All I want for Christmas is to make a small fortune

We go overdrawn, they get rich. INGRID KENNEDY meets this year's festive entrepreneurs

CHRISTMAS TREE LAND

Diane Rainford knows so much about spruce she has been described as a tree anorak. With her husband, Richard, she runs Christmas Tree Land, one of the largest retailers of Christmas trees in the North-west. The rest of the year they are farmers.

Richard started selling trees in his parent's farm shop, which gave us the idea for something bigger. Our vision was to create a unique display of trees in a large field - a forest effect rather than having them all bunched together. We started out with just a picnic table to sell from but we now hire a huge marquee with a small indoor display. It seems to impress the customers - when they first see the forest of 4,000 trees the normal reaction is "Oh, wow".

We provide a lot of trees to local businesses like Granada Studios, so from the beginning of November we are out delivering and erecting trees. The retail side kicks in from mid-December and then it's flat out until the 24th. It's great fun most of the time - you see people having the funniest arguments over what tree to buy and some even bring picnics. On the downside, it can be physically demanding, particularly when we have bad weather.

The business has expanded every year since we started about 20 years ago. We now make three times as much from Christmas Tree Land as from the farm. People are spending more - the average in 1999 has been about pounds 30 per tree compared to pounds 23 in 1998. This year we have gone on-line to a tremendous response, particularly from London. We've even got a tree in the Royal Mews.

By Christmas Eve I'm ready to shut myself away and not see anybody. We tend to take time off in January - this year we are taking the children to Disneyland, otherwise we head for some winter sun. In February we start preparing the farm for spring. When you run your own business you can't really afford to take too much time off.

I think Christmas is all about money now. I tend to be a bit Bah Humbug about it, but it can also be a lot of fun. We now have our own grotto with Santa and two real reindeers.

Christmas Tree Land (tel: 01744 885099; www.christmastreeland.co.uk)

THE MINISTRY OF FUN

James Lovell and Julian Pearson are both professional entertainers - a former clown and magician, respectively. Five years ago they started their own entertainment agency, the Ministry of Fun, based in East London. It is now one of Britain's main Santa agencies.

In our second year, one of our clients asked if we could provide a Santa. Naturally, we said yes but we didn't have any on our books so we put an ad in the paper and held auditions. Luckily Julian had done a bit of Santa-ing before so he knew what was required.

We now provide more than 500 Santas to department stores, shopping centres, openings and Christmas light ceremonies. Demand kicks off in November. Our Santas are mostly older male actors, although there has been the odd request for a Mother Christmas. There is more to it than just putting the costume on - it's a performance and Santas need to have charm and twinkling eyes. Sadly, these days you also need to make sure they have all been police checked. We aim to offer a very professional service and you won't hear stories of our Santas getting drunk or running riot.

We now do about a third of our business during the two-month run-up to Christmas and we could probably live off the money we make then. Demand gets stronger every year. Last year we had a shortage of Santas so this year we took a proactive approach and set up a Santa school. We auditioned and trained 18 new Santas, taught them everything from how to put on make-up to how to deal with difficult children.

For the rest of the year we provide all sorts of entertainers from stilt walkers to human statues. This year our biggest job has been a contract for Butlins.

In our experience it tends to be parents who fall for the hype of Christmas. Most of the children ask for the usual gifts like dolls, action men and computer games.

The Ministry of Fun (tel: 0171 407 6077)

GREEN GUIDE FOR CHRISTMAS

This year the first handbook for an environmentally friendly Christmas has been published by Green Guides. Managing director, Gavin Markham took over the original London Guide in 1997 and has since expanded the business to eight publications.

The idea popped up in August when I was looking at ways to develop our green handbooks. Christmas has become a time of over-indulgence, excess and waste and we seem to have got away from the traditional values. Publishing Green Guide for Christmas seemed an ideal way to get back in tune with nature and to show people that you can be green and still have fun. It's now possible to have a completely organic and environmentally friendly Christmas, from presents to food.

This year has been hectic. Although some of the entries for the Christmas guide came from our existing database, we wanted to tailor it specially. We have included farmer's markets for the first time to encourage people to shop locally for traditional seasonal products grown in their area. Cutting down on deliveries and foreign imports helps to reduce pollution. We put the guide together in just over four weeks.

For the rest of the year, I've been busy growing the number of regional editions we produce, as well as updating and improving the information. By the end of next year I hope to cover the whole country with our guides. We have also launched a web site this year that will provide a variety of news.

Christmas is no longer the time of magic I remember from my childhood. We are constantly encouraged to spend and consume more and more. Green Guide for Christmas looks back at the history and traditions of Christmas, but it's also meant to get people back into the spirit of Christmas again. Being green doesn't mean we have to give up anything, we just consume it in a different way.

Green Guides (tel: 0171 354 2709; www.greenguideonline.com)

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

    £24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all