From the September 2004 issue of Startups

Everyone knows the crazed nature that takes over gift givers during the holiday season. No one knows it better than Michael DeAcosta and his three partners, who staff their Santa's Pen kiosk from November 1 through Christmas Eve at the Park City Center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For seven weeks, their seasonal kiosk, offering personalized ornaments, stockings and frames, opens for business inside the mall and takes full advantage of the shopping frenzy that erupts every year.

Running their business during the busy holiday season requires staffing the kiosk during the mall's extended holiday hours. That makes Santa's Pen an extremely time-consuming commitment for the partners of Diversified Investment Group-DeAcosta; his wife, Theresa; and Rick and Shelley Bortz. Rick, 45, owns a construction company, and Shelley, 40, owns a hair salon, so they're already juggling entrepreneurial ventures. Theresa, 36, a stay-at-home mom, must balance caring for her children and working at Santa's Pen when the holiday season rolls around. Michael, 36, a full-time teacher who also has a DJ business, finds that during the time Santa's Pen is open, he's putting a total of 110 to 120 hours per week into all his jobs. "[The holiday] time of the year is when most people are gearing down and goofing off," says Michael. "We don't get to do that until Christmas is over."

Despite the long hours, the partners feel strongly that it's important to their success to have one owner at the kiosk with the employees at all times. In addition to staffing the kiosk during the seven-week sales season, the four partners begin preparing for the holiday season in October, ordering stock and gearing up. The actual holiday rush can be hectic, yet Michael points out that when it's over, "we can take a deep breath, relax, do inventory, and close the doors till [next season]."

Diversified Investment Group, which began operating its Santa's Pen kiosk in November 2002, had approximate sales of $85,000 for the 2003 holiday run. Their kiosk carries some 500 personalized ornaments that span hobbies, sports and professions, as well as personalized stockings.

In deciding to launch the business, Michael and his partners relied on their gut. Michael knew the company's founder and trusted her instincts. That trust has paid off, and today, the company is expanding beyond merely seasonal sales. This past year, when someone approached them about attending a big cheerleading competition, they attended as vendors. They were a huge success, ringing up sales for their large assortment of cheerleading items, as well as other sports-themed and Christmas items.

"Every woman who heads up a cheerleading competition was throwing cards at us and saying, 'We want you to come to ours,'" Michael recalls. Now they've been asked by a T-shirt silk screener to accompany him to a soccer tournament and sell their soccer-themed items.

That success has proven to Michael and his partners that demand for their products isn't limited to the holidays. "Depending on what you're selling, with a kiosk business, there are so many opportunities if you're willing to put forth the effort and time."

SURVIVE THE SEASON
Running a seasonal business poses some special challenges. Here are three tips:

1.Prepare for lack of cash flow during the off-season. Budgeting your income is critical to surviving the slow times.

2.Staff appropriately. One of the biggest challenges facing seasonal businesses is finding enough quality employees to meet peak demand. Most job seekers aren't looking for a seasonal job. Going from a minimal crew to a full-scale work force overnight requires strong recruiting skills. It also helps if you're outgoing and know a lot of people. The good news is, once you do hire core groups of workers for a holiday rush, those same workers tend to return each year.

3.Keep the energy level high. Make sure you're ready for the physical and psychological demands of running a business that does a high percentage of its annual sales in such a short amount of time.

-Taken from Entrepreneur's FranchiseZone