Since its humble beginnings as a religious articles business, Roman has grown to be one of the largest manufacturers of Christmas and inspirational products, with a focus on celebrating everyday joys and special occasions. “Roman is the first name of my wife’s grandfather, Roman Jedlinski. He owned Roman Religious Goods store in Chicago, Illinois. When my father-in-law, Ron Jedlinski, started his wholesale business in 1963 out of the back of the store, Ron named that business after his father, Roman,” said Dan Loughman, president and CEO of Roman.
Loughman shared its focus has been on the “mom-and-pop” retailers since its inception 57 years ago. “Our simple interior motto is ‘do the right thing’ and I think that goes a long way with customers, reps and vendors,” he emphasized. Inherent in each product is beauty and inspiration and Loughman granted a behind-the-scenes peek at Roman’s business.
GS: Where do you find inspiration when creating new Christmas and inspirational gifts?
DL: We tend to look at traditional colors and icons for Christmas. Since our roots are founded in the religious market, Roman has numerous nativities and angels in our Christmas offering. We also offer Santas, snowmen and reindeer, and use the occasional purple, blue or green fashion colors depending on what is popular that year. We look at various family traditions for the Christmas line, and occasions — new baby, sacraments, wedding, etc. — for the inspirational line. There may be a particular saint or prayer that resonates with the current societal climate. We try to innovate where we can with categories like garden statues, music boxes and the like.
GS: What do you hope consumers gain from your products?
DL: Roman’s products help consumers celebrate the special occasions in life. In those cases, we want them to have a sense of thoughtfulness or joy when receiving a Roman product when they are married, a child celebrates their first communion or a woman celebrates Mother’s Day for the first time. For Christmas, we want consumers to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Fontanini Italian Nativities are a great way to accomplish this. With dozens of figures available, consumers can put their nativity out and add a figure each year. The whole family can read the story card accompanying each figure that tells how it fits into the nativity.
GS: How do you select the artists you work with?
DL: Some artists/agents come to us, and some we find at shows or online. We have to consider art that can be transformed into three-dimensional shapes as our specialty is in sculpted designs. So flat art or patterns aren’t as valuable to us.
GS: What is your product development process and how many are involved in creating new offerings?
DL: The process never stops. Just about the time we are finishing the last steps of a current introduction, we are starting the next. We work about 12 months in advance with our team of product developers, artists and licensing partners. We will brainstorm first, start developing those concepts, review the samples and project statuses about 7 months later, and then finish what moves forward over the following 5 months.
How involved are you in the development process of the artwork?
DL: I started in product development at Roman, so I’m familiar with the process. My wife, Julie, and I sit in on brainstorming meetings and are updated on how things are progressing throughout the development stage. We think it is important as owners to stay on top of what we are making as it is a reflection of the company and our family. I visit the overseas manufacturers a couple times per year to see how samples are coming along and to see production. Vendors often like to share new ideas they might have. It is important to maintain personal relationships with the vendors.
How long does it take from inception to production for new offerings?
DL: It can be as fast as 6 months or as long as 15 months.
GS: Has a product ever surprised you on how well it performed?
DL: Always. Sometimes you can have a really good feeling for something, and it doesn’t resonate with the customer. Other times you barely let a concept go through, and it ends up being a best-seller. A recent example would be our dog nativity. In development, people at Roman either loved it or hated it. It ended up becoming one of 2019’s best-sellers, and is doing great again this year.
Do you, personally, have a favorite item? If so, what is it and why?
DL: I like our Pudgy Pals in our giftware line, which are bowling ball-shaped animal garden statues. It has been fun developing new animals each year, and then adding functionality, like Bluetooth speakers and LED lights. We hollowed some out so they could be used as planters. In Christmas, I like a particular Joseph’s Studio nativity. The artist who sculpts them has a way of capturing the true renaissance style from centuries ago. There are a lot of companies who can print art, but creating a highly detailed sculpt in the right proportions can be beautiful.
GS: What is the best way and timetable for retailers to pre-order product in time for Q4?
DL: Ordering Christmas in the first quarter is important so we can project out what we need for the year. However, customers can still order from May through November and still receive product. We have no Christmas order cut-off dates. For the everyday line, we try to keep stock year-round, but it helps if customers can preorder spring in the 4th quarter.
GS: Do you have any merchandising tips to share with retailers?
DL: People gravitate towards inspirational product during times of hardship, and it fits in any time of year whether it is summer or the Christmas season. With the fear associated with the pandemic, people are looking for emotional comfort. Regarding physical displays, movement and/or lighting can catch the consumer’s eye. Consumers have been doing a lot of window shopping waiting for stores to open again. Add some LED motion candles to your display. Most batteries last several weeks, so changing them out won’t be a burden compared to the attention they can bring to the surrounding product.
GS: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about your Christmas and inspirational gift lines?
DL: In these uncertain times, I’d just want to emphasize to our retailers that Roman has their back. We are continuing to bring in product in all of our categories for 2020. On our wholesale website, we have brochures in each category that show top-sellers that are in-stock and available right now. We are shipping to retail locations or drop shipping to their consumers, and are developing catalogs for our summer introductions and new products for 2021.