Tammy Sons, 52, CEO of T.N. Nursery, knows all too well the highs and lows of running a seasonal business during the holiday season. The third-generation nursery began selling Christmas trees in the ’50s and now ships to every state in the country.
“We got the idea from a buyer in Long Island; he visited us in Tennessee in 1959 and said, ‘I will buy every cedar tree you grow in November.’ We sold him more than 80,000 cedar trees and native honeysuckle azaleas, and he resold them all over New York.”
Now, her company is grossing more than $3 million per year, with their holiday season revenue increasing nearly 80 percent above the rest of the year’s sales.
Sons urges aspiring seasonal rainmakers to think creatively about what you can sell to drive extra revenue in the off-season, such as the way she resets as a nursery for all things shrubs, perennials and ferns during the off-season.
“No one thinks the tree nursery industry would flourish in winter because people are not interested in planting plants in the cold season,” she said. Yet, “our season thrives in the holidays.”
Ross Harke, 33, of Lindon, UT, sees a similar seasonal business explosion. A co-founder of smart holiday lights company EverLights, his business generates 80 percent of their revenue in Q4.
Like Sons, he urges wintertime hustlers to diversify. “Since our lights can stay up year-round, they can be used for any occasion. Your focus should be on helping customers with your service and giving them an amazing experience.”
Susan Castriota, a 60-something designer and artist in Pittsburgh, has the art of fulfilling wintertime orders down to a science. She’s been in the industry since the 1980s, and has corporate clients like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz, the White House Historical Association, PNC Bank and the American Heart Association.
She knew she needed to pivot when card-giving started to decline. To stay afloat, she started offering special order cards, such as a New York City line, with a mix of both business and personal clients. To sustain herself beyond the holiday deluge, she also designed and patented a line of glass cookware, which she sells on Web sites like Amazon.
Her busiest months for cards and portrait gifts are traditionally October, November and into mid-December. “It’s a very short season that comes on very quickly, so you have to be prepared and ready to offer a design and printed product in record time,” said Castriota. “I start to advertise early in September and plan on working until Christmas Day if that will make the customer happy,” she said.
Looking to start a cold weather side hustle? Heed the advice of New York City’s Nadia Doh, a macro analyst for a boutique financial advisory company by day, and CEO of Sweetwater Labs, a natural skin and body care line, in her off-hours.
“I started this company after years of searching for products for my sensitive skin,” she said of Sweetwater Labs, which also markets candles, perfume and jewelry.
After getting great feedback from her personal network, she decided to co-found her own company with business partner Yoav Irom in 2017. During the holiday months from October through December, they make roughly $300,000, more than 35 percent of their annual revenue.
Both jobs keep her extremely busy, but it’s worth it to the 50-year-old entrepreneur. She estimates she works at least 40 hours a week for Sweetwater Labs — just because sales volume for seasonal workers is a pendulum, doesn’t mean the crank is ever turned completely off. “Be prepared for a lot of work, so be tenacious, not just for a month, not just for a year, but for years,” said Doh.
Well, assuming you’re prepared to budget smartly, caution accountants.
“There are a few things that are key for seasonal businesses to budget successfully,” said Dawn Brolin, CPA, QuickBooks ProAdvisor and managing member of Powerful Accounting based in Windham, Conn. “First, you need to be researching your costs, and not assume they’ll stay consistent year-over-year. We know this is particularly important right now, as there’s been significant inflation and supply chain issues driving up the costs of items — whether that’s lumber, gas, poultry, labor, or any other item your business uses.”
Brolin also encourages seasonal business owners to consider both their costs and income in annual terms.
“Making $30,000 in two months might feel like a lot, until you realize that income has to supplement costs throughout the year when your income is lower,” she said.
Another problem for those embarking on a seasonal biz are the tax implications.
“For example, if you’re a sole proprietor, and you pay quarterly taxes, making a bulk of your income during a short amount of time will have a significant impact on the amount of taxes you pay in a given quarter,” said Brolin.
If you’re numbers-averse, tough luck. “Get to know your business! You can easily run a report in QuickBooks or whatever software system you use that will help you see your P&L on a monthly basis, including a breakdown for things like general operating expenses and payroll,” said Brolin. “Knowing and understanding these numbers will be super helpful in ultimately setting a budget that will work year-round.”
And budgeting is a non-negotiable. “There are a lot of seasonal businesses that fall into the trap of splurging after a successful season and before they know it, they’re needing to borrow money,” said Brolin. “Think of your business in annual terms, and you’ll be able to avoid this.”