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Business owners plan ahead for holiday celebrations

  • Jack Thacher, son of Jane Vaden Thacher and Peter Thacher, addresses the entire Vaden extended family. Photo by Nichole Barrali.
  • Erica Jarman and local kids at the House of Strut
  • Family picture is of the Thacher family (left to right – Jack, Peter, Jane, Sarah and Blake Thacher)Photo by Nichole Barrali.
  • Picture of employees is left to right – Jeremy Jimenez, Mike and Rachael Ringer and Jamey and Midge Hermanns. Photo by Nichole Barrali.
  • Blank notepad and pencil with christmas hat

As one of the most celebratory times of the year approaches, Savannah business owners prepare now to celebrate the holidays, whether that means giving back to their employees, the community, or throwing a blowout fete. No matter which way business owners and employees are choosing to rejoice, there are myriad elements to consider when hosting a holiday celebration.

House of Strut, the Starland District’s vintage fashion shop owned by Erica Cobb Jarman, will focus its holiday celebration on local children with its “Fashion Workshop for Kids.”

“We’re providing a safe, compelling, and educational opportunity for children who come into the [House of Strut] store to design and create fashion projects to give as gifts to their family and friends,” said House of Strut owner Erica Cobb Jarman, who employs three other employees.

House of Strut sponsors children from nonprofit Loop It Up Savannah to attend camp during the week-long holiday break, Dec. 18 through 22.

“They will learn techniques, such as natural dyeing, sewing, jewelry making, button creation, and screen printing, during the workshop week,” Jarman said. “Each day of camp, there will be a new instructor, new fashion project, and an opportunity for children of different social, economic, and cultural backgrounds to work together and have fun.”

House of Strut is currently taking donations for this program, to include more children for the workshop. The workshop focuses on the best fashion of the season, not religion, so as include all cultures.

For the adults, Jarman says House of Strut will host a holiday soiree, which she calls, “a celebration of life.” The event will include live music in House of Strut’s brick courtyard.

“The biggest challenge is picking the right date and finding the best dance shoes!” Jarman said.

Tradition and family

While Jarman chose to focus the holiday celebration on the local community, Vaden Automotive Group turns it focus on its employees.

A family-owned operation, Vaden Automotive Group will celebrate its 50th year in 2018 and has 550 employees. The company party is a Christmas event.

“My father began a tradition many years ago when he asked his eight-year-old daughter to write and share a prayer with the group,” said auto group president Jane Vaden Thacher. “I wrote a different prayer and shared it with the group, from the time I was in the third grade, until my children were old enough to take over that tradition.”

The prayer and the Christmas carol are the only religious parts of the evening, says Thacher.

Attendance is not required, but the gatherings have gotten larger and that has presented new challenges.

“The size limits the number of venues that can accommodate us,” she said. “Last year, we had the party on a riverboat, but most years we are in a hotel ballroom. We negotiate a group rate for our employees at nearby hotels, but they are responsible for their expenses.”

The evening includes a seated dinner, a drawing for cash prizes ranging from $50 to $1,000.

“Each, non-management employee has multiple opportunities to win. It is a fair, fun way for employees to win money to spend over the holidays,” said Thatcher.

There are years when Vaden Automative Group doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to host such a big event due to business conditions. “In that case, we have luncheons at each location to celebrate with our employees.”

Thatcher said a the hotel is the best fit for them due to location, parking availability, and being large enough to comfortably host 700 people.

This year, Vaden Automative Group will host luncheons leading up to the holidays at its various locations. Its Christmas party will happen at the Riverfront Marriot in January because of date conflicts.

“We have never had anyone complain or question the Christmas focus,” said Thacher. “Everyone seems grateful and positive about the event.”

Home for the holidays

Jason Restivo, owner of the Victory Drive eatery, Atlantic, hosted last year’s holiday party at his and his wife, Jennifer’s home. He cites the holidays as a way to give back to his employees.

“It’s about investing in our employees,” Restivo explained, who employees 32 staff members. “The fact that our employees are always serving people gives my wife and I to serve them,” said Restivo.

As last year was Atlantic’s first year in business, Restivo and his hosted a holiday party for the employees and their friends, amounting to 150 people.

Restivo and his partner, Ida George, bought the employees signed copies of culinary and wine books for employees; they hired a DJ, distributed lotto tickets, and Restivo and his wife decked their house in holiday decorations and a large Christmas tree.

This year, Restivo says they’ll begin planning the holiday party in mid-November.

“My wife and I are thinking about making a small gift for each employee tailored to their personality. We know everyone so well now,” he said.

“We host the holiday event to get together and disconnect from work and have a good time, no matter what your religious beliefs. We don’t push anything on our employees but we definitely challenge character,” said Restivo.

Early plan makes difference

Logistics and warehousing company Distribution Services International Inc., employs over 100 full-time employees and 30 contractors due to the company’s recent expansion.

Because it’s important to plan ahead and be prepared, the DSI teams begin planning and reserving services for its holiday party in October for early December event date. When determining the exact date, DSI avoids days that are close to school holidays, due to travel and vacation schedules.

DSI strategically hosts the company holiday party at lunch time, or immediately after work hours so employees don’t feel pressure to take time away from their families into the evening.

“Regarding event details, we typically plan and execute as a team. I think working as a committee creates a better outcome,” said Justin Redmond, president of DSI.

DSI’s goal, Redmond said, is to make the holiday party a good experience focused on food, gifts, and fellowship, which are generally well-received among everyone.

“Auctions, raffles, prizes, awards, and similar activities are generally fun and our vendors often like to provide their merchandise or other service and support that can add value,” added Redmond.

Expenses require focus

Luxury event planner, stylist, and event designer Emily Burton advises business owners to plan ahead for holiday parties, as allows them to have a choice of vendors and will save money.

“The closer you wait to holidays, the more expensive vendors and items, such as flowers, become, due to higher demand,” Burton explained.

Flowers are one of the largest expenses due to what’s referred to as “pinching,” according to Burton.

“Pinching is when flower growers hold back on specific colors and flower varieties to ensure holiday seasons are fully stocked with the primary colors and types of flowers for the season ,” said Burton. “The product cost can increase around the holidays. Floral prices can triple or even sometimes quadruple.”

In addition, choosing the right space can be tricky, and while Burton recommends hiring a professional party planner, some essential tips she offers are first, rent a venue space within the working budget.

Next, consider the site’s overall style and interior design. “Ask yourself, ‘Will these work in favor of the party that I’m planning or against?’” she says.

She also advises people be politically correct when sending out invites and using select verbiage so as not to offend people from various backgrounds.

“Make sure the event is culturally diverse and sensitive to the attendees of the event,” Burton continued. “If you are in a situation where there will be many backgrounds, cultures, and religions, it is best to focus on a broader theme but make a plan for engagement and inclusion.”

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