The holiday gift giving season is quickly approaching. It won’t be long before “Jingle Bells,” “White Christmas” and “Silent Night” play in the background as people wander through America’s stores searching for those “perfect” gifts. Each customer wants something a bit different, and with a little planning award dealers can meet the needs of many of them including the three in these scenarios.
Scenario One: A woman hesitantly walks into your shop, thinking that a place that has trophies and does engraving might have the elusive gift for the man in her life. Watches, lighters, pens and wine accessories greet her, all things that can be engraved. She’s thrilled and buys something for her husband, father and boss.
Scenario Two: A teenager enters your shop, hoping to find something for Mom who likes things with a personal touch. You have sublimatable products and will be able to put the teenager’s face on an inexpensive pendant, box or even a mug for her mother to take to work.
Scenario Three: An employer wants to give something special to each of her employees—something she can put their name on. Your engravable pens and holiday ornaments catch her eye.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported 2006 retail sales in department stores of $31.4 billion. Another interesting statistic: jewelry stores make 22 percent of their annual sales in December. This holiday season, millions of people will be looking for just the right gifts to buy, and your shop could be well-situated to tap into this buying frenzy.
Before you start your buying for the holidays, though, it’s best to do your homework and get to know your market. Every section of the country has different demographics, which include the statistics of your customers such as age, gender, faith, interests, etc. If you consider who your customers are and use that information to buy wisely, you could be in for a very happy and profitable holiday season.
Traditional Engraved Jewelry
Jewelry which has been personalized with initials, a name or a sentimental message is more than just a gift, it’s something that can be worn each and every day. Engravable jewelry comes in everything from precious metals like sterling silver and gold to more affordable gold plate, gold filled, silver plate, pewter and brass.
Higher prices for silver and gold combined with a sluggish economy are changing the marketplace for some retailers. “Some people who have been using silver are switching to a less expensive metal,” explains Bob Lepper of John E. Lepper, Attleboro, MA. Lepper offers a large selection of engravable jewelry and gift items for men and women such as pendants, key rings and money clips, all in nonprecious metals.
“Right now, we’re doing well with cuff bracelets,” says Lepper, adding popular styles include a 1" Florentine finish with a feather edge and a 3/4" high-polished finish. He said another popular item is their high-polished rhodium-plated brass lockets with a pewter insert. “Pewter is a good, easy metal to engrave because it’s relatively soft and you get a nice, bright cut using a diamond graver,” adds Lepper.
The surprise winner of the year for men’s jewelry is cuff links. Long thought of as a thing of the past, these items have made a resurgence and are now considered a hot commodity. They’re doing well for John E. Lepper and for other companies as well. “Cuff links sales have been good this year,” says Tower Trading Company’s Steve Deter. “You wouldn’t believe how many we sell.”
Deter says another hot seller for the Medina, MN, company is yet another engravable jewelry item from the past. “We have had pocket watches in our line for five years now and we sell thousands of them,” he says.
Religious jewelry such as crosses and medals, time-honored favorites, make especially good holiday gifts. Classic Medallics, Mt. Vernon, NY, offers a number of medals and crosses in sterling silver, gold filled and 14 kt gold, all of which can be engraved on the back with a date, a person’s name or a special message. Jerry Singer, president of Classic Medallics, says the profit one can make by engraving on silver and gold items should pique the interest of any gift or award shop owner. “You can easily add $15 to the selling price of a sterling cross,” he says.
According to Singer, their model SX7801SH cross with a brushed finish and diamond cutting is a popular item for them. If your demographics include a large Catholic population, Classic Medallics also carries a large selection of popular religious medals, all with flat backs for easy engraving. “A gift or award shop has an advantage over some jewelers and most religious stores because they have their own engraving equipment,” he explains.
Speidel, Cranston, RI, has its own line of watches with antiallergenic, stainless steel backs which can be engraved. “The best selling watches in Speidel’s collection are timeless, classic styles with easy to read dials and Speidel Twist-O-Flex watch bands,” says Peter Cipolla, the company’s spokesperson. Speidel also has two newer lines, the Turino and Chronograph collections that feature wider bands which, Cipolla says, they expect to do well this holiday season.
LaserBits, Phoenix, AZ, recently introduced a unique line of jewelry made from coconuts gathered in the South Pacific. Company President, Mike Fruciano, says these new items have been a huge hit, especially among people who are looking for more ecofriendly products. “The line has replaced Italian charms for us and customers are telling us that they’ve been quite successful with them as well,” he said. These items can be personalized by laser engraving a photo, logo, clip art or a special message on them.
The market is good for all types of engravables, including a wide array of gift options. “The personalization segment is really enormous right now,” said Tower Trading Company’s Deter. Technology-related products are extremely popular these days, making this a market that shouldn’t be ignored by R&I practitioners, particularly if your shop is located in an area where there are a lot of young people or high-tech companies.
