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The competitive business of recruiting pro Santas
The professional Santa business can be cutthroat and demanding — and sometimes, it takes an agent to guide the sleigh.
BY ZACHARY CROCKETT DECEMBER 15, 2018 The Hustle EXCERPT: Eight years ago, Kelly Ferrell, a 51-year-old retired cop, was sitting on a bench at a shopping mall in Texas when he was approached by an unfamiliar woman.
“Pardon me, sir,” she implored, “but have you ever considered… being Santa Claus?”
Ferrell certainly looked the part: Since stepping down from the force, he’d grown a “big ‘ol white beard.” He was a little on the heavier-set side, with rosy cheeks and kind eyes He had, the woman said, the potential for greatness.
And so, Ferrell “became” Santa — not by the grace of self-determination or the Spirit of Christmas, but the keen eye of a Santa scout.
Beneath its wholesome exterior, the professional Santa business is a complex, occasionally cutthroat industry, where top performers are sought after much like professional athletes. But once you’re in the minor leagues, how do you learn the ropes? How do you navigate the business side of things, or negotiate contracts?
You get a Santa agent.
The Santa industrial complex
As it turned out, the woman who approached Ferrell worked for the Noerr Corporation (now Cherry Hill), a Santa training and staffing agency.
“I call them Santa wranglers,” says Ferrell. “They hang out at malls or other populated areas and throw their pitch at every white-bearded guy who comes through. They really beat the bushes to find us.”
Intrigued by the adventure of it all, Ferrell agreed to give it a shot.
By Storytelling Santa
As a Financial Advisor I also often get questions this time of year about what is deductible. Although I will mention things in broad terms, it is always best to ask your tax advisor about your specific items.
Here is a good rule of thumb: If it cannot be used for other purposes and is purchased specifically and exclusively for your Santa business, it is usually deductible.
Santa suit - yes, can't be worn to work or church or anything "normal" Santa belt - yes Wig and beard - yes Boots - this one is tricky - do you wear them to ride your motorcycle? Do you wear them everyday? With Jeans? Might not be deductible. If they are exclusive to Santa then yes. Bells, toys, stickers or candy to give away - yes Eyewear - another tricky one. Do you use them exclusively for Santa? yes if exclusive, no if you wear them everyday. Santa's chair - yes, if it is decorative and not used for other purposes. Memberships to Santa organizations - yes Books for Santa or your Santa business - yes Here are some tricky ones:
Domain name and hosting - yes if exclusive for Santa Internet service - usually you can deduct a portion. Speak with your tax advisor Home phone or cell phone - same as internet service Mileage - a qualified yes. Speak with your tax advisor, keep good records. It can get a little complicated - donated time as a volunteer, for example can count as a donation. Get advice. KEEP RECORDS Hair care products, bleach, etc - complicated. If you bleach year round it may not be deductible. Storage containers - yes, if used only for Santa stuff. Software, computer equipment, cameras, electronics - mostly no, but qualified. You must prove the equipment is dedicated and cannot be used in every day life. Talk to your tax advisor. Most of all, with everything, keep good records! I often recommend that clients buy a 3-ring binder and fill it with paper. Tape receipts to the pages and make notes beside the receipt as to what was purchased and the use.
I also recommend that business purchases be made separate from personal purchases. Keep the receipts separate; it is easier that way. Keep your mileage in a small notebook in your car - or even better, if possible do a MapQuest directions printout for your mileage and place in the same 3-ring binder.
By Storytelling Santa
Though my avocation is storyteller, as many of you know, in "real life" I am a Financial Advisor. Recently I had opportunity to talk with some storytellers about the business aspects of what they do. Most of it is easily transferable to all of us as Santas. this is the first of several. I would ask if you comment, try to stick to the topics here. Other topics I will mention and we can discuss later.
First all, determine if this is a business or hobby. If this is all you do, that is easy to determine. If like me you do several types of "entertainment", it can be either. In my case, I do not track Santa income and expense separately, but as line items in my overall "business". Therefore, if I have income from Santa or from doing a gig as a storyteller or even as a motivational speaker, it is still income from my business I categorize as "entertainer" on my tax forms. The easiest way to make a good determination is to talk to your tax man. Unless you are pretty good at tax law and changes, obtain the help of someone who actually deals with entertainers. It is really worth it because they know all the things to look for.
Several things to remember; if you are going to claim it is a business, you can't claim to lose money every year. It can be helpful to your tax situation, but you do not want the IRS to view it as a planned loss each year. If you do plan to claim it - KEEP EVERYTHING!!! More on this later.
Office: Do you have a specific room set aside for your Santa business? I do have an office in my home for my real job. I alsoou use that room for my storytelling business, so there is not an issue for me. If you do claim a portion of your home for your business it must be dedicated. This is NOT a bedroom with a closet for suits and "stuff" and maybe a desk in a corner. It can be a bedroom dedicated to your business... no bed, no dresser, unless it is for storing Santa stuff. Keep it honest.
If you have a 2,000 square foot home - traditional space, and you use a room that is 10'x20', then that 200 square feet would be 1/10th of your home. Then it would follow that 1/10th of the mortgage, property taxes, insurance, electric and other utilities. Remember that cable TV really is not a utility you should count. Telephone is different and I'll mention it later. Again, KEEP records to prove your deductions.
What usually does not fly is counting space all over your home... a little in the basement, a little in the garage, a little in the bedroom. Count one space as your business space.