- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The holiday season can be a time of opportunity for small companies, even if business is slow or nonexistent. It gives owners a chance to make contacts with customers and catch up on tasks they have put off during busier times.

But the holidays can impose a burden on a business owner, who has to ensure that customers’ needs are met even when vacations leave a company thinly staffed.

The holidays vary widely from one company to another. At one extreme, it’s the frantic season for retailers, caterers, dry cleaners or any business that has any connection with people celebrating the holidays. At the other end are businesses that have the luxury of shutting down for a week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Most companies are in the middle — the phones ring less, but there is still work to be done.

Tracy Schneider, owner of TLS Marketing in Seattle, says the holidays are the perfect time to do some networking.

“Pick up the phone and call someone and make a date for lunch,” preferably with a client or customer or supplier you haven’t seen for a while, said Miss Schneider, whose business is marketing campaigns for smaller companies.

Renewing the contact can bring more business after the holidays, and it’s also a way to have a little fun.

She noted that this is also the time to send out holiday cards. Remember that even if you have been out of touch with a business acquaintance for a long time, all is usually forgiven when a card with a personal note arrives.

At Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York, where motion pictures and TV shows are produced, many production companies go on hiatus for the holidays. Hal Rosenbluth, president of the production facility, said his staff uses the opportunity to do maintenance work.

“They’ll go take a real good look around,” he said. “It’s time to do paint jobs, do stuff in the hallway that you’ve been holding off doing because of all the people around.”

They are even going to spray pesticide onto the trees in the lobby of Kaufman Astoria, where shows including “Whoopi” and “Sesame Street” and films including “The Stepford Wives” have been shot. The facility is also home to WFAN, a New York sports talk radio station, and the Lifetime cable channel.

Most companies have to work around employee vacations to be sure that customer needs are handled.

At Kaufman Astoria, for example, Mr. Rosenbluth said production companies sometimes have to work longer than planned to finish a show or film, even those that plan a holiday break. He is prepared for that contingency.

At many companies, workers have to be mentally prepared from the start of their employment for the unpleasant possibility they might have to be on duty during the holidays.

At G.S. Schwartz & Co. Inc., a New York public relations firm, “there’s no such thing as being turned off,” said President Jerry Schwartz. “Theoretically, there’s always an opportunity to get involved in publicity. Clients around the world always have publicity needs.”

Mr. Schwartz said he ensures that his company is staffed for the unexpected by creating teams to handle each client.

“Even our smallest client has a team of three people,” he said. At least one member of each team is available during the holidays.

Mr. Rosenbluth and Mr. Schwartz both noted that unexpected work is part of the territory with businesses that provide services. Manufacturers generally aren’t called on at the last minute to provide a product to a customer, although manufacturing concerns do have occasional emergencies.

Mr. Schwartz said business owners need to be sure that customers and clients know what to expect during the holidays — whether, for example, the employees with whom they usually deal will be on vacation.

They also should know whom to contact in an emergency. If the business is going to shut down, they certainly need to know well in advance.


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