Santa Claus entertainers, particularly on Saturdays and Sundays in December now to be a Santa. Not just anybody can be a Santa here at hiresanta.com. We like to say they've got to have a real beard, a real belly and be real jolly. So, and not only do that to look the part, They've got to have that love and joy that twinkle in their eye and a real desire to be Santa to children of all ages.

BRODIE: Do you find that there are enough people who A) want to do it, and B) meet the criteria?

ALLEN: There are definitely not enough Santa Claus entertainers. We could use probably twice or three times the number of Santas that we have. But it's always date, time and location, you know, we, we may have some Santas who are available but they live, you know, 100 or 1,000 miles away from where they're needed. And so, so it's not economically feasible to have a Santa travel across the country for a one-hour or three-hour event. It's really trying, that's what we do here at Hire Santa all day, every day is find Santas and then try to put this jigsaw puzzle together. That is the scheduling that we have to do.

BRODIE: OK. So let's assume that somebody comes to you and they have the real beard, they have the real belly and they're, and they're very jolly. What extra training do they need? Like, what else do you have to teach them before you're ready to, to send them out to a Christmas party or something?

ALLEN: Yeah. So once they have the look, and here at hiresanta.com, our Santas are background checked and also carry entertainers insurance. But they, once they have all that, most of the time, we suggest that they go to one of these local or regional or national Santa schools or Santa conventions because during those times, there's lots of great training information. Most of those events also have a new Santa class or day where it really goes over the basics of how to be Santa, how to interact, how to answer questions. You know, there's a number of hard questions that come up as Santa. And in addition to that, it's about taking care of yourself. You know, people think you're just sitting in a chair, but you're really being on, it's like an actor who's performing all day, every day. And it can be exhausting. So we really encourage our Santas to take care of themselves before the season as well as during the season.

BRODIE: So this might sound like a ridiculous question. But I'm curious if you have encountered people who generally meet the criteria. But, you know, maybe for example, like they have trouble growing a beard or like, you know, they've had to go on a diet and, and, you know, they've lost some weight and don't, you know, don't really have the Santa belly, like, do you run into that problem?

ALLEN: So let me go to first the beard. The vast, vast majority of our Santas, like 95% more, are real bearded Santas because that's what the community wants. There are some very, very good fake bearded Santas, think glue on beard, like Tim Allen and "The Santa Clause"
movies, that really are amazing. You wouldn't know, know that they're not real bearded Santas. Now, in terms of jolliness, it's been a trend and it's a healthy trend over the last four or five years where many Santas are slimming up and we are seeing very few, if any, complaints about a, a thinner Santa.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.