Summer 2011
A Reason to Cheer By Sue Marquette Poremba

As the home entertaining trend continues to stay strong, products for holiday entertaining are enjoying a surge in sales.

Ah, the holiday season! It’s a time to eat, drink, and be merry.

While holidays are traditionally a time for entertaining, Michelle Lamb, editorial director of the trends newsletter, The Trend Curve, believes that the way customers approach holiday entertaining has changed in recent years.

Holidays are more participatory today, Lamb says. People not only get together for celebrations, but they are also centering those celebrations around a specific activity, like a cookie exchange or a dessert tasting.

“Maybe it is driven a little bit by the economy,” says Lamb, “but it may also be driven by the interest in homemade foods and being aware of special issues, like gluten-free diets.”

Eat, drink and be merry

Holiday entertaining is usually centered around food, which is why products such as holiday-themed tableware and serving pieces are so popular. But holiday ambiance is also important, and customers are looking at decorative pieces like flower arrangements, candles and candleholders, and holiday-specific pieces for the tree or mantle, as well.

The holiday period also seems to be extended as the years go by. Your customers might spend Thanksgiving weekend decorating their homes for Christmas, and then leave the decorations up until Epiphany on January 6 or later, for example. Subsequently, the amount of time when homeowners are focused on holiday entertaining has expanded. “Because the season is so long, the colors for the holiday have to dovetail with the colors of the home,” Lamb says.

The products sold by Sorella Home fit into the extended holiday period because they emphasize celebration first, Terri Casner, founder and vice president of development of the Millburn, N.J.-based company, says. Casner believes that the Vento line, which is hand-painted Italian glass, works best for holiday entertaining. “It’s very elegant but has an organic feel to it. It dresses up the holiday table.” The collection includes a decanter, appetizer plates, and wine glasses.

What works now

Sorella Home is a traditional tabletop company, but has recently expanded into products for entertaining. The different collection lines now include items like chip-and-dip dishes, trays, cheese platters, cake plates, and similar accessories. ”

Debbie Bartz, owner and president of Taylor and Coultas, says the company’s recently introduced holiday placemats and table runners have been a huge hit. So too have the children and adult aprons. Products from the Jacksonville, IL company are seasonal and sold on a limited run. “We try to create new items for each season,” says Bartz. “We would love to have not just a new item, but a new type of product to keep our customers excited about our company.”

Bartz adds that her sales were strong last year, which seems to be in line with other companies who sell holiday entertaining products. Matt Jones, vice president of sales with Nambé, Santa Fe, NM, says his company has had record years recently.

“The recession has made people look at what they are spending, and they are looking for items that have multiple functional uses,” he says. Case in point: Nambé sells a wooden salad bowl that can be used for different types of foods but can also be used as a table centerpiece.

Nambé is best known for its signature products crafted from the company’s proprietary alloy made from eight different metals. “The alloy has unique cold and heat retention,” Jones says, “so, for example, our butterfly bowls can be kept in the refrigerator, put in the oven, then placed on the table.”

The company also has a line of ornaments that make hostess gifts. “We also have figurines—an angel, a reindeer, and a sleigh—that make nice hostess gifts,” Jones says.

Setting the mood

Another popular hostess gift item is a candle, and Seda France of Austin, TX, has seen brisk candle sales for the past two years. “Consumers are looking for that special gift to give or [as] a treat for themselves,” says David Martinez, national sales director.

Seda France Candles was launched in 2001, with the Classic Toile Collection, a line of hand-poured candles inspired by the 200-year-old French design element, Toile de Jouy. “Traditional toile fabric motifs, inspired by the French countryside, are combined with visually arresting colors on our Pagoda box packaging, making this the gift that needs no wrapping paper,” says Martinez.

It’s hard to imagine any holiday entertaining without candles burning, either as a table accessory or for ambiance throughout the home. In fact, few things are as traditional at the holidays as candles. That trend toward traditional items has picked up through the recession, says Thresa Downin, director of sales with wholesaler MeraVic in Grain Valley, MP. “During the recession, we have noticed a trend toward holiday items that are either very traditional—natural pine, red and green color collections, and white snowy themes,” says Downin. “Or they are very trans-seasonal items, things with lots of glitter and sparkle in silver or champagne color ways so they can be utilized for holiday and winter home decor.” In what could be taken as a sign of the rebounding economy, look for bold purples and silvers to be popular this upcoming holiday season.

