Summer 2010
‘Tis the Season! By Sharon Anne Waldrop

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—for sales. Find out what’s new in holiday décor and how you can add a dash of cheer to fourth quarter sales.

Candy Johnson, owner of Cactus Flower has sold holiday décor for 22 years and thinks that you should too. “Christmas is huge and such a joyful time of the year, so why not be part of it,” asks the Ft. Lauderdale, FL gift, tabletop, and home accessory retailer.

Jumpstart the festivities

Johnson began selling holiday decor with the conviction that sales would get bigger and better each year—and they did. The category now takes up 50% of her store floor during the holidays. Johnson hosts an annual party in October to welcome the season. “We reveal our holiday décor and serve hors d’oeuvres. Representatives or presidents from some of the manufacturers often attend the event,” Johnson says.

According to a 2009 holiday shopping report compiled by Mintel, a global marketing intelligence firm, October is a good time to kick off the holiday shopping season since a healthy chunk of customers start planning for the season then.

The report also suggests that retailers have the opportunity to rekindle holiday sentimentality for consumers and forge new—and affordable—traditions for the holiday season. “One of the overarching themes of the current recession has been a back-to-basics approach to gift giving as well as an increase in families spending time together,” says Chris Haack, Senior Market Analyst at Mintel and author of the report. He says that even with the economy improving, we’re still seeing a “new normal”where consumers are likely to value authentic experiences. Customers looking for a touch of the simple would appreciate nostalgic traditions wrapped in new but elegant packaging.

More than red and green

There will be something for everyone in holiday décor this year. “We’re going to go in a number of different directions for 2010. Whimsy will be out there, but so will trends that are outrageously sophisticated and fabulous,” says Michelle Lamb, founder and chairman of Eden Prairie, MN-based Marketing Directions, Inc. She adds that jeweled colors, reddish purples, midnight blue, and an almost black color called navy black will occupy center stage this holiday season. Subtle metallics and mid-tones will complement these dramatic colors.

Lamb also says that the 2010 season will be snowing cats and dogs. “It’s really about extending the joy of the holiday towards precious pets,” she says. Lamb says that a pet décor item can be as simple as a Christmas pillow shaped like a dog or a tree ornament with the pet wearing a Santa hat, scarf, or angel wings.

Other trends that Lamb says we can expect to see in 2010 will be environmental elements dressing up (known as eco-chic) and opulent cathedral glass, reminiscent of Imperial Russia in the 1880s. Cathedral glass ornaments will be seen in traditional egg and teardrop shapes with a honey gold, light copper, or bronze look.

New York City-based Kurt Adler Inc. sells a wide variety of glass ornaments. These include Polonaise, the high end line designed by artists in Poland; Noble Gems from Asia; and the Egyptian Luxor ones.

Traditions talk

In today’s economy, consumers are leaning toward items that remind them of old traditions. Wholesalers are responding by producing more products to support this sentiment.

“We noticed the buying patterns have been similar to prior recessions in that when people have less to spend, they are very careful about where they are spending their money and tend to focus on quality and tradition,” says Bob Byers, Jr. President at Byers’ Choice in Chalfont, PA. He adds that consumers want a focus on simpler times—something that will make them feel good. The company’s gingerbread houses, advent calendars, and carolers are examples of products that bring back those memories.

Edwin Aldrich, owner of Edwin’s, a gift store in Franklin, MA, has been selling Byers’ caroler figurines for 25 years and has seen an increase in sales each year. Aldrich displays about 200 carolers along with Christmas trees and offers his customers small tabletop trees free with purchase of a caroler.

Christmas classics

The focus on old-world traditions and nostalgia also carries over to Midwest-CBK’s holiday decor. Beth Lorenz, vice president of product development for the company, says customers are taking their trend cues from the past. She agrees that the focus on nostalgia and traditions is quite evident.

The ornaments in Midwest-CBK’s Merry Little Christmas line have an old-world Victorian appeal to them, yet are reinvented for contemporary times. “Our retailers ask for products that reinvent the classics because they want the product in their store to have a fresh new energy and a modern spirit, but herd them back to something that’s familiar,” Lorenz says. As a result, the updated nostalgic attributes of the Merry Little Christmas line have made it a top seller for the company.

New York City-based Kurt S. Adler, Inc. offers retailers thousands of SKUs annually, many of which are new designs. Themes such as tweens, girls’ night out, Coca-Cola, wine, chocolate, and coffee are represented in ornament form. Classic Christmas is also represented and is found in designs with gingerbread, Santas, snowmen, and many more.

