Summer 2008
Add Sparkle to Holiday Sales By Emily Lambert

The Numbers

Retailers like you know the holiday season is worth every ounce of effort you can put into your business. Paul Stanford knows this too. Which is why, even if he calls the effort a “booger,” his store, The Gift Tree in Naples, FL, often features an upside-down Christmas tree during the winter holiday shopping season. Stanford says the 8- to 10-foot, completely decorated Christmas tree is very eye-catching and keeps curiosity alive in his store.

Pam Danziger believes the effort Stanford puts into creating something different is exactly the kind of thing that compels customers to buy. “The Christmas décor business is [like the] fashion business,” says Danziger, consumer insight expert and president of Unity Marketing, a marketing consulting firm in Stevens, PA. “What compels consumers is innovation, something new and different.” Gift store retailers who stock special, innovative and unique product offerings during the holidays, as in other times of the year, do best. In its 2007 report, “Seasonal Decorations Report 2007 Update: The Who, What, Where, How Much and Why of Seasonal and Holiday Decorating,” Unity Marketing reported that sales of Christmas decorations reached $9.3 billion in 2006, up 7 percent from 2005.

The appeal of ornaments

Industry wholesalers and other experts report that holiday ornaments are being bought not only to decorate millions of Christmas trees, but to add a special holiday touch to almost every room of the house. They also work in garlands and in centerpieces around the home. Attractively boxed and packaged ornaments make great holiday gifts. Encourage your customers to stock up on these as hostess gifts. Brenda Morace, director of sales for G. DeBrekht Artistic Studios in Irvine, CA, says high-quality ornaments are safe bets as gifts for teachers and neighbors. G. DeBrekht is a wholesaler of Russian ornaments.

Many wholesalers package their ornaments inside satin-lined boxes. Ne’Qwa Art, a wholesaler in Lewisville, KY, is one of them. “The box sells [the ornament] initially, too,” says Trieste, public relations spokeswoman who releases her first name only. Ne’Qwa’s ornaments also come with certificates of authenticity, art history booklets and gift cards.

Sticking to tradition

When it comes to Christmas, traditional ornaments and designs seem to be popular offerings from wholesalers. Traditional Christmas and Christian scenes make up the bulk of Ne’Qwa’s sales. The glass ornaments feature intricate holiday scenes handpainted on the inside, through a centuries-old Chinese technique of reverse painting. Reverse painting is a process in which the details of a design are added first, and the background last. This technique also forms the basis for handcrafted ornaments from Designs by Marsha York, distributed by Kanin Press in Portsmouth, NH.

Old world styles are also the offering from the Merck Family’s Old World Christmas where traditional glass ornaments are the company’s mainstay.

Glass and more

Glass continues to be a popular material for ornaments. Egyptian Museum, in Piscataway, NY, imports and distributes Egyptian glass ornaments. Egyptian ornaments, known for their use of gold and etching, are handcrafted by Egyptian glass artists in all aspects: blowing the glass, engraving the design, adding the gold trim and applying the paint. The company offers many original designs. The teapot-shaped ornaments do particularly well, notes company co-owner Linda Paul.

Many ornaments are made using materials other than glass. Beachsand Snowflakes, a wholesaler based in Weymouth, MA, uses sand from beaches around the country to create specialized ornaments that also serve as keepsakes. The company has a list of beaches around the country from which the ornaments are made and can also custom-make others. The company says its ornaments have solid cores and don’t come apart, although slight flaking of the top grains is normal.

Artist Joan Houlehen prefers paper to create her intricate cutout Christmas ornaments. Houlehen also creates larger lawn ornaments with plastic. Then there is Heritage Lace, a wholesaler in Pella, IA, which offers lace ornaments and LACE Creations based in Norristown, PA, which offers ornaments with semi-precious stones and minerals. In another interesting twist, Artful Wares, a wholesaler based in Old Town, ME, offers Christmas ornaments created with reclaimed seashells.

Influences from across the pond

European influences are evident with ornament lines from a variety of wholesalers—arguably a result of old traditions being brought from Europe to the United States. Retailers can stock ornaments with a Russian flavor from G. DeBrekht Artistic Studios. These ornaments come in many shapes and sizes—such as teardrops, birds, fish and Christmas stockings—and typically feature an illustration on the front and decorative painting on all sides. The majority of G. DeBrekht’s ornaments are made of wood-based resin; the company recently introduced glass due to customer requests. High-end boutiques, in particular, do well with Museum Collection Eggs from Kurt Adler, a New York wholesaler of more than 8,000 holiday products. “These mouth-blown, hand-decorated glass ornaments are made by skilled artisans in Eastern Europe in the centuries-old traditions of glass blowing. The designs are inspired by the eggs created by Peter Carl Faberge for the Russian czars of the 19th century,” says Julie Lawrence, marketing manager. While the eggs can be used as hanging ornaments, they also come with stands, in three different sizes, and retail as high as $325 (for a wood lacquered box containing four large eggs). The new line of ornaments from Slavic Treasures out of Mason, OH, is also handcrafted and mouth-blown in Poland.

