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Gifts for the Holidays

Copyright © 2010 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in September 2010, Volume 36, No. 3 of The Engravers Journal
  Laser engravable wood desk accessories are good moderately priced gift choices for corporate clients. Photo courtesy of Johnson Plastics.  

    The holidays are right around the corner and shops all around the country are getting ready for a busy and somewhat unpredictable season. Tough economic times mean corporate and individual clients aren’t sure what the end of the year will bring, which means retailers also face a somewhat uncertain holiday sales season. Many retailers are gearing up by preparing for last-minute orders with a good selection of moderately priced offerings that can be ordered and personalized on a tight timeline.
    Customization is a leading trend in many areas of retailing, and recent offerings from suppliers, as well as ever-improving equipment and marking options, are expanding the definition of personalized gifts. A wide variety of new merchandise is available from industry suppliers that can be personalized for individual consumer tastes, ranging from personalized flip-flops to high end crystal giftware.
    This year, retailers can stock their shelves with an assortment of holiday-specific items, such as ornaments, holiday jewelry, engravable stocking hooks and tree toppers, as well as non-holiday gifts such as picture frames, coasters, paperweights, trinket boxes, cigar items and flasks. Traditional jewelry items are also consistently big sellers during the holiday season, such as bracelets, pendants, charms, earrings, rings, cufflinks, key chains and money clips.
    Marketing and selling during this year’s holiday season is likely to be particularly challenging since many retailers are finding that their customers are making their purchasing decisions by placing a heavier emphasis on price, even more so than in prior years. Many retailers also note that the trend towards last-minute purchases and “I need it yesterday” is also an issue that needs to be addressed in the overall sales strategy.
    Everyone knows that the retail environment has become increasingly competitive and continues to do so, which means businesses in our industry need to make every effort to stand out, which involves providing excellent customer service at all times and offering quick turnaround on orders. And because of the economic climate and the uncertainty it brings, many shops are not planning to boost their staff for the holidays but rather make do with current employees, which can make staying on top of the hectic holiday season even more challenging. But even faced with these hurdles, there are many ways to make the holiday season successful for your shop and your clients.
Selecting Multi-functional Merchandise
    Retailers this year are primarily interested in stocking items that can serve as gifts for other holidays or for year-round gift sales. They’re seeking multi-functional merchandise that offers the greatest variety of uses, not just holiday gift giving. Items in their inventory that could also serve as year-end, Valentine’s Day, Easter or Mother’s Day gifts will leave them in a better position if holiday sales come in below forecast.
Marketing Readily Available Items
    You can’t sell what you can’t offer, so many retailers are preparing for the holiday season by contacting their suppliers ahead of time to ensure that highly desirable products, as well as any newly popular products, will be in stock for quick shipment. This information allows retailers to focus their marketing on items they will be able to get and turn around quickly once the shopping season is underway.
Featuring Moderately Priced Items
    It’s no secret that today’s customers are looking to maximize their gift-giving dollars. In terms of price points, Mike Fruciano, LaserBits, Phoenix, AZ, comments, “The trend we have seen since last fall has been retail stores focusing on more affordable items.” In response, LaserBits has introduced more than 50 new items in a “very affordable” price range, which would retail for less than $20 each. The company has also seen an increased demand for mid-range gift items that sell in the range of $20 to $50. “Our mid-priced products have been on the rise but we still see a strong demand for more affordably priced giftware,” says Fruciano.

  Engravable crystal ornaments, from Johnson Plastics, make elegant gifts for both corporate and individual customers.  
Adding New Items to Your Lineup
    The holidays are a great time to try out a few new items, especially those with multi-season appeal. Johnson Plastics, based in Minneapolis, MN, is offering several new products in its sublimation line, including sublimatable flip-flops and white and silver aluminum water bottles. In addition to the porcelain ornaments they have traditionally offered, the company is now offering them in aluminum as well. Johnson Plastics also offers wallets and eyeglass cases featuring a white sublimation-receptive surface that is ready to receive a sublimated image to mark whatever holiday or special event your customers want. For engravables, Johnson Plastics offers crystal ornaments, as well as picture frames, boxes and colored tiles that can be personalized with a laser or rotary engraver.
Adding Photo Engraving
    Margaret Johnson of Johnson Plastics notes that more and more, consumers are seeking the ultimate in personalization and that often means incorporating photos onto products. “People today like to personalize gifts, maybe more so than in the past. For our newer products, we try to create an interest in personalization by using photo images as the central design element. A picture is worth a thousand words and nothing makes a personal gift more meaningful than the inclusion of a sublimated or lasered photograph, particularly an image of loved ones or one having other sentimental meaning to the gift recipient,” Johnson says.
Timing Your Orders
    Ideally, both suppliers and retailers are hoping for holiday gift orders to start streaming in during October. Realistically, they are predicting that a small percentage of these gifts will be ordered more than two weeks before customers’ deadlines, while the majority of gift orders will be placed much closer to the holidays, many of them virtually last minute.
    Fruciano notes, “The personalization and giftware industry is very ‘just in time’…or as I sometimes call it, ‘just too late.’ I think it’s just an indicator that consumers may not know what their budgets are until the last minute.”
    To prepare for the onslaught of last minute orders, be sure to research your suppliers’ deadlines and shipping costs, and be prepared with a detailed list of pricing options to cover any additional fees. Many suppliers are offering next-day-air shipping at reasonable rates this season to facilitate these last-minute orders. Being able to easily determine whether an order will fit your customer’s budget, as well as his or her time frame, will give you an edge over your competition.
Selling By Example
    Promoting holiday engravables starts with providing your customers with samples they can see. Displaying photos on your website and having a selection of photos and flyers ready to send to clients and prospects are musts. Also if you have a storefront with a showroom, having tastefully engraved products in your displays and shown in your marketing materials can be critical to your sales.

