Ah, the holidays, that magical time of year when celebrities sing of cotton white landscapes and America sees red from red cups at Starbucks. Whatever the tradition your religion or lack thereof inspires, it’s a season of celebration and reflection, a time to come together with family and friends to commemorate yet another trip around the sun on this spinning rock we call earth. If you’re a retailer, it’s also a time to ratchet up your sales figures, to take full advantage of the public’s temporary abandonment of reason and stretch your bottom line like Santa’s bulging waistline.
It’s time to deck the halls, as they say. If that statement inspired an eyeroll, it’s also time to stifle your inner-Scrooge. Holiday decorations can be tacky, yes. But they can also be an effective reminder to customers that it’s time to open their hearts, and by extension, their wallets.
“A festive, fun environment encourages customers to stay longer and spend more,” opines Alisha Hagler, heiress to the High Flyer Specialty Store in Wichita Falls, Texas. Rhonda Bronkhorst-Miller of Shakedown Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan agrees.
“I think it just puts people in the mood,” she adds, “When they get in the store, maybe they’re just thinking about getting themselves a pipe, but when they see all the Christmas spirit . . . they’re like, ‘oh yeah, I could get my dad something here.’”
Choices in decoration can be as diverse as the snowflakes that betoken the season. Generally speaking, the key is balancing your self-expression and store branding against the tastes and preferences of the clientele and community you serve. Basically, know thyself, but also, know thy audience.
For Casey Morgan of Sparkway Smoke and Vapor in Bloomingdale, NJ, it’s as simple as a black Christmas tree, a punk rock take on a time-honored tradition, reflecting the anarchist ethos that owner and store embody. Down South, such stark twists on tradition may not be as widely accepted, which is why Tony Williamson of Acicionado’s in Augusta, Georgia keeps his tree green but his approach still unique with rolling paper packs for ornaments.
Over at Shakedown Street, Rhonda’s crew keeps it wacky. Think, the 80s cinema classic, Mannequin, but with a 420 spin. She credits most of the creative genius to her business partner, Joe.
“One year,” she recounts fondly, “he made Santa drunk. There were all these chicks around him, all of our mannequins all dressed up crazy. Santa was next to a Christmas tree with a bottle of Jameson.” The year after that, they pushed the envelope even further with a b-ng in Santa’s hand next to a kid smoking a hookah. Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg’s minions at Facebook took that picture down. Oops.
Alisha takes the High Flyer experience a bit further out of the ordinary, opting for traditions that both pre-and-postdate those of Judeo-Christendom.
“We have a unique opportunity to highlight non-traditional holidays, like seasonal solstices and industry-related celebrations. We’ll use our distinct, diverse inventory to create eye-catching displays that will introduce our customer base to products they may be unaware of while tying in festive holiday themes.” So long as you don’t mind a little disdain from the puritanical element of your community, her pagan approach could be a solid way to stand out. But the real mark of acuity is in her integration of seasonal decorating with merchandising.
For Chris Black of Munson’s Emporium in Belton, Texas, that integration is everything. “We change some of the lightbulbs to Christmas colors, we have light up trees outside . . . we decorate the windows to the front of the store, we do a lot of the synthetic garlands, the ones that are glittery and bright . . . but everything we do, we use it to draw attention to certain parts of the store where we’ve bought those items in quantities to offer a better discount. Christmas decorating is awesome, but if it doesn’t go hand in hand with your marketing plan, you’re not really maximizing your potential.”
Keep in mind, the end game is profit. There’s no reason to feel bad about that. You can stay true to the holiday spirit at home, whether you’re lighting the menorah, decorating the tree, or compiling your list of grievances. But when you’re at work, stay true to your bottom line. So, yes, get creative this holiday season. Get your customers thinking outside the box store. Be unique. Be memorable. But most importantly, be strategic. There’s a ton of cheddar to be made this time of year. If you want your slice, you have to take it, and that starts with the seamless integration of festive adornments and funky gifts.