Fall 2008
Party Your Way to Profits By Melissa Kellogg

Trend drivers

Your customers are entertaining now more than ever. Anecdotal evidence points to more cozy parties, intimate gatherings and events. Today, entertaining is all about creating memorable moments rather than “jumping through gastronomic hoops trying to impress people with the fact that you worked all day in the kitchen,” says Michael Aram, creator of Michael Aram metal serveware. The trend means more customers looking for products that can be set out during such parties and gatherings.

imageCandace Neff Randolph says she’s noticed that people miss the time when they could just have an informal party and hang out with their neighbors. And they are doing something about it. “So now any occasion is an excuse to have a party and connect with others one really wants to be around,” says Randolph who is the creative director and designer for wholesaler Chalkboard China of Dallas, TX.

And with a sluggish economy affecting American pocketbooks, more people want to take the time to create a beautiful environment at home rather than going out, says Dedra Faine, an event and entertaining expert and creative director of DDFaine of Metairie, LA. Allana Baroni, a socialization specialist and event planner who is owner of Get Social of Calabasas, CA, agrees that an economic downturn has had many more socializing at home and creating meaningful, less conspicuous gatherings. All of these trends drive interest in products that are unique, simply elegant, multifunctional and meaningful.

imageAccording to Faine, trends in entertaining include elegant potluck dinners at home in order to take time out with close friends and get to know neighbors. Various age groups prefer various levels of formality, says Randolph. For example 30-somethings tend to have less formal, more relaxed gatherings centered on any excuse to have people over and they are looking for products that encourage a functional yet relaxed atmosphere.

Karin Lanham of Karin’s Fine Incidental Home Décor, a home décor gift store in Beaver Creek, CO, says it’s important for retailers to have great entertaining products because party hosts love setting the table and entertaining; they do not want to use the same old pieces, but something new. Just consider all of the television programming centered on entertaining, says David Rive, general manager at Beatriz Ball of Harvey, LA, “entertaining is on the forefront of people’s minds. They want to entertain and put together a great presentation,” he says.

And retailers that can respond to this need will be more successful.

To have a successful line of products for this category, keep abreast of the latest trends in party planning and entertaining. Ignite that creative spark to put together great marketing and merchandising to highlight your store’s products.

Product trends: Making it personal

Michael Aram says there’s a big push to create new and different tabletop items that celebrate specific moments in customers’ lives.

imageWhen planning parties, Baroni says she likes to focus on one aspect and emphasize products that create memories, traditions and heirlooms. Personalization is integral, she says. For a dinner party, she may concentrate on the dining room, she says, and make the party more interactive with a simple white tablecloth accompanied with fabric pens and stamps for guests to use to draw and create messages on the tablecloth. After the party she embroiders over the messages and drawings. Even the spills on the tablecloth become the tapestry of one’s social gatherings.

She suggests retailers carry items that help people become great hosts and great gift-givers, as well as help them create heirlooms and traditions. Baroni says people want pieces that can be personalized and that are unique, meaningful and relevant to them. For example, a simple glass bowl can be etched with a meaningful quote and presented as a hostess gift. Randolph also believes in the importance of personalization. She came up with the concept for Chalkboard China out of her own love of entertaining. Each piece, from vases to platters to wine glasses, has a chalkboard surface and with chalk, users can draw a picture, write a message or write their name on the base of their wine glass.

Casual mix-n-match

imageCarrying unique pieces is important for success in this category, says Faine. A trend she’s witnessed is that people like to use a collection of simple pieces they already have, and complement them with a new, distinctive piece. She also sees clients mixing and matching different looks such as contemporary clean lines with rustic pieces mixed in for added interest: For example, a rough hewn Tuscan bowl is used on the same table as formal dinnerware. Her customers are interested in finding unique items that reflect the culture and surroundings of their home, such as leather fringed napkins to go with the rustic mountain elegance of their homes’ designs. She also recently made custom, feather placemats for a client’s tabletop collection.

As the casual approach to entertaining becomes more prevalent, products that address more informal settings have grown in popularity says Bob Varakian, of Nambé of Santa Fe, NM. He says products such as cheese boards, chip and dip sets, shrimp cocktail bowls, and condiment sets that lend to this type of entertaining yet make an elegant presentation, are selling well. Nambé has found that their barware (especially the Twist Cocktail Shaker) and wine chillers are also doing well.

