The holidays are nearly upon us and retailers are busy building festive decorations into their merchandising strategies. Are they having fun yet?
Liana Ottaviani, GM of Fante’s Kitchen Shop in Philadelphia, is. She says she loves this time of year, but admits “It is crazy, but as fun as it can be.”
Part of that fun is seeing old friends. “We have wonderful customers, but some come in only a couple of times a year and the holiday season is one of those times. It is good to see everyone,” she says. “My favorite part about this job is helping people find what they need.”
Another part of that fun is decorating, a task that many retailers say is key to building shopping spirit with customers.
“I have just spent the past two weeks, the last week of October and the first week of November decorating and merchandising for Christmas,” says Martha Nading, owner of The Extra Ingredient in Greensboro, N.C. “Christmas is definitely the most important holiday and I feel decorations are crucial. I want my customers to feel ‘in the spirit’ and enjoy their experience in my store.”
Nading says she gets decorating support from staffers, “Some of my staff are excellent merchandisers, but all of them are part time so most of the work falls to me.”
A key part of that decorating strategy is window dressing, she adds. “We hang wreaths in all six windows across the front of our store and merchandise in colors of red, white and green.”
“Holiday decorations are very important,” says Anne Dowell, owner of Apron Strings in Hutchinson, Kan. “They help put everyone in the mood and can highlight products in a different way; Christmas is by far the biggest decorating holiday of the year.”
Given the importance of setting the mood many retailers, including Dowell, turn to outside help to help merchandise the store.
“Over the years I have had different merchandisers who are great at putting their own touches on the displays. This year it fell on my shoulders. I am not good, but I try,” she said.
In Seattle, Mrs. Cook’s general manager Amy Pomp Lorette sings the praises of using professionals when it comes to decorating. “We don’t bring in Christmas until Thanksgiving Day,” she explains. “We’ve got an amazing visual merchandiser who gives up her holiday to set us up, so that when we come in the day after Thanksgiving the store has been magically transformed into Christmas.”
Pomp Lorette says the visual merchandiser comes in every couple of weeks “to shake things up and keep the store looking fresh” during the season. “I do a lot myself,” she says. “While we try and not squash the staff’s creativity by allowing everyone to put their hands in it a bit, I generally end up overseeing and editing displays.”
Pomp Lorette says the main focus is holiday product, supported by holiday-themed displays throughout the store.
“We used to do grandiose holiday displays, dripping greenery, etc., but came to realize that customers didn’t seem to take much notice of them—but we did!” Now she says they have downgraded to “some variation of hanging lanterns and holiday lights.”
Though he recently sold his South Orange, N.J. store Kitchen a la Mode, Ben Salmon has done plenty of holiday merchandising over the years. “Christmas is the one,” he says. But he doesn’t go overboard.
“When it comes to holiday decorations, I’m all about minimum effort for maximum results,” he says. “Decorations don’t directly make money, so I’m thoughtful about the time and money I put into it.”
Still, he adds, holiday decorations are important for setting the mood. “Holiday decorating reminds people about holiday gift-giving and helps draw people into the store.” He says he “sprinkles a few decorations throughout the store and also uses merchandise and color blocking as my holiday festive-maker.”
And Salmon points out that adding that a festive touch isn’t just for inside the store. “That’s why I focus on investing most of the decorating on the outside,” he says. “I always put live garlands up and hang lights on my awning outside. And I put together a nice holiday window to draw folks in and remind them of the type of things they may not realize they want to buy for the holidays.”
Window displays, he says, are a great way to advertise.
“There are two types of window displays: product-focused and story-focused. I change it up each year, but the product focused ones always help drive sales,” Salmon says. “I like featuring great gift ideas and labeling them with the price and information. It is like an interactive catalog that people can window shop 24 hours a day.”