For the past 30 years, MeraVic has been in the floral and holiday décor industry, with a line that offers home décor color palette collections, botanically correct stems, foliages, and pre-made arrangements, as well as accent pieces and holiday décor.

Mixing it up

Mixing and matching seems to be the one consistent trend seen across the industry. Lamb says that it is likely a trend being pushed by the current economy—rather than buy a complete set of matching serving pieces, people are buying what they need, and creating a personal collection that is both eclectic and one of a kind.

“They already have a set of tableware and maybe nice service pieces for entertaining. But they need some items that didn’t come with Grandma’s heirloom china set,” says Lamb. “So people are adding dishes to the collection they already own without worrying if things match.” Popular new pieces are small portion containers for the table, like tasting dishes or sauce bowls.

For some vendors, the trend is to add new colors into the mix of products. At Nambé, a new collection is being introduced that focuses on traditional metal colors of bronze and copper. At Top Shelf in Frisco, TX, purple is the color this holiday season. “Whether it is light purple or so dark it is almost brown, it is the color of the season,” says Hannah Cable, marketing coordinator. “Reindeer seem to be showing up all over the place, too, and I have spotted more than one purple reindeer.”

Lisa Castleberry sells Top Shelf products in her Canton, GA store called What a Girl Wants. In addition to being a popular item for the holidays, Castleberry says she sells the Top Shelf glasses year round because they are popular gift items.

Seeing holiday green

While social media can provide 24/7 information about the different types of holiday entertaining products available and is a popular way to boost all sales, the in-store connection is also vital to sales, says Doug Fleener, president of Dynamic Experiences Group, LLC, a retail and customer experience consulting firm. He is the author of The Profitable Retailer: 56 Surprisingly Simple and Effective Lessons to Boost Your Sales and Profits.

“I think one of the best things a retailer can do is have an event at the beginning of the holiday season so people can see the products in use,” Fleener says. “It lets the customer experience what their guests will experience in their home with these products.”

He suggests small frequent classes that focus on entertaining. “Offer this opportunity to regular customers first,” he says. “Blend it together as an educational and entertaining event. Show how to serve appetizers on plates sold in the store. Essentially, show the customers how to entertain using the products you sell.” And think about all the holidays throughout the year where entertaining could be an option, he adds. “These events do two things. One, they generates sales. Two, they create loyalty and connectivity of the customer to the store.”

Janet Beard, owner of Harvest Drug and Gift in Wichita Falls, TX, is a strong believer in this philosophy. She holds one or two events a month in the store. For example, in the spring, she held several Easter-related events, a Royal Wedding luncheon, and a Mother’s Day party. The events give her customers the opportunity to try out the different entertaining products she sells.

“The whole idea of hosting an event is to drive customers to the sales floor,” she says. “We want to excite them with something they then feel they can’t be without. Our objective is to get them in, educate them [about] the poducts, and get them out to the sales floor as soon as possible.”

Women are always a popular demographic for gift store sales, but Beard says she reaches out to men as well, to come to her store’s events and to introduce them to holiday entertaining ideas. “When we establish a relationship with men, we got him for what we call the ‘Full Meal Deal.’ We have him for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, anniversary, and birthday.” So, many of the store events are focused on couples.

If you have a close relationship with a vendor, Fleener recommends working together to hold in-store events. “Vendors could offer special pricing to go along with the event, or provide door prizes. Retailers shouldn’t be shy about asking for help.”

The owners of Miss Cayce’s Christmas Store in Midland, TX, blend technology and sales in a fun way. Becky McCraney and her sister Kathy Harrison, developed a phone app to help customers plan their holiday entertaining.

“We have a home type setting with tables, furniture, mantels, rugs and lamps to allow the customer to envision the decorations in their own home. We encourage them to bring in pictures and help design their holiday decorations with them,” says McCraney. “Our app features a shopping list and theme ideas so many of our customers bring it in as they check [items] off. Our staff can also use the app to help customers make sure they are getting enough items for their size tree.”

Holiday entertaining is all about bringing people together. “We’re in the relationship business,” says Beard. “We want the things we sell to be the ‘go-to’ items for our customers, and that’s all about building relationships.”

Mouse over images below to view.

Sue Marquette Poremba

Sue Marquette Poremba is a freelance writer based in State College, PA. She specializes in technology, engineering, energy, and IT security topics. She has also published over a dozen essays and is the author of a book about the Philadelphia Phillies.

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