How does the jolly old fellow REALLY move all that product so quickly?

  Friday, December 21, 2018

By Maria Elena Hernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – DEC. 21, 2018 – Just the sight of Christmas lights, tinsel and wrapping paper can bring smiles. But when you get down to the brass tacks, the holiday is about logistics.

“Logistics is the science of getting goods and/or services from Point A to Point B to Point C and so on,” said Dr. Kevin Cruthirds, an associate professor at the UTRGV Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship.

It’s a process Santa Claus has been working on for hundreds of years. And the work for this year probably started while you were still unwrapping last year’s gifts.

Cruthirds said the process begins right after the current holiday by identifying what went wrong and how can it be corrected for the coming year.

Then come the big questions. 

“How many children does he actually have to build toys for? How many stops does that actually equate to? So, now the logistics nightmare begins,” Cruthirds said. “How do you do that?”

There are several factors to consider. For example, not everyone in the world celebrates the holiday. Not everyone’s been nice. There are different time zones. Some areas celebrate Christmas on another day.

Cruthirds says the first, most basic logistical step Kris Kringle and his elves will (probably) take is to forecast the types of toys needed for the coming year.

“They'll produce in what’s called a ‘push inventory system,’ meaning that they’re going to make it for inventory and hold it.”

For example, bikes, game consoles and dolls are popular, so Santa’s workshop will estimate how many will be needed, and start production on those. Those items will be ready even before the Christmas wish lists start rolling in.

As Christmas nears, Santa gets better information about the goods needed from two sources.

“In my opinion, one would be children’s letters that come into him,” Cruthirds said. “Another source of information is what we call Mall Santas. The Mall Santas are a great agent for information for him.”

The new data change the way Santa’s Workshop operates.

“Now, with that information, Santa and his production crew are going to revert from a push inventory system – where goods were made for the shelf – into a ‘pull inventory system,’ where the items that you requested will be those that are being made,” Cruthirds said.

So far, the steps just involve St. Nick’s approach for building toys. But there’s more to cover.

“You also have to take into consideration packaging, for example,” he said.

Boxes, wrapping paper, ribbon, gifts tags, and lots and lots and lots of tape. Fortunately for Santa Claus and his senior vice president or chief operations officer, computers can help with the logistics.

“In today’s world of manufacturing, there is a type of software called ‘enterprise resource planning,’” he said. “As forecasting is put into the ERP system, all the suppliers now get that information at the same time, and they begin producing the parts so that it all comes together at one time … in a perfect world.”

The culmination of all this work ends with overnight delivery on Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning.

Cruthirds said Santa could well have multiple distribution centers around the world, where he picks up new loads of gifts – which admittedly strays from the conventional understanding involving magic reindeer.

But what happens if a gift needs to be returned or exchanged? Maybe a bike was purple instead of blue or a package was damaged.

“We call that reverse logistics. What I would believe is that Santa has something worked out with retail stores, to where they take care of the reverse logistics and he’s off the hook until next year.”

If you need help planning your toy workshop, you can enroll in the materials management and logistics program at the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.