"Oh, it's the world's largest, there is no doubt about that." The man saying that is wearing a red sport coat and leading you through a maze of custom made Christmas ornaments, past a literal forest of artificial trees, and in through the back of the store. "Store" probably is not the right term. "Wally's World" might be a better way of describing it.
"Well, it goes back to 1945 and my father originated it. His name was Wally, he was a sign painter, and he had no idea this would ever become a Christmas store."
Let alone the world's largest Christmas store. Welcome to the outskirts of Frankenmuth, Michigan, home to Bronner's Christmas Wonderland.
"This is really sort of an Andy Griffith kind of town, the place everyone wants to live," so says our guide, Wayne Bronner. He is Wally's son, and the current CEO of Bronner's.
How big you want to know? There are 320,000 square feet of retail space on seven and a half acres. Two million people walk through the doors annually, and there are over 50,000 items in stock at all times. And that's just the beginning.
"We mail out 3 and a half million of those babies with different covers we put on there to keep it looking fresh." Bronner is talking about his catalog business. They also have a very heavily trafficked website, and a large commercial business. They provide Christmas decorations for cities and towns and malls all over the country.
"Did I tell you about the movies?" he asks. Oh yes, movies. Thirty or forty movies on Bronner's credits these days, including the latest Will Smith offering. Set decorators from every major studio know that if they want to make it look like Christmas in July on the set they can call Bronner's. They are open 361 days a year.
They have over 650 people working during the height of the holiday season, personalizing everything from ornaments to Christmas stockings. And when you're done with the tour what strikes you is that these folks could be selling anything.
They have developed a vertically integrated, fully functional, lean manufacturing, import-export business of the first magnitude. It just so happens that when Wayne Bronner painted his first Christmas sign that he set his family down the road to success. That one sign grew into 20 and signs grew into decor for towns. Decor for towns grew into decor for the home. And over 60 years later, here we are.
"It was hard work, but it was fun. It has all worked out. You see, no matter what, Christmas always comes round once a year." Wayne is smiling like Santa.
Complete Christmas villages are over in Section 7. Ho ho ho.
"MOA" is in San Diego this week, and speaking of Christmas, at 9 am eastern time on Christmas day, a special 'Mike On America' hour long show. Sip your eggnog and travel around the country without even leaving your tree behind. On Dancer!!
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