There’s a fine line between passion and obsession. Rich Meyers’ wife Corinne thought her husband crossed that line when an 18-wheeler pulled up in front of their Neenah, WI store with the driver asking if he could unload several pallets of 2.5-foot tall Green Bay Packer-themed Santa figures.
“I was at a retailer merchandising trade show in Las Vegas and got a great deal on these 600 units,” says Rich, owner of A & E Jewelers, with six stores located in WI. “I was so excited about the deal during a busy trade show that I forgot to tell my wife about the shipment. When she called, she literally thought I’d finally lost it.”
Rich can’t exactly recall when his passion for Christmas started. To the best of his knowledge, “It goes back to when I was a kid,” he says. “Christmas always makes me feel good, and I brought that to my retail stores when I got started in the early 1990s.”
With Corinne, Rich opened Vintage Coin and Jewelry in a strip mall in Oshkosh, WI in 1992. Even back in the early days Rich went above and beyond yuletide duty and decorated the store as much as seasonally possible. As the couple became more successful, Rich’s passion for Christmas grew in tandem with his business.
“The Christmas thing really took off in 2009 when we opened the Neenah location, our second store,” says Rich. “Since then it has definitely evolved.”
New stores provided Rich with a blank slate for fulfilling his most ambitious and audacious Christmas decoration dreams. Even early on in the floor-plan stages with his most recent store openings, Rich worked with architects, interior designers, and contractors to establish specific areas of the store where Christmas trees would be displayed.
Such was the case when building their spacious two-story store in Neenah, WI, and this year with the construction of their new 5,600-square-foot super-store set to open this month in Appleton, WI.
“Not only did these areas require a certain amount of space in relation to the display cases and other interior features, we needed to make sure the electricians put in enough outlets that could handle the electricity demand,” says Rich.
Christmas preparations for Rich are a constant process. Even when traveling for business or pleasure, he’s buying Christmas accessories and shipping them home. Rich travels to Europe at least a few times a year. One of his current obsessions is collecting German-made Santa figures – complete with traditional lederhosen.
From January onward, on the 25th of each month Rich reminds staff that there is x-number of months until Christmas. But preparations officially get underway at all A & E Jewelers’ stores around Halloween. Rich, along with fellow A & E Christmas Crazies general manager Donna Fagan, and Oshkosh store manager Sue Rumlow, hold staff meetings with managers from each store and their staff in late October.
At these meetings Rich and Donna ask store managers to submit their decorating plans for the upcoming holiday season. Various ideas, color schemes and even event-driven themes are discussed. Rich is a self-admitted Christmas perfectionist, but there are only a few non-negotiable yuletide rules.
“Each store must have a red Santa figure and a Christmas tree,” says Rich. “And, no one is allowed to say Xmas – it’s Christmas!”
Once decorating plans are approved, each of A & E store’s holiday decorating is set to be done by mid-November. But, being the persnickety and passionate Christmas enthusiast that he is, Rich admits: “Holiday decorating may be done for the most part by mid-November, but we tweak things just about every day until Christmas,” says Rich.
Left to his own devices, Rich would most likely keep Christmas going throughout the year. But his wife Corinne has her own non-negotiable rules about Christmas decorations: they come down no later than January 7 or 8.
After 20 years in business, Rich has purchased an enormous number of Christmas decorations. He estimates that he has spent $30,000 to $40,000 in 20 years on decorations, with two tall Christmas tress, measuring 15- and 16-feet, the big-ticket items, each costing around $2,000.
Given the fragile nature of many Christmas decorations Rich estimates he has disposed of roughly $25,000 to $30,000 worth of Christmas stuff. “Things get broken and can’t be repaired, so we throw away over $1,000 worth of holiday decorations each year,” says Rich.
For the more durable items that can be used for the next holiday season, Rich has plenty of storage space at the 20-unit storage building he purchased in 2010. Six of the 20 storage units (each measuring 12’ x 24’ for a total of roughly 1,700 square feet) are dedicated to his Christmas decorations. “The large Christmas trees take up one storage unit alone,” says Rich.
Although Rich had to make a heavy investment in the storage building, the other 14 rented units pay for the storage of his many Christmas decorations.
When it comes time for decorating, many A & E staffers do their fair share. But Rich, Donna and Sue log in the big hours, returning home late many nights in October and November.
The decorating split is 90 percent interior and 10 percent exterior with outside lights viewed as a detraction from the more meticulously decorated interior. “Many people tell us that late at night, when the store lights are off, the place just glows with Christmas colors,” says Rich.
Christmas decorations are a seasonal, visual beacon for all six A & E Jewelers’ locations, but that’s the extent to which Rich promotes his stores’ seasonal splendor. He doesn’t promote this quality of his business and doesn’t bother tracking sales that could be directly linked to the Herculean holiday effort performed each year.
“It’s the biggest shopping season of the year when jewelry stores do a majority of their sales, and marketing experts would tell me to promote this,” says Rich. “But the Christmas decorating is a personal passion reflected in my business, so I don’t advertise it.”
Still, the number of decorations, attention to detail, and the work involved in putting it all together are the sources of many customer remarks. But, for Rich, his staff, and the customers they serve, the greatest joy of the holiday season is taking time out of the busiest time of the year to sit down and appreciate the simple pleasure of looking at a well-decorated Christmas tree.
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