Jun 9, 2010
Chill Out
Abby Heugel, Managing Editor

Give yourself a snowball’s chance by sliding into winter holidays

Halloween can wear you out. There are months of planning, buying, displaying and selling. Once prepared, the month of October brings crowds of customers looking to be transformed into anything and everything you have to offer (and of course, the one thing that you don’t.)

Most retailers will have more traffic in their store during October than at any other time throughout the year. So how do you smoothly make the transition from ghosts and goblins to turkey and trees, keeping the store in tact and sales steady throughout the winter?

By using that Halloween traffic to remind people that come Nov. 1, you’re still around and able to meet all their winter holiday needs.

Smooth Switch
Employees at Party Time in Horseheads, N.Y. use the high traffic time of the Halloween season to begin a push for the Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah season by stuffing bags with coupons and alerts to upcoming holiday specials and sales.

“We usually do an overnight shift one to two days after Halloween to transition quickly into the next seasons,” said Owner RC Ike. “But as we are doing this, we also identify slow sellers from the Halloween season and mark them down for after-season savings.”

Although Odyssey Theatrical in Southlake, Texas is open all year long, many people only come in at Halloween. To remind shoppers, Nacheska Gentry-Combs and staff put a piece of Christmas candy in the Halloween costume bag with a little attached note from the Holiday Elf saying, “Don’t forget we have great holiday costumes such as…” and a few suggestions. The note also states that the Christmas coupon is worth 10 percent off from Nov. 1- Dec. 31.

At Simply Unforgetable Party Shop in Ocala, Fla., they get a jump on things and set out fall and Thanksgiving product during Halloween, then move from Halloween right into Christmas.

“I devote 24 to 36 feet to Thanksgiving,” said Owner Kathleen Dalton, “as it seems to be the one holiday a year that the big boxes skip over. Then I get my Christmas and News Year’s displays set up within seven days after Halloween with more than 36 feet of decor items.”

Not too far away at The Paper Shop in Winter Park, Fla., Ellen Prague decorates the shop windows with elegant red, green and gold Christmas decorations and fills the front marquee with personalized Christmas and Hanukah cards.

“We do this the weekend or week before Thanksgiving so that by Wednesday, the shop is done for Christmas,” Prague said. “We try not to do Christmas before that week, and in between Halloween and Christmas we shift the focus to Thanksgiving napkins (paper and cloth), place cards and anything in fall colors.”

Winter Wonderlands
Once Thanksgiving is over, it’s full-on Christmas and Hanukkah mode for most stores. Craig Slomczewski at Fun Times Virginia said customers have told him they tend to buy tableware from the big box stores, where it’s cheaper, but they’ll come to Fun Times for solids, decorations and favors. They also rent chocolate fountains and other similar items to help buffer the shortfall.

“Theme-wise, anything snowflakes, snowmen or penguins sells good,” Slomczewski said, “except in printed plates, where snowmen are about the only printed tableware that shows any movement.”

Dalton said she does a lot of patterns and keeps a mix of traditional with some general and contemporary added in, finding that trees and Santa patterns still move really well. They also rent Santa outfits with three or four different price points and sell children’s favors for the school parties, stockings and an assortment of hats for people to wear around the office, party and home.

“To gain sales in the costume area, we also carry a great selection of Santa suits and accessories at multiple price points,” Ike said. “And since many schools in our area have “Snow Ball” dances and generic winter theme parties, we have a huge selection of winter/snowflake items.”

Ike said they always put items on display so that the customer can visualize what and where it might be used for their party, things like danglers, honeycomb items, centerpieces, etc. It’s also important to price these displays and have a way to ring them up, just in case you need to sell it. By doing this, Ike has seen an increase in their ticket average.

“Last year for Christmas we brought in some more gift items we had negotiated as a guaranteed sale with the vendors,” he added, “and that really added some nice rings to the register with a limited liability on our part.”

Happy Hanukkah
Along with winter scenes and Christmas colors, retailers can’t forget about Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights. The amount of space and product you allocate to this celebration is dependent on your store location and Jewish population in the area.

For Annie Maryles of Party Helper in Chicago, everything is centered around the Jewish population. As an event planning business exclusively for kosher catered events, Party Helper provides a very specific slice of business – kosher catering – and word quickly spread that they were “the” place to go.

“People see us at events and many other services send us clients,” Maryles said. “We have often been called upon by major event planners who have no idea how to print a Hebrew text on an invitation or where to get ‘benchers’ (grace after meal booklets).”

Hanukkah can begin as early as the end of November and as late as the third week in December. Since there are eight nights of celebration, this provides a lot of opportunities for family and friends to get together – and for you to sell.

Maryles has noticed that more and more companies are putting Hanukkah items in their line, and must-haves include candles, dreidels, menorahs, greeting cards, gift wrap and chocolate coins. Keeping some of the items at the checkout counter in addition to having some in the aisles can increase impulse buys as well.

“When we plan an event around Hanukkah, we keep our eyes open for items that will touch on the holiday” Maryles said. “It may be in the hospitality bag, as a giveaway or as a favor. Sometimes we find something that the client likes and we need to purchase more than we need, or something catches our eye and seems fun, and we keep it in mind for boutique events or other occasions throughout the year.”

Although they do cater to a very specific clientele, they fill a niche in a community that celebrates an array of winter holidays, which is key. Whether you sell more snowmen than Santa or menorahs than mangers, it’s about being prepared and letting the customer know you have what they need – despite a Halloween hangover.

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