Laser Reproductions, Inc., Skokie, IL, offers crystal art pendants that can be sublimated with colorful designs to make a beautiful, memorable gift.   Crystal by Design, El Monte, CA, offers a variety of glass and crystal gift items, such as this bell.
Promote Personalization Capabilities
    In today’s highly competitive business climate, retailers need to put their best foot forward and play their every advantage. Almost anything can qualify as a gift, but not everything can become an heirloom, and that can be an R&I retailer’s major drawing card. The advantage that every shop in the recognition and identification industry can offer is the ability to customize and personalize the customer’s purchase using techniques such as engraving, sublimation, photo impact printing, sandcarving and other methods.
    So, unlike Walmart and thousands of other retailers that sell gift items, you have the distinct advantage that you can adorn every product that leaves the shop with the customer’s name, photo, logo and/or personal message. That ability alone is often the deal-maker, so take the advice of many successful businesses and promote your personalization capabilities to the hilt!
Strategies That Succeed
    Engraving shop owners across the country are using a variety of strategies to successfully cope with the present economy and today’s cost conscious consumers during the holiday selling season. Here are a few ways in which R&I retailers are setting up for a healthy, profitable holiday.
Deep Inventory, Quick Turnaround
    Rick Woltman, of Woltman Trophies & Awards, Bridgeton, MO, is continuing the business his grandfather started in the 1960s. “At that point, no one was selling trophies in our area,” says Woltman. Today, however, he notes that clients are no longer shopping in a 10-mile radius from their homes. “Now we’re competing with local outlets and online and direct mail marketers all over the country. We are even competing with office supply stores,” says Woltman.
    A major part of Woltman Trophies & Awards’ clientele includes corporate customers, which has been a very successful market for the business. “Last year we were really busy during the holidays,” says Woltman. “I just think it was a major time when companies wanted to use corporate holiday gifts to increase corporate morale.”

Engravable wooden coaster sets, pen cases and heart-shaped gift box from LaserBits, Inc., Phoenix, AZ.   Budget-conscious customers will like items such as sublimatable glass cases, wallets and flip-flops. Photo courtesy of Johnson Plastics.

    By the middle of this year, Woltman had already completed large orders for corporate clients who provide catalogs with year-end gift choices to their employees. However, the majority of Woltman’s holiday sales consist of corporate gift orders in quantities of 25 or less. He has also recognized a trend during the past few years of clients preferring to send a quantity of more moderately priced gifts, e.g. $20, to their employees, customers or vendors rather than purchase one $400 gift to be shared by everyone at the company.
    Woltman is able to maintain a deep inventory of popular gift items in a wide price range that allows him to meet the needs of these corporate customers and respond to last-minute requests quickly and with minimal headaches. Using his laser engraving equipment, he is able to complete orders of 20 crystal pieces in two days if needed. “I need to be able to say ‘Yes!’” says Woltman. “I may be only one of the four or more phone calls the client plans to make when choosing a gift source and engraver.”
    Crystal gifts sell particularly well during the holidays at Woltman Trophies & Awards. Woltman is licensed to sell Waterford crystal, but he also maintains a large inventory of more modestly priced crystal items, including products such as paperweights, clocks and key chains.
    Woltman also emphasizes the need for excellent customer service, particularly during the sometimes stressful holiday season. He prides himself on a commitment to quality, creative product design, individualized customer service and on-time delivery.


Items like this rosewood combination frame/clock make good multi-functional items for year-round gift sales. Photo courtesy of Marco Awards Group, South Windsor, CT.