Tower Trading Company offers two technology-type gadgets that would make great holiday gifts for anyone who is even just a little tech-savvy. Their sterling silver plated USB Flash drive, a data storage device, has been a popular seller for them. Another best seller is their personal electronics charging station featuring a cherry wood finish and room for four favorite gadgets such as a cell phone or iPod. An additional tray provides extra space for pens, pencils, coins and other necessities, and the item comes with an attractive brushed silver nameplate for the initials or name of the recipient.
Guy Barone of Xenetech, Baton Rouge, LA, tells of a hot new engravable item that they recently introduced—a stainless steel yo-yo. “When we give these away at trade shows there’s a line of people waiting to get one,” he says. This fun item for kids and kids-at-heart has both sides available for engraving, and the best part is that it retails for less than $10. Barone said other hot sellers include Swiss army knives, bookmarks and pull-apart key chains, all of which are reasonably priced items to fit almost any budget.
Larry Maloney of R.S. Owens & Co. Inc., Chicago, IL, says their Michelangelo clock is the hot seller for them so far this year. It has a rosewood look and exposes much of the inner workings of the clock. Next year, he says they plan to introduce a high-gloss black and an all glass version of this clock. “Clocks are very, very strong sellers with us around the holidays,” says Maloney. “They’re practical, they can be used in the home or office and they are something that people see every day, reminding them of the gift or the occasion.”
Pens are traditional gifts that continue to be popular even today. JDS Industries, Sioux Falls, SD, carries a line of engravable wooden and metal pens, some in boxes and some in pouches. The wooden pens can be laser engraved and the metal pens can be either laser or rotary engraved.
Gift items made of wood are another traditional favorite. LaserBits has offered a line of games in wooden boxes for three years now, and Fruciano says they are especially popular around the holidays. These include a domino set, a combo card/domino set and a chess/backgammon/checkers set, all of which can be laser engraved with a photo, design or text.
LaserGifts, Prescott, AZ, has been in business for 25 years, but this is only their second year of offering engravables. They offer many items made of wood, and one of the most popular items includes a wooden pocket mirror with a sculpted look. “They’re handcrafted of solid maple and open with a twist of your thumb. Ladies love them,” says Lisa Madison, the company’s spokesperson.
According to Madison, one of their popular gifts for men includes an engravable rosewood plier multifunction tool which has nine separate tools and comes in a nylon pouch. They also carry a small key ring pocket tool that looks like a pocket knife and has a wooden handle for engraving. This item is both inexpensive and popular, as is LaserGifts’ new wooden keepsake box key chain. This item is only about 1 1/2" square and features a removable lid that can be easily engraved on the inside.
Another intriguing product from LaserGifts that isn’t made of wood is their whistle flashlight. This item comes in a wide array of bright colors such as turquoise, red and royal blue, but Madison says black and pink tend to be the most popular, adding these make great gifts for anyone who spends time in the outdoors hiking, backpacking, kayaking or hunting.
According to the Wine Market Council, table wine consumption in the U.S. has made a steady climb for more than a decade. This trend has led to a large increase in the number of products now on the market that are aimed at wine drinkers. LaserGifts offers wooden wine stoppers that can be personalized, which Madison says has been a very good seller.
R.S. Owens has also entered this market, offering a wine set in a wooden carrying case with an engravable nameplate. The set contains a bottle opener, wine thermometer, two bottle stoppers, a foil cutter, bottle spout, drip ring and two corkscrews.
Tower Trading Company has a variety of barware lines, but according to Deter, there are two items that sell particularly well. These include a solid wood wine gift box with a lid that can be laser engraved with a name, date or special message and a metro wine stopper which has a stainless steel top that can be engraved with initials or a logo.
Zippo Manufacturing Company, Bradford, PA, offers some very unique engravable gifts, including but not limited to a wide variety of lighters. The Zippo BLU butane lighter was just introduced this year. This line includes a vertical gold lighter with an 18 kt gold plate, a vertical chrome lighter with a brushed chrome finish and a chrome lighter with a bead-blasted finish, all of which can be engraved. Cigar smokers particularly enjoy using butane because it has no odor like the liquid fuel used in traditional lighters.
Zippo is also experiencing a renaissance with one of its traditional lighters introduced in the 1960s called “Engine Turned,” a high-polished chrome lighter that’s diamond engravable. Another customer favorite for engraving is the Venetian lighter, which comes in high-polish chrome and high-polish brass. These have an all-over etched pattern with a smooth rectangular area for engraving on the front. In addition to lighters, Zippo also offers a lighter gift kit, which comes with a can of fuel and a flint dispenser. “We sell a lot of these around the holidays,” says Zippo’s Pat Grandy. “It has everything you need to operate your lighter.”