Other trends

According to Shelli Lissick, brand communications specialist at Midwest, retailers will find bright, bold colors, in addition to Old World charm, in the company’s holiday offerings. Midwest is a wholesaler of decorative gift and holiday items in Cannon Falls, MN. “Christmas Glitz” offers bright polka dots and striped patterns on oversized balls and stars, and “All That Glitters” contains shimmering white and silver ornaments, from penguins to sparkly words such as “Wish,” “Hope” and “Love,” adding that text is still a strong trend.

If your store caters to Gen-Xers who want a clean look and modern design, “Home Sweet Home” from Design Ideas Ltd. might be worth a look, says Erin Soloman, the company’s sales and marketing coordinator. The company has reworked traditional Christmas colors into designs with more contemporary sensibilities. “We took a classic color combination and made it funky,” says Soloman. Terry Fry, creative director for Jim Marvin, a wholesaler based out of Dickson, TN, says the green movement has brought more earth tones to Christmas. “We have done very well with browns, greens and teals,” he says. “Elements of [these colors] add harmony to a home. They are easy to go with for a longer period of time,” he adds.

In the 2008 holiday season, ornaments will even smell like the great outdoors, thanks to a product introduction from Midwest. A new line called “Scents of the Season” features transparent, glitter-infused ornaments that smell like pine trees. “These are great for artificial trees,” notes Lissick. These scented ornaments retail for $6.99.

Make it personal Personalization is another way to offer your customers one-of-a-kind ornaments. “If it is a first Christmas of some kind—baby’s first Christmas or a married couple’s first Christmas—there’s a good demand [for personalization], and it does very well,” says Michael Russo, president of the Gift Association of America, in Johnstown, PA. But be careful. Oftentimes retailers think they can take on the job themselves, and you can really kill yourself if you get bombarded, Russo cautions. “It takes a person who has a steady hand,” he says, suggesting that retailers hire a personalization associate and advertise the hours they will be in their store. Peter Trovato, vice president of Kurt Adler, suggests that retailers hire art school students, if possible.

Another form of personalization is offered via custom programs, with ornaments that reflect landmarks from different towns. Flavia Milano’s memory globes capture the essence of a tourist destination, a city, a landmark or personal moments, and frame them in glass ornaments.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches

As savvy merchandisers know, the Christmas holiday season is the time for glitz and glamor, shine and sparkle, and “over the top” displays. Noel Christmas Store, in Dallas, has been in business for 23 years. Michael Hamilton, the store’s buyer and designer, leaves no stone unturned when creating displays. “Our ceiling is our most valuable space. I hang ornaments from the ceiling around the tree,” says Hamilton. And because beaded garland is hot, that comes out of the ceiling, too, “like a rain curtain,” he says. Noel Christmas Store has more than a dozen themed Christmas trees. These themes appeal to many different types of customers, Hamilton says.

Lights are an important part of every display. “You need spot lights. You have to romance it,” says Hamilton, who changes the color of his spotlights based upon the effect he is trying to create. “On red trees, I use blue lighting to make it pop,” he says. Because displays are done so well, customers occasionally decide to buy the whole tree, completely decorated. Depending on how much and what is on it, a 9-foot tree can cost as much as $6,000.

Russo’s merchandising advice is: “Trim a home and not [just] a tree.” In other words, use your ornaments in many places throughout your store, not just on trees. Put them on wreaths and garlands; use them in centerpieces. Hang them from the backs of chairs or chandeliers. Paul Thompson, vice president of creative for Pittsburgh-based wholesaler OneCoast, recommends checking out the window displays at stores like Saks Fifth Avenue. Stores that do holiday displays “over the top in a fantasy way,” are good for inspiration, Thompson says. And don’t forget your windows. “Windows are so key, whether [retailers] have a lot or a little,” says Thompson. He also encourages retailers to strive for balance and cautions against overloading the tree when creating store displays. After you create a display, be sure not to leave it static for too long. “Many retailers set up displays and leave them there. It’s the worst way to sell,” says Danziger. “One of the factors that plays in getting people back in your store and interacting with the merchandise is curiosity.” She advises retailers to continually change their displays, moving trees to new locations and moving ornaments around on the tree. “You want to keep the interest and curiosity alive,” she says.

Merry marketing

Putting time into holiday marketing will pay off, as well. Many manufacturers offer artist signings. Ne’Qwa’s artists visit 50 stores a year for demonstrations. Noel Christmas Store has had great response to signings from many different artists. “We had Betty White once [promoting her holiday line], and it was like having a rock star,” says Hamilton.

If a manufacturer doesn’t have time to put you on its list of stores to visit, create your own event. “You can close and reopen by invitation only,” says Russo. Noel Christmas Store has a red-carpet event in July for its top 50 customers. “We open up at night to wine and dine them and let them see all the new stuff,” says Hamilton. Russo suggests retailers create unusual holiday centerpieces and sell raffle tickets for them. You can possibly share the proceeds with a nonprofit organization. Be sure to give it enough time. “Play up the cause and get free press from it,” Russo says. No matter what marketing idea you choose, Russo encourages advertising to create excitement. If you put extra effort into scouring the market for special pieces, then take your displays and marketing strategies to new levels, 2008 could be a season to remember. “We’re in a want business, not a need business. You need to get people to want it,” says Thompson, stressing the need to put your all into selling this holiday season.

Emily Lambert

Lambert, a regular writer for GIFT SHOP, resides in Philadelphia. She can be reached at emilylambert@comcast.net.




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