  Sublimated porcelain ornaments courtesy of Condé Systems, Mobile, AL.

Small Inventory, Quick Turnaround
    David Kutz of A Cut Above Engraving & Embroidery operates a home-based business in Palos Park, IL. In contrast to Woltman, Kutz prefers not to maintain a large inventory, relying instead on suppliers’ fast shipping to help him take on large orders. Kutz also offers engraving services for items purchased from outside sources. During the holidays, clients bring him many items purchased either online or at mall shops, which he engraves to their specifications using either his laser engraving machine or his sandcarving system.
    Kutz, like many other shop owners, finds his clients “purchase by price,” using the Internet to research and buy products made nationwide or even overseas. Says Kutz, “During the holiday season, we see a wide variety of products that people want personalized. Some examples include ornaments, wine bottles, glassware, glass items, boxes, drumsticks, pencils, golf balls, golf clubs and a lot of gag gifts. We pride ourselves on being able to engrave items other stores say ‘no’ to.”
    Kutz also receives holiday gift orders from local real estate agents, stockbrokers and other service professionals. “Personalized corporate gifts, such as a wine bottle engraved with a wreath, the year and ‘congratulations on your new home,’ will be proudly displayed by their clients,” says Kutz.
    Kutz quantifies his holiday gift business as 80% last-minute items and 20% planned purchases. The business specializes in engraving more unique products and even some “bizarre” items, such as racecar valve covers, as well as difficult surfaces like bowling pins. “We’re sought out because we’ve eliminated the word ‘can’t’ from our vocabulary,” says Kutz.
Consistent Promotion, Quick Turnaround
    Customer service is also a focus for Terry and Marilyn Peak of Peak Expectations, San Jacinto, CA. They find that staying in the forefront of clients’ minds throughout the year through constant promotion helps their clients remember them when it comes time for the holidays. “There’s a lot of pre-order work providing options for our clients, but when the orders materialize, they’re ours,” says Terry Peak.
    Like some shop owners, the Peaks prefer not to stock a large inventory for the season. “Many of the suppliers have really improved their shipping schedules and can now offer 24-72 hour delivery,” says Terry Peak. “This means that by carefully choosing our suppliers we can offer our clients very quick turnaround, which can lead to very satisfied customers and that leads to increased and repeat business.”
    Offering unique personalization options is another key to the Peaks’ overall success. They do a lot of holiday gift work using their Roland MPX-80 photo impact printer to provide clients with a variety of engraved items, including photo frames and the currently popular dog tags.

Traditional jewelry items like these from John E. Lepper, Attleboro, MA, include necklaces, lockets, pendants, tie bars and cuff links.

  Sublimatable valets, such as these from Johnson Plastics, are a unique gift choice.

Creative Marketing Creates Business
    David Takes, owner of Expressions Engraved, Inc., St. Joseph, MO, uses the holiday season to not only get a share of consumer spending but to jump start sales throughout the year. “Without a doubt, the most cost-effective time of year to promote a retail award business is from November 1 through the end of the holiday shopping season. This is when people are most likely to break away from shopping the same old crowded big box stores to explore smaller shops they’ve never been in before. It’s the best time to pull out all the stops to draw new foot traffic into your business,” Takes says.
    Last year, Takes developed a promotional campaign that publicized his business as having the largest selection of Christmas ornaments in the city, and ended up attracting the most holiday traffic in his business’ history. Anticipating increased foot traffic, Takes made sure his in-store displays were up to date and were set up to convey everything his business could offer.
    “It wasn’t the wonderful ornament sales that I got excited about, it was all of the new exposure my business gained from the expanded foot traffic. By offering a lower ticket item such as ornaments, I was able to maximize the number of shoppers coming into the store. Once in the store, they were pleasantly surprised with our selection of gifts in crystal, pewter, silver, wood, etc. I call this time of year my planting season because I am able to plant seeds for business that will come later on as occasions present themselves throughout the year,” Takes says.
    Expressions Engraved’s promotion was so successful that Takes plans on setting the bar even higher this year by hosting a late-night sneak preview party in September to introduce a line of exclusive new ornaments. “My goal is to become the first place people will think of when they want an ornament. Those of us in this industry have such an advantage over the competition because of our ability to personalize,” he explains.
Remembering to Personalize Your Business
    Good economy or bad, customers are always looking for one key aspect in a business: excellent customer service. Guiding shoppers to items in their price range, helping them select the best options for their needs and finishing the job when promised are time-honored strategies for success.
    Above all things, though, is maintaining a positive attitude, especially during the holidays. “It’s an interesting and challenging market,” Terry Peak says. “But it helps if you can turn the stumbling blocks into a staircase.”