By Brian Minter
By Brian Minter
When I look at total Christmas sales from late October through December
and compare them to the strong long weekend sales in May,
When I look at total Christmas sales from late October through December and compare them to the strong long weekend sales in May, I wonder how we can turn the numbers around. I realize it’s an unfair comparison in many ways, but is it really? Think of all your overhead costs for November and December, including excessive energy use and extra labour costs.
Another challenge is ever increasing competition from the box stores, new entries like Target, and grocery chains. They are getting better at merchandising in our sector, in many cases “outcreating” us with help from their suppliers, and large, innovative local growers. The only solution I see is to add value to everything we do, starting with the overall Christmas experience of shopping in our stores. Christmas is one of the happiest and most cheerful times of the year. Most folks and their families are looking for new ways to heighten their holiday spirit by making it a yearly tradition to enjoy the experience we offer. It needs to be fun, warm, fuzzy and profitable for us.
Without a strong overall theme, we break the experience into so many small disconnected pieces that no one is quite sure what we are doing. The synergy of tying every component into your “story” cannot be overstated. It can be charming fairies, quirky elves, amusing snowmen, Christmas birds or whatever, but it must be creative, funky and fun. You never get a second chance to create a first impression, so the first exposure to your store, large or small, is key. The creative use of very artistic displays, uniquely coloured Christmas lighting, the sounds of much loved Christmas music, co-ordinated colours throughout the store, your team’s dress and attitude and your phone greeting all create a synergy of experiences that is infectious. If you do this well, folks will want to take this Christmas spirit home and also share it with others – especially their social media “friends.”
The real art, however, is the tie-in of your merchandising. All this creativity will be wasted unless you provide your clients with really cool stuff to buy. It’s critical to understand that their fun comes from discovering, purchasing and taking home items that will add value to their family’s experience. We’ve had great success with “Grinch” trees, owls, doves and fairies. To drive home these items, we’ve brought in owl handlers with live owls to teach about owl habitat, their future prospects and how we can create a better environment for them. We’ve also had one of our staff dress in a Grinch costume and hand out treats. A Gold Crest cypress, gently bent over and held with a wired glitzy ribbon and a Christmas ball dangling from its tip, is a universally recognized “Whoville” symbol and a great plant to add fun to any home. It is also a prime example of how easily we can bring humour and creativity into our Christmas sales.
Food is a huge part of Christmas and having free small samples of spiced drinks can create another take-home. There are lots of small cottage industry folks who create these drinks and they can help you brand your own. Tea, by the way, is one of the hottest new commodities in the world, so jump on that bandwagon. We have found that cookies, candies, non-alcoholic drinks and gourmet dips are very important to enhancing the in-store Christmas experience.
Chocolatiers, dessert chefs, tea experts and other food connoisseurs are especially appropriate local celebrity guests at Christmas, as folks can learn from them and be inspired. It’s important to develop win-win relationships where you can promote each other. Have these folks appear in the evening, when they can enjoy a larger audience. Make sure they are well promoted and have a signed up guest list.
The real sleeping giant at Christmas is the whole fresh greens opportunity. Nothing evokes a Christmas theme like fragrant boughs. They are so important that even Home Depot is into greens in a big way. Now is the time to source tropical drieds, pods, balls and stakes to take your greens section to the next level. Part of the magic is to have designers put together absolutely “wow” stuff using products available for purchase so folks can create their own.
Create-it-yourself workshops can be both very effective and very profitable. We have found that design seminars featuring greens have been one of our most well attended Christmas seminars, resulting in great sales. The whole greens opportunity is in its infancy and is set to grow.
Depending upon your hardiness zone, outdoor living planters or porch pots have a great future as well. Hardy topiary trees fancied up with lights, baubles, bows and colourful twigs are great for homes, apartments and condos. Add in hardy evergreen perennials such as grasses, heucheras, vacciniums, gaultherias, contorted willows and twig dogwoods to offer some great ingredients.
Floral departments also need to step up at Christmas with a greater use of all the new berries, dyed kale, sparkle branches and glittered everything. Our floral product needs to be big, bold, glitzy, fragrant, eye-popping and inspirational. We need to differentiate from every other florist.
These are, by no means, all the ways to boost our Christmas sales to a new level, but just some of what we need to do to get those sales up. Adding value to the experience our stores offer and theming and creating new merchandising opportunities will help us all move in a new and positive direction … that’s our future!