Multi-functional convenience

Customers are drawn to pieces that are exquisite but multifunctional, says Karen Schultz, Key Accounts Sales Manager with Wilton Armetale maker of metal serveware, of Mt. Joy, PA. She sees a continuing focus on casual pieces that are durable and lasting and that can be used everyday and for entertaining. She points out that the Wilton Armetale products are multi-functional and they can go from refrigerator to oven to table. With the popularity of outdoor entertaining on the upswing, pieces such as the ones from Wilton Armetale, that work both indoors and out, do well, Schultz says.

imageDavid Rive of Beatriz Ball says that he’s found more people are buying pre-prepped foods and want pieces on which they can make a dazzling presentation. His company’s clients tell him they want pieces that are easy for serving and are utilitarian but look stylish. The Beatriz Ball collection carries numerous multi-functional pieces, Rive says. Casseroles can be used for serving and baking. Salad bowls can double as punch bowls or centerpieces for floating candles.

Wine buckets can be displayed as a centerpiece on a hall table when not in use.

With the interest in having parties for many varied reasons, there’s a big push to provide new and different products that celebrate specific moments, says Michael Aram. Determining some of the special moments enjoyed by your customers and having the appropriate products is important. For example, themed parties lend themselves to an almost limitless product potential. Baroni says people are throwing parties for almost any reason, from Big Wheel racing parties, to mini music festivals, to health and wellness parties. You can capitalize by providing unique products along with practical advice and creative input. An example? Judy Washburn, merchandise office manager of the Little Exchange in Dayton, Ohio says that Kentucky Derby parties are popular in her area so she makes sure to have in horse racing-themed platters and plenty of mint julep cups in stock.

Merchandising tips

imageIn order to increase the sales of products for entertaining, it’s important to set the stage and help your customers visualize the many ways they can use the unique items you provide. One way of showing how products can be used is to show them in action, says Lanham. She suggests setting up a table or a buffet in your store to showcase pieces. This is a great way to show various uses for the same item such as a punch bowl that can also be used for a wine bucket or a salad bowl that can also be used as a centerpiece with floating candles, suggests Anna Silkoff, Manager at Don Sheil USA of Ardmore, PA.

Washburn suggests using round tables or even an actual dining room table, if possible. Her store is in an old home, so she uses a dining room table for her displays to create a cozy feeling. Customers are much more likely to buy when products are pulled together for them in a visual example, says Randolph. She also suggests catching the eye of the customer by displaying products in an unexpected way; for example, putting lollipops or cotton candy in a vase will attract a second look and possibly a sale.

Part of setting the stage is also creating a mood for your customers with music, lighting and a theme that will likely help to increase sales of products for entertaining. Whether you choose a theme such as a Hamptons beach picnic or use a fun, whimsical theme versus a formal theme you can highlight various products using creative ideas and by telling a story.

Randolph cites the example of a retailer who created a fun display with Chalkboard China where the store set up a chalk bar, with the many different colors of chalk displayed in a mint julep cup.

imageWith your displays, Baroni suggests creating an ‘Aha!’ factor and using creative strategies that will leave customers saying, “I didn’t think of that!” One of her tips is to serve a special beverage in a juice jug. Have the recipe tied to the top of the jug with a clever note that says, “Grandma’s secret punch is secret no more!” Little creative touches like these will inspire customers and create more sales.

Schultz of Wilton Armetale suggests that retailers increase sales by holding in-store events that demonstrate how different entertaining pieces can be used. Host a wine tasting, a themed event or a cooking demonstration. Use the products you have on display to entertain your customers and inspire them to have their own parties.

The effort that you put into your displays will pay off at the register. With new products and creative merchandising, you too can party your way to profits.

Melissa Kellogg

Kellogg is a freelance writer specializing in mountain home and living trends, marketing, real estate and business. She is based in Edwards, CO, and is a regular contributor to Mountain House & Home magazine. Her work has also been published in various newspapers and magazines, such as Beaver Creek Magazine and the Vail Daily.

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