Tales from the road: Spreading some holiday cheer

Dec. 2, 2015
New Baltimore, Mich.-based Mac Tools distributor Jim Bernard's annual tradition of dressing up like Santa Claus serves to bring some holiday joy to his customers.

Jim Bernard was just trying to make his customers smile. 

The New Baltimore, Mich.-based Mac Tools distributor didn’t put a whole lot of thought into his decision to don a Santa Claus costume while making his stops during the week of Christmas, 1992. The first-year tool man knew it would be a slow few days for his business, so he figured it wouldn’t hurt his bottom line to have a little fun and bring a little holiday cheer to the shop owners and technicians he planned to visit.

“Nobody’s buying tools that week,” explains Bernard, who has worked as a distributor in the Detroit area for the last 23 years. “You can’t compete with Santa Claus. And if you can’t compete with Santa Claus, you become Santa Claus.”

Bernard’s Father Christmas ensemble drew quite a bit of attention from his customers, which the Mac Tools distributor expected. What surprised Bernard, however, was that he did about $10,000 in business during that week. And with that, a yearly tradition was born.

“I do good business with the suit on, but that isn't the main purpose,” says Bernard. “The main purpose is to give people something to smile about.”

Now, more than two decades have passed, and customers ask Bernard when Santa Claus is coming in the days and weeks prior to Christmas. Some of them even bring their children and grandchildren to their shops to they can grab a picture with “Santa” when he makes his appearance.

“I enjoy it, and my customers get a big kick out of it,” says Bernard.

The lone downside to dressing up like Kris Kringle and making stops at automotive repair shops is that the nature of Bernard’s work as a tool distributor does not lend itself to preserving a Santa suit for very long. He cuts holes into the costume to access pockets, and his get-up gets dirtier with each visit to a shop.

“On Monday, my Santa suit comes out red with white sleeves,” he explains. “But let’s say by Tuesday afternoon someone comes out to my truck and says ‘My air ratchet is broke, can you look at it?’ It gets dirty pretty quick.”

Bernard estimates he’s gone through five Santa suits in the 20-plus years since he commenced with wearing one during the holidays.

“The first one was the most comfortable,” he says. “If I could find the manufacturer of my first suit, I would buy 10 of them. But that first year, I didn’t know it would become a tradition.”

And while he plans to continue wearing one during the week of Christmas for the foreseeable future due to of the joy and amusement it brings his customers, Bernard is quick to point out that the suit does not get in the way of his ability to attend to his customers' needs.

“Even though I look like Santa, I’m still a tool man that’s here to service your tools, repair your tools and get paid,” he says.

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