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.
|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.
|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.”
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.
Small Inventory, Quick Turnaround
Creative Marketing Creates Business
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