Another hot consumer trend that shop owners can profit from is a growing demand for pet accessories. Millions of people own dogs and cats, and many treat them like another member of the family. Pet owners are purchasing things like customized food and water bowls, pet placemats, personalized collars and leashes as well as memorial markers and pet urns. The current best seller for AITG, Thousand Oaks, CA, a division of Eighth Floor Promotions, is their pet frames featuring a metal band at the top and bottom which are decorated with a bone or paw print for dogs, and fish or mice for cats. The glass inside the frame can also be engraved with the pet’s name.
Personalized Holiday Gifts
The choices for personalized holiday items seem to grow larger and more beautiful each year. P. Graham Dunn, a retailer in Dalton, OH, has some selections that will suit almost any taste. For example, their round globe ornaments are popular choices and are available in clear frosted, red, green, mat gold and purple. When engraved, the words show in metallic gold with the exception of the clear frosted globe, which shows unfrosted glass
P. Graham Dunn also offers wooden ornaments in variety of shapes such as trees or hearts, all of which can be personalized. They also carry plain wooden plaques in sizes such as 18" x 12", 12" x 6", 8" x 10" and 4" x 6" that engravers can use to add a saying or sentiment to—“Peace on Earth,” “Happy Hanukkah;” “Happy Kwanzaa” or anything else you think your customers would be interested in. “You can make almost anything look Christmassy,” says Emily Felietz, visual merchandiser for P. Graham Dunn. “The trick is to incorporate things like holly berries or snowflakes into it.”
Creative Gifts International, Canton, MA, has several new items for this holiday season including its Glitter Galore Ornaments, which can be engraved on the back and also have an engravable tag attached. These ornaments are metal with a glittery surface and come in many different designs such as a Christmas tree, angel, bell and snowflake, each with its own protective pouch for storage. Another new holiday item includes a three-piece Holiday Cheese Set, which comes with a knife, fork and server with handles in the shape of a candy cane, nutcracker and Santa, all with engravable blades.
Creative Gifts with Sublimation
Sublimated products are always a popular choice for consumers when it comes to personalized gifts because this process offers full-color image transfer to a wide variety of products for a very reasonable price. Condé Systems, Inc., Mobile, AL, has an extensive line of sublimatable products, which are coated with a finish that accepts the transfer of an image.
“Digital decorating has exploded in the last couple of years, mainly through the digital photo revolution,” says David Gross, Condé’s president. “Everyone has a digital camera these days and they are looking for things to do with the photos.”
Condé offers Christmas ornaments in both porcelain and fiberglass reinforced plastic. “Christmas ornaments are exciting and are big business,” says Gross, adding that like the engravable ornaments, they come in a variety of shapes such as a heart, scallop, snowflake or tree. “A photo of grandchildren on an ornament can be mailed to grandma, a new baby can be placed on another, a couple’s first Christmas together can be made into a permanent record, even a first Christmas in a home can become important if a photo of the house is sublimated onto the ornament,” he explains.
Carol Green, president of Laser Reproductions, Inc. (LRI), Skokie, IL, agrees that consumer demand for full-color, personalized products is definitely on the rise and sublimation products are a great way to answer that call. LRI has seen an increase in sales recently of about 35 percent and attributes much of that growth to items such as porcelain and glass ornaments and jewelry, including bracelets, necklaces, pins, ID/dog tags, etc.
Green says when most people think of dye sublimation products they think of things like mugs, mouse pads and tiles, but she says the market goes well beyond those traditional products to include outdoor items such as garden stakes to indoor décor items such as personalized tables, step stools and coat racks.
Condé recently introduced a new wrought iron line of products that incorporates personalized tile. These functional and stylish home accent items make great gift ideas for family and friends, says Gross, adding they have been a popular addition to their product line. “Ceramic tiles image beautifully, and they have an aura of value about them,” he says.
Gross says shop owners should be knowledgeable about the sublimation process as well as the different types of tiles available, such as mat vs. shiny, so they are better able to help customers choose the right products for their images. For example, he says some art renders better on a mat finish than on a shiny surface. “A digital decorator who takes the time to learn the product can offer the customer extra value,” he says.
The list of products that can be sublimated is almost endless. Some other traditional favorites that Condé offers includes cutting boards, keepsake boxes, clocks, coasters, mugs, aprons, ties and jewelry. The company’s oldest jewelry line, and one that Gross says is still very popular, is sterling pendants that can accept a full-color image. Charm bracelets are also a traditional favorite.
One item that Gross says has been particularly popular with customers over the last couple years is sublimatable dog tags. These can be offered at different price points since they are available in inexpensive aluminum or a more expensive sterling silver, allowing shop owners to reach a broad customer base. They can also be sublimated on one or both sides, offering an unlimited number of imaging possibilities including a picture of a loved one, a pet or a school or team logo along with a name, number or personal message.
Gross echoes comments made earlier about the pet market being a lucrative arena for product decorators. Condé offers a large selection of sublimation products for this market, which include items such as pet mats, bowls, treat jars, leashes and collars, etc., all of which can have the beloved pet’s photo and/or name put on it.
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