This is Santa season 2020.
“We’re expecting to triple or quadruple our income this season,” said White from the couple’s dining room “studio”. “We went from not thinking we’d be busy at all this year to being busier than ever; we started earlier, before Thanksgiving, too. Parents are desperate to find entertainment and something for their kids to do.”
“We’re busier because we’re not spending time going to different places, getting dressed or setting up,” Rogers said. “We just run back and forth from the bedroom to the dining room.”
Rogers’ son Josh — the founder of Guru.help, a video call service that connects users with plumbers, handymen and other specialists — runs VisitFromtheClauses.com at no charge.
“We usually see the back of a kid’s head when they’re on our lap, but now we can look into their eyes and know their interests, pets and who they are,” said White, noting parents can send “talking points” to Santa through the site ahead of appointments (a feature offered by many remote Santa services this year). “You can see their eyes light up.”
Before and after each Zoom session, an elaborate video plays to “virtually transport” kids to and from the North Pole. A $99 package includes the live Zoom call, a video recording of the meet and greet, a holiday box and other gifts.
“We’ve been very impressed with the demand so far,” said McFarland, who projects tens of thousands of virtual Santa appointments will be booked through the site this year. “It’s more than just a Zoom call. We think people will always want to visit Santa in person, but this is a very new way to offer different options.”
“I want to be the Coca-Cola brand of Santa virtual visits,” Evelsizer said. “If we break even [financially] this year, we’re doing good. It’s about learning, refining and getting into a position to scale in the following weeks. We hope to partner with some brands in the future, too.”
But many Santas, often senior citizens, aren’t necessarily tech savvy. “Each Santa’s technological savviness varies drastically,” Evelsizer said. “We have some that are computer wizards and others that don’t know the difference between a left click and right click on a computer mouse. Each Santa requires attention in different places to ensure they are comfortable navigating all aspects of a live or personalized recorded video session. There is also the lighting and framing aspect that has to be addressed.”
Santa’s Club intends to launch a “university” to teach its Santas how to better operate the technology next season. Many companies are betting on personalization, convenience and the absence of long iines to continue the remote Santa trend long after the pandemic ends.
“We were really nervous if we’d be able to handle the technology to become Zoomers,” said White, or Mr. Claus. “The kids are used to using Zoom these days. We’re the ones getting used to it. But it’s working — and I have a feeling people may even want to talk to Santa well past Christmas this year.”