May 21, 2012
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Abby Heugel, Managing Editor

Rev up those engines for theme party sales

There are many farm equipment manufacturers out there, but chances are if you asked someone to name a farm tractor in a major city, the most common answer would be John Deere. The popularity of these iconic green tractors has grown over the years and plowed its way into the party industry, as John Deere tractor parties are popping up all over the country.

“This product theme is definitely more popular in the Midwest and more rural areas, but you would be surprised at how popular these items are in urban areas as well,” said David Jamroziak of BuySeasons Inc., holder of the John Deere party license. “I think loyalty to the John Deere brand starts young for many people, much like an allegiance to a sports team, so it truly becomes a life-long thing. Plus, tractors and large equipment are just cool!”

Wheels and Deals
At Wally’s Party Factory stores throughout Texas, John Deere products are a staple item they can’t keep on the shelves. Wilson Erwin, vice president of purchasing, said many of their customers live in small towns and John Deere symbolizes the country lifestyle. In fact, two of their most popular themes (including licenses) are John Deere and camouflaged-patterned merchandise.

“Customers ask for anything John Deere, including, but certainly not limited to, paper party goods,” Erwin said. “In addition to purchasing the John Deere paper goods, we also go to several gift markets during the year looking for other Deere items that complement our party-supply set, such as ceramic cookie jars, koozies, ceramic salt and pepper shakers, condiment containers, dip bowls, mugs, etc. These items tend to have a higher ticket, are popular and are a great add-on sale.”

But it’s not just tractors that attract attention. Many boys are often fascinated with vehicles and transportation, and their toys are things like dump trucks, fire engines or train sets.

“This fascination is further fueled by cartoons and animated movies that give fun personalities to cars, trains and other wheeled characters,” said Lisa Bennett of Pioneer Balloon Co. “In turn, this makes transportation-themed balloons and party products a popular choice for birthdays and other celebrations.”

Pioneer offers several transportation-themed balloons, including licensed products like “Cars” and “Thomas & Friends,” as well as generic products like the “Construction Loader” or “Farm Tractor” Microfoils. These balloons can be paired with coordinating latex or Microfoils to create quick and fun birthday bouquets for themed parties.

Claire January of Hallmark Party agreed that boys love all things that “go,” and when you pair that interest with engaging characters like Mater and Lightning McQueen from “Cars,” you can race into retail success.

“As a retailer, you can answer mom’s biggest questions about how to entertain everyone during the party and set the scene for the theme,” January said. “Offer her the extensive line of products from core tableware and decor to favors and games, and when all the pieces and parts are there in an easy-to-shop location, you can help her be the hero and throw the perfect party that her little guy dreams of.”

While transportation themed parties are generally more popular with younger children, certain themes like NASCAR racing and John Deere have a huge fan base of adults and themed products cross any age barriers.

Pioneer offers several NASCAR balloons, including the 22-inch “NASCAR Racers” Bubble Balloon and the 36-inch “NASCAR Winner” Microfoil Shape, while Buyseasons Inc. offers everything from John Deere branded accessories like baseball caps and tumblers to a licensed costume.

“If you are having a John Deere party, you’re going to need plates and napkins, for example, so the core party goods will cross all age barriers,” Jamroziak said. “The same goes for the foil balloon, jointed banners, hanging decorations and centerpiece to name a few additional items. Some of the related products that we offer such as the pinata, blow-outs, coin bank, plush farm animals and giant wall decals are great items that make this a fun theme for kids as well as adults.”

Visual Vehicles
Letting the product advertise itself is always an inexpensive and effective way to grab shopper attention – pull it out of the package and decorate your store with product.

“We’ve seen good results by setting a small picnic table with John Deere paper products, balloons and select ceramic giftware,” Erwin said. “Most of our customers are looking to us for their inspiration, and this type of display gives them some great ideas.”

“Try streamers behind the register, banners in the windows, pinatas hanging from the ceiling, whatever you can dream up,” January said. “This not only lets customers know you carry the theme, but it shows them the impact a product has outside of its package and makes it easier for them to envision how it fills space and sets the scene in their own home.”

To add extra value to a vehicle-themed bouquet, Bennett suggested making balloon “tires” by tying a pair of inflated 5-inch white latex through the center of a 16-inch onyx black GEO Donut, then helium-inflating the GEO. Accents like this will set your offerings apart from the rest.

In addition, display coordinating balloons next to the related transportation-themed party products in your store and the solid color party goods that closely match the theme. Jamroziak said John Deere is one of those themes in which the little extras make the difference.

“We have seen great success with everything from the branded flag banners, cupcake wrappers and jointed banners to plastic cutlery, curling ribbon and table covers,” he said. “It makes sense to merchandise these items with the themed products as options so the customer can continue to use leftover items once the themed party is over.”

And don’t assume that themed product is only used for one specific occasion.

“One day I was in one of our stores and saw a really strange mixture of products in a lady’s basket,” Erwin said. “I was curious and had to ask her what type of party she was having, and she replied, ‘A John Deere baby shower.’ On another occasion, we had to special order 600 John Deere plastic stadium cups for a customer’s wedding. We found out later that they got married on horseback. We see some fun, crazy things down here in Texas!”


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