Winter 2009
The Dawn of New Age By Emily Lambert

New Age goes mainstream

The term New Age embraces a wide spectrum of products. Just ask Susie Hare, show manager for the International New Age Trade Show headquartered in Denver, CO. Hare points out that while New Age embraces less familiar categories like Wiccan and Pagan products, it also includes yoga, astrology and meditation, concepts more familiar in mainstream America.

Retailer Jean Haller says her mother would have thought of New Age as “weird stuff.” Because of the potential for misperception, Haller has chosen to refer to her store—Journeys of Life in Pittsburgh, PA—as a lifestyle store. “I can appeal to far more people walking down the street as a lifestyle store than a New Age store,” she says.

“It runs a huge gamut, but it is all alternative thought,” says Hare of the New Age category.

New Age products run the gamut from A to Z, or angels to Zen, says Sandi Liss, owner of SoulJourney, a store that sells metaphysical products in Butler, NJ. Liss stocks incense, oils, herbs, crystals, books, Feng Shui products and more in her store.

Hare points out that because the New Age category is so vast, many gift store retailers carry products that could be classified as New Age: candles, aromatherapy, stones, jewelry and New Age related books. Publishers like Seattle-based Compendium wholesale many New Age and inspirational titles. New Age products have become so mainstream, you can even find them in Cracker Barrel, says Nora Monaco, owner of AngelStar in Morgan Hill, CA, wholesaler of angel-related products.

“It is very much alive and well in much of the mainstream population. More people are using meditation, yoga and relaxing music for stress management,” says Haller adding that hospitals are also looking into what alternative healing practices can offer.

An age for growth

imageDuring challenging times, New Age products are doing fairly well. “New Age products, in a lot of cases, represent hope. When things are tough, people are searching for things to help with that,” says Hare. “The retailers I speak to are doing well because of that.”

Margaret Ann Lembo is an example of such a retailer. The owner of The Crystal Garden in Boynton Beach, FL, says the store had an increase of 6% heading into the fourth quarter of 2008. “That’s not common right now,” she points out.

Jody Winter, co-owner of Fool Moon Treasures in Tallahassee, FL, wholesaler of pewter gift items, has sold their Kiss The Moon Goodnight jewelry to divorced, single mothers who give a necklace, or key chain, to their children when they are away visiting their father for the weekend. Included with the pendant of a fairy kissing the moon, is a card with the words: “Wherever you are in the world tonight, I’m wishing you well and I kiss you goodnight.”

Liss says that alternative religious belief systems, where it’s more “about what you bring to the table,” have some currency among New Age customers.

Lastly, New Age products are selling because of their connection to well-being and good health. New Age music has become a “well-established genre used in a wide range of holistic health,” says Steven Halpern, owner of Inner Peace Music in San Anselmo, CA. As boomers have aged, they have looked for relaxing methods that are “green, legal and non-fattening,” says Halpern, and New Age music, largely instrumental and without a strong rhythm, has become one of these methods.

Hare agrees health plays a big part in the New Age market. “Anything related tos taying healthy and independent as long as possible,” is a key ingredient in product selection, especially for boomers, she says.

Diversity of products

imageFor retailers getting into this market for the first time, there is much to learn. So start simple.

Take angels for example. AngelStar has sold over four million of their angel worry stones. “You give your worries to the angel,” explains Monaco. “People send our stones to troops in Iraq. It doesn’t matter if they’re religious, or what faith they are, they get a sense, a reminder, that it’s going to be OK,” she says. AngelStar sells angels in many other forms as well.

Felicia Riccardo, owner of Starlinks in Long Beach, CA, wholesaler of New Age jewelry and gifts, suggests a general gift store start off with products that have to do with the Zodiac or birth charms. “The general public understands the Zodiac and is starting to understand what the chakras are, the seven energy centers in your body,” she says. Wholesaler Mystic Elements in Naples, FL, sells candles and bath salts based on these principles while wholesaler Shanti Boutique in Helena, MT sells jewelry that emphasize these and other New Age principles.

Another popular item in the New Age market are crystals, which many believe have healing powers. In addition to these, inspirational decks have become really popular, says Ginger Price, director of business development for New Leaf Distributing Company, a wholesale distributor of books, recorded media and other products related to spirituality and metaphysics, natural alternative wellness and conscious living in Lithia Springs, GA. “These are decks of cards that have inspirational messages on them and some of them have art or pictures, also. The cards are pulled to provide a source of inspiration or guidance about a question, situation or just to have a wonderful thought to contemplate for the day,” says Price.

Fool Moon Treasures has started producing more functional products, such as wall hooks, in the shape of the tree of life. There are also mirrors, tea balls and other items that do more than serve only a spiritual purpose.