The company sells many nutcracker designs, but one stands out. “We have a particular line called Hollywood Nutcrackers which is a new take on the traditional nutcracker with different colors and glitter that make it a little more exciting,” says Howard Adler, co-President. Adler recognizes that people like tradition, but with a little twist on it. The Hollywood Nutcracker is a response to this.

Price points

Adler offers a range of price points, from affordable to high end. “Price has been an important issue in the last year. With the economy the way it is, people are very cautious and sensitive to price points. We’ve noticed that and design products that meet various price points,” Adler says.

“We have noticed in our business that product that retails for $20 or less has grown,” Lorenz at Midwest-CBK says. The company’s Gracious Holiday line is economically priced and Lorenz says that although the weight, design, and attention to detail in the products make them appear lavish, they are affordable.

Debbie Bartz, owner of Jacksonville, IL-based Taylor & Coultas says that it’s been helpful to both her business and the retailers that she’s been able to reduce pricing this year. Sales for the 2010 holiday season are currently up 44% from last year.

Taylor & Coultas has its own in-house artist and has recently developed a line of felt items that complements their higher-priced dupioni silk products. Bartz says these new products have been well received by her customers. The sculpted felt baskets, placemats, and table runners have been selling exceptionally well. Bartz says that although some of her customers carry both her felt and higher-priced dupioni silk products, most sell only one or the other, depending on the clientele of their stores. Candy Johnson at Cactus Flower says that the dupioni silk pillows are a big seller in her store.

Functional and fab

Products with a purpose also make sense in today’s economic times—in other words, it helps if the holiday décor is also functional. “We’ve seen an increase in the sales of functional items,” says Anne Secoy, Vice President of Product Development for Ohio Wholesale in Seville, OH. “Customers like things that are useful as well as decorative.”

Ohio Wholesale’s top seller in the 2010 Christmas line is their food safe vintage tray. The tray is decorated with an image of a young girl making cookies and may be used for storing or serving food items. Another popular item sold by Ohio Wholesale is their Snowman Snack Set, which dismantles to become a mug, bowl and plate.

One of Taylor & Coultas’ top selling lines is a set of linen or cotton waffle-weave tea towels that are embellished with holiday designs such as Christmas trees, wreaths, poinsettias, presents, Santa Claus, and more.

Licensed to add holiday cheer

Department 56, known for holiday village displays, was added to the portfolio of brands sold by Enesco, LLC, according to Jeffrey Smith, Director of Corporate Communications for the Itasca, IL company. Enesco has several other licensing agreements as well. Through his Heartwood Creek Collection for Enesco, Jim Shore has created an iconic series of Santas, snowmen and nativity scenes that have continued to be strong sellers for the company. One of Shore’s innovations for 2010 is the “Secret Santa” figurine that comes apart to show a hidden ornament in the middle. “Jim Shore has always been synonymous with Christmas, and many of our artists have created extensive holiday collections—including Boyds, Cherished Teddies, Our Name is Mud and Foundations by Karen Hahn.”

Enesco has another new top seller for the 2010 season. “Kristi Jensen-Pierro, the creative force behind Snowbabies, created ‘Snowpinions’ this year, a sweet collection of snowmen with attitude. “We’re taking established formats and lending a fresh, creative touch to them,” Smith points out.

Marketing magic

Candy Johnson, owner of Cactus Flower doesn’t just put items on shelves and expect them to sell themselves. She creates vignette displays especially during the holidays. “We create an environment where you want to buy something. You can line things up and nobody would notice them—it just looks like another shelf of things,” Johnson says. “We want to captivate our buyers and draw them into a vignette where they study everything there. Things sell better when you tell a story and we really like to tell stories. Plus, it’s more visually appealing that way,” Johnson says. She has noticed that striking visuals capture customers’ attention and sales.

Smith at Enesco agrees. “It’s more important than ever to be creative and to create eye-catching displays that will quickly capture customers’ attention and engage them,” he says. One of their best-selling items at the January shows was designed originally by Department 56 to be a retail display element—a 5-foot-tall “ornament tree” with a suggested retail price of just $99.

Johnson says that she also integrates products from different companies together, which helps sell all products and benefits all companies in the picture. For instance, Johnson displays the Taylor & Coultas’ dupioni silk reindeer pillows with other reindeer things such as candles and serving pieces.

As customers get ready to revisit old traditions this holiday season, make sure you’re ready too. Are you ready to jump on board and capture the holiday spirit in your store? This is one sales category you don’t want to miss!

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Sharon Anne Waldrop

Sharon Anne Waldrop resides with her family on a horse farm in northern Georgia. She writes about business and finance for national and trade magazines, and has contributed to Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and Hotel & Motel Management.

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