By Deidre Wengen
Fifteen years ago, if you asked Brian Jones where his career would take him, he would have presented a very different story than the one he tells today. Jones, who was born on the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in Texas, always dreamed about following in his father’s footsteps to become a naval aviator – and he took all the steps required to achieve that goal. Jones attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis from 1994 through 1998 and graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering before enrolling in flight school. But once he arrived, Jones learned that he did not possess the sight requirements needed to become a pilot.
As a way to cheer him up, Jones’ parents sent him a gag gift inspired by the 1983 holiday classic “A Christmas Story”—a Jones family favorite. The gift was a handmade version of the infamous leg lamp from the film, which arrived to Jones in a wooden crate stamped with the word “FRAGILE.”
After attending school to become an intelligence officer and serving as a lietenant, Jones had an epiphany. “On my second tour, I decided that the Navy wasn’t quite for me, and corporate stuff just wasn’t getting me jazzed,” he says. “It just dawned on me that I should sell leg lamps.”
With the help of Cory Jacobs, one of Jones’ friends in the Navy, Jones built a website and began to sell replicas of the leg lamp online following his military service.
“I just thought it would be a little hobby on the side,” he says. “But I made and sold 500 leg lamps in my first year. It just kind of took off.” Within a year, Jones left the Navy to devote his full attention to crafting and selling leg lamps.
In 2004, a year into his burgeoning business venture, Jones discovered that the house used in the filming of “A Christmas Story” was up for sale in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood. Jones’ wife Beverly, an intel analyst and surface warfare officer for the Navy who was on deployment to the Middle East at the time, alerted her husband about the sale via e-mail after her captain jokingly pointed it out to her in an eBay listing.
Jones immediately contacted the seller and offered $150,000 to buy the place site unseen. The seller accepted his offer and Jones became the owner of the 19th century Victorian property that was used in the film.
“From an emotional fan level, I wanted to see the house become something more,” says Jones. “On a business level, I really knew that I could make it work.”
After investing $240,000 into the property, A Christmas Story House opened to the public during Thanksgiving weekend of 2006. And Jones has been expanding and growing his business ever since.
Shortly after opening, Jones purchased the house across the street and turned it into a museum and gift shop filled with memorabilia and props from the movie. He also purchased an adjacent home and is in the process of renovating it this year to help keep up with the crowds that swarm the property during the holiday season.
Jones, who manages the business from San Diego, Calif., said the skills he learned in the Navy are a vital part in operating his business.
“I run everything like I would if I was still in the Navy. There’s a lot of delegation,” he says. “It’s about setting the goal, setting the standards, and letting my employees grow into their roles and show their potential. I can’t always be there overseeing them from 2,000 miles away. There’s a lot of trust involved.”
Jones also believes that being a veteran goes a long way with visitors who come to see A Christmas Story House. The attraction is a member of the Buy Veteran Campaign, and Jones says that being a part of the network of veterans who have served the country is important to him.
“We notice that people reference the Buy Veteran campaign when they place online orders or see it on the door of The Christmas Story House,” says Jones. “I think people recognize that I’ve done a little bit more for the country than the average person who gets involved in business. I’d like to encourage people, especially veterans, to consider creating their own business. I honestly think the best decision I ever made was going into business for myself. I’ve had a really wonderful time with it.”