Jul 19, 2011
The Last Laugh
Warren Berkowitz, Forum Novelties

The joke’s on you…if you’re lucky

I grew up in New York City, and like most kids, I found myself spending a significant amount of time in the local Magic and Joke Shop. What would life have been like without a Whoopee cushion, rubber chicken or invisible dog leash? As long as people enjoy a good laugh, there will always be a demand for clever jokes, magic tricks and novelty gifts.

Sadly, the Magic and Joke Shop as we know it has fallen victim to high real estate costs. The existence of these types of specialty stores is few and far between. However, fear not! Such an unfortunate set of circumstances may give rise to a new opportunity for you.

Fit In Funny
I would like to discuss how these types of products can fit nicely into your store so that you can capitalize on this opportunity. The first point I would like to make is that these items, by their very nature, are impulse items. They are consistent with fun and celebration, which is exactly what your party or gift shop is all about. Very few of these items are necessities, although I would be hard-pressed to argue that a person could go through a meaningful, complete life without owning at least one fake dog poop.

The success in selling these, as well as most impulse items, is in the marketing. Products must be exciting, attractively packaged and presented in a simple and easy way to appeal to the customer. Burying them in the back of the store will not maximize potential sales. Remember, the customer does not realize that they need to buy these items until they see them.

It is also a good idea to merchandise these items together in a simple display. For example, all joke items should be merchandised together either on a rack or wall. Mixing a Whoopee cushion or squirt camera next to crafts and plush animals loses its excitement. Quite often I find that a range of joke items will help sell other joke items. Having a fun and exciting sign calling attention to this as the “Joke Shop” will go a long way to support multiple sales.

I am a strong proponent of uniform size and design packaging that does not confuse or subliminally annoy the customer. A rack program or nice planogram can overcome any distraction that would adversely affect enjoying these products. Just make sure the products you buy are packaged uniformly and express a fun and exciting look. I often see packaging that emphasizes uniformity at the expense of excitement. There should be a delicate balance of the two when you are making your selection of which items to buy. Otherwise you have the cleanest store filled with product that does not sell.

Relative Humor
In addition to the classic practical jokes and magic tricks, there are many other humorous gift and novelty items that give you a great opportunity to increase overall sales in your store. Categories such as Over the Hill, retirement, age related birthday gifts and bachelorette are all terrific opportunities for extra add-on sales. In many ways, they are three-dimensional versions of greeting cards.

Each category should stand alone and be marketed near similar products. For example, humorous bachelorette and wedding gifts should be marketed near the invitations and wedding favors. This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how often I find these items separated. Birthday, Over the Hill and age related items such as 30, 40, 50, 60, etc., can be marketed near each other, but be careful to separate each category.

Remember, you want the customer to enjoy browsing in these areas and not be overwhelmed or confused. In planograming these categories, you need to decide how much product you want to carry. It is important to give the impression that you have a wide selection of product and that there is no reason to go anywhere else to find a gift or novelty. My suggestion is to allocate at least two linear feet per category, such as Over the Hill and retirement, and at least four feet to categories like birthday and bachelorette/wedding. Provided you can spare this amount of footage, the category will not get lost in your store.

When I design packaging, I try to use a style guide of colors that compliment each range. For example, Over the Hill and retirement have the same color palette and can be displayed next to each other. This gives the illusion of a bigger department and makes a bigger statement without adding more footage or product.

Don’t be afraid to market these items in a prominent part of your store, as these items should not be treated as only a second thought. In particular, jokes and tricks can be displayed near your party favor items or even near the cash register as a last-minute pick up item. They can be highly profitable and have no preconceived limitation of retail mark up.

Remember hand buzzers, squirting flowers and laughing bags are serious business. They can help you laugh all the way to the bank.

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