Christmas came early for the entrepreneur Scott Martin, known as "Scotty Claus" during the holidays. In early December, he pitched his company, the Living Christmas Co., on ABC’s television show Shark Tank.
After a grueling session of questions from some of the top venture capitalists, Martin won over Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who decided to invest in the company. (More on that later.)
About Living Christmas and 'Scotty Claus'
The Redondo Beach-based Living Christmas Co. is a live-tree rental service that grows, delivers and picks up Christmas trees throughout the South Bay and Los Angeles area. After the holiday season, the company continues to raise the tree in a nursery for years to come. Families can even adopt the same tree year after year, ceilings permitted.
Scotty Claus hasn’t just been helping Southern Californians deck the halls since 2008—he’s also creating jobs for veterans and making Christmas greener than ever before.
“The important part for me was to take every avenue of Living Christmas and make it as Christmas-y as possible," Martin said. "It’s not just the trees that are alive it’s how the company functions.
“It’s not just a living Christmas tree company, but a living Christmas company. It’s more than just the trees. I have trees year after year, so how can I make those assets, and look at every avenue in what a living tree can do.”
With such a philosophy, the Living Christmas Co. builds an asset-based community and seeks opportunity to try to solve many labor issues. Take hiring veterans, for instance: military men who are out of work are highly trained in logistics are perfect employees to organize and execute tree deliveries, Martin said. As for maintaining the trees after the Christmas season, adults with mental disabilities are candidates who can water and tender the nurseries.
It’s important to utilize people’s strengths because it imbues value into an employee’s experience so they feel invested in Living Christmas’s mission, Martin said.
In addition, the Living Christmas Co. practices being eco-friendly in untapped areas, but Martin mentioned how the company doesn’t even call themselves green on their website. They just try to do “the right thing,” he said.
The Living Christmas Co. partnered up with Shell Oil to grow trees in some of Shell’s industrial areas as a way to clean up the environment.
“We have so little rainfall in Southern California that the first inch of rain takes all the oil into the gutters, but having trees in these industrial areas prevents that from happening,” he said.
Then there’s the issue of urban blight, typically impoverished areas or the outskirts of town that aren’t visually pleasing. Living Christmas creates green belts by planting trees in these areas, some even being under telephone lines, that can turn areas of urban blight into pre-forests.
Living Christmas works to reduce the number of chopped trees sent to the landfill, closing the eco-gap and leaving tree-huggers with some holiday cheer. But cheers were also heard from venture capitalists.
Holiday Cheer on Shark Tank
Martin knew it was a risk to go on Shark Tank. It took him a while to even decide to go through with it because he didn't want to ruin the reputation of his growing company and its mission by being edited to look silly in the Santa hat that he regularly wears on the job.
And there’s a reason to be nervous—ABC’s Shark Tank is a high-pressure television show where business owners pitch their companies to some of the most illustrious businessmen and women. The “sharks”—including Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran and Robert Herjavec—ask rapid-fire questions and grill a contestant on the spot.
The session is intense because the sharks want to have all the important and necessary information right away; they are making these business decisions on the spot, Martin said.
In efforts to make a deal, entreprenurs vie for their guidance and financial support. In fact, some substantial deals are made on the show, but its no-nonsense, business-savvy and quippy banter garners high ratings.
One shark, Daymond John, almost made a deal with Scotty Claus because he “always wanted to be in business with a guy with a handlebar mustache.”
Jokes aside, Martin’s experience on the show was very much all business. As he mentioned in an interview, the production worked with each contestant independently; Martin didn’t meet any of the other contestants and was only there to film and pitch his own segment. Martin didn't even meet any of the sharks until his actual pitch on camera.
When it was decision time, it seemed as though there would be a resounding “no” from the sharks. Robert Herjavec, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John passed on the Living Christmas Co. But in the end, Martin came out on top.
Cuban quickly saw the market growth for eco-friendly Christmas rentals and contributed $150,000 for a 40 percent stake in Living Christmas.
Since the show, everyone on Cuban’s team has been a pleasure to work with, Martin said, explaining that Cuban is very proactive throughout business conversations via email. Martin said he appreciates Cuban's time and due diligence, especially when Cuban introduces himself to the company's associates.
Since Cuban joined the team, things have definitely changed, and not just financially, Martin said. It's much easier to operate and follow through with the company's mission. For example, Martin said, “It’s that much easier to go to Burbank and to have the city help me find a lot to grow more trees.”
On the show, Cuban said the Living Christmas Co. puts the “conscience back in convenience.” Now with Cuban’s 40 percent investment in Living Christmas, the company can continue to improve and widen the scope of operations throughout Southern California.
For right now, the Living Christmas Co. is focused on continuing what the company does well: being an expert in trees but also “creating value for people,” Martin said.
Listen to the conversation and supplemental story here.