Another wholesaler serving up function is Zen Zen Garden & Home in Sherman Oaks, CA, with tassels, bathmats and placemats made from vetiver, a kind of perennial grass. The aroma distilled from its roots is used for stress relaxation.

And, lastly, for the New Age humorist, Azure Green, a wholesaler in Middlefield, MA, sells New Age-themed bumper stickers, with phrases, such as, “My Karma Just Ran Over Your Dogma” and “Practice Random Acts of Kindness.” Azure Green also offers books, smudge sticks, herbs and candles, and many other product categories. Smudge sticks, which are usually bundles of herbs, are used in various spiritual ceremonies.

Yoga’s many accessories

imageAccording to a 2008 “Yoga in America” market study conducted by Yoga Journal, a yoga magazine based in El Segundo, CA, 6.9% of U.S. adults, or 15.8 million people, practice yoga, spending $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes and products. Out of the current non-practitioners, 18.3 million Americans say they are very or extremely interested in yoga and about 9.4 million non-practitioners say they will definitely try yoga within the next year.

Yoga participants are an important demographic to serve in the New Age market. “Yoga is a big part of what we do. People practicing yoga come in looking for books or music to do yoga with,” says Haller.

New Leaf Distributing Company sells yoga kits that include a mat, DVD and a prop, such as a strap or block. These kits are popular for gift giving, says Kelly Rowland, sidelines buyer.

imageSwami Mahadevananda, head manager of Ramakrishnananda’s Gifts in New York, NY, says yoga communities love their products. Ramakrishnananda’s Gifts sells many different kinds of both hand-rolled and herbal resin incense. Customers purchase these not only for their scents, but also for their spiritual benefits, as offerings in certain cultures and for aromatherapy purposes. There are also a number of incense burners in the line, including carved soapstone bottles, as well as other products, such as statues, jewelry and CDs.

Everythingyoga.com, an online wholesaler, sells a wide variety of yoga products including mats, clothing and even yoga figurines in a variety of yoga postures.

Inner Peace Music wholesales many yoga music CDs for yoga practitioners. Within this category is their best selling title, Chakra Suite, having sold almost 700,000 albums. Retailers will also find music for relaxation, meditation and massage, among other categories. “The number of people who are interested and wanting [New Age] music is growing. It’s a huge population base,” says Halpern.

Event management

New Age stores not only offer products, they offer services to support them. The Crystal Garden hosts many events every month. In addition to their store, they have four showrooms to host these activities. At these events, customers can participate in yoga, tai chi, meditation, or learn how to work with crystals. Owner Margaret Ann Lembo says she teaches a lot of classes and it helps that customers buy products at these events.

imageSoulJourney offers classes as well, such as Totally Tarot and Sense and Spirit Saturday. Customers receive 10% off of all purchases made during classes. Liss also has psychic readers come in to the store for readings.

Journeys of Life offers several different kinds of services. For starters, there are half-hour to two-hour presentations that are conducted by local experts on topics from Feng Shui to using smudge to bless your house, all at a cost of $20 or less. “These are topics we sell books or merchandise about,” says Haller, who looks for partnerships with local experts to present these informational sessions.

Journeys of Life also offers workshops such as a seven-week series looking at the chakras. “You can sign up for all seven or drop in for one,” says Haller. There are also author events, psychic readers, day-long, off-site workshops, and a bi-annual spirit fest, where Haller partners with another retailer, pools their resources and has a small festival fair at a local theater.

To know it is to sell it

A New Age education is key if you plan on delving deeper into the market. Liss suggests retailers use networking tools such as The Coalition of Visionary Resources, a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization of 250 New Age wholesalers and retailers. Full disclosure: Liss serves as administrator of the organization. At COVR, retailers can ask questions like, “What astrology products do you carry?” and get answers from seasoned veterans. As this article goes to press, COVR plans on releasing a retailer’s manual and CD, that educates retailers on how to work with psychic readers, what properties various stones hold, and other pertinent topics.

For retailers selling New Age CDs, Halpern recommends playing New Age music in their stores, as well as having listening stations, even if it is as simple as a CD Walkman. He also recommends cross-selling music for relaxation with candles, books and aromatherapy items.

In addition to effectively merchandising the products themselves, your store environment is key. “We always welcome our customers, offer them free tea and tell them about our classes. It’s cozy,” says Lembo.

“The most successful stores in this market, you walk in and even if you don’t buy something, you enjoy being in the store,” says Winter of Fool Moon Treasures. It’s the personal touch and the knowledge that retailers bring to the table that will help them succeed. New Age products are gifts that keep on giving, she says. “To me, that’s what New Age is,” Winter adds. “You take your personal joy and you pass it on.”

Mouse over images below to view.

Emily Lambert

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




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