All in the Family

By Caroline Kennedy, Gifts & Decorative Accessories, 2/26/2008
For retailers, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day offer an opportunity to boost second quarter sales. According to the research of the National Retail Federation (NRF), consumers will spend nearly $25 billion for these holidays, with an average 35% of consumers doing some or all of their shopping in specialty and greeting card stores.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day also offer gift retailers an ideal opportunity to reach out to two hard-to-reach consumer groups: men and younger customers — teens and tweens — whose business they can cultivate for future returns.

Commando shoppers

One of the few occasions when men are forced to shop is Mother’s Day. When it comes to attracting their business, service is a key; and of course, service is the forte of the specialty gift retailer. Many men utilize “commando” or “strike force” shopping techniques. They locate what they want immediately, swoop down on it, make the purchase and leave. If they don’t see what they want immediately, they just leave.

Retailers need to engage these commando shoppers with a calculated counter strategy to seize their attention. Make shopping easy, putting your best display up front. Make sure your staff is on the lookout for men coming through the door. The offer of help and a good gift suggestion may be all you need to tip the scale toward making a purchase — especially when it comes to choosing something special for the women in their lives.

“People really appreciate gift-giving ideas,” notes April McCrumb of Catching Fireflies, Berkley, MI.. “It’s a tough job finding that perfect goody for someone special.” And when it comes to spending on gifts for their ladies, men tend not to be tightwads; if 2007 figures are any indicator, those commandos will spend upwards of $170 on Mother’s Day gifts.

The next-gen shopper

Next to Christmas, Mother’s Day offers gift retailers the best opportunity to draw younger customers into their stores. These youngsters represent the next generation of consumer, and cultivating their business early on will show them what your store has to offer in the way of merchandise and service.

Today’s kids have grown up with computers and the Internet; they are much more apt to shop — or at least go looking for product and gift suggestions — online. If your store doesn’t have a Web presence yet, you may be missing out on this demographic. (And not just with the younger set; tech-savvy men are also more likely to source and shop online.) You might also want to “get into their heads” a little and develop a sense of what appeals to younger shoppers. As Bettie Edwards of The Little House, Vashon Island, WA, puts it, “You need a WWTKWYTC — a We Want to Know What You Think Club.”

Edwards invites a group of kids to bring their own info and input to the table. “A little pizza makes them smile,” she says, and one of her club members always goes away with a small prize — earrings or such — for their efforts. “I’m also taking a sophomore and a junior [in high school] to market with me,” adds Edwards. “They will each actually make two complete jewelry line buys. It’s fun to watch their energy!”

Other retailers — such as Christi Tullis of Ambiance Interiors, Suwanee, GA, and Mary Liz Curtin of Leon & Lulu, Clawson, MI — have brought their offspring to market as advisors and/or junior buyers. The kids have a different sense of what’s cool and fun.

If you reach out to kids for special occasion shopping, get to know what they like, and offer some unusual merchandise, they might make your store a destination — not only for their gifting needs, but also for the shopping experience you gave them.

Selling the family

When it comes to merchandise for Mother’s and Father’s Day, experienced retailers advise evaluating what you already have on hand that can be merchandised in a fresh way as parental gifts. “We’re not doing as much ‘seasonal’ direct buying,” remarks Bettie Edwards. “It’s amazing how much we can find in the store, things that we carry all year, that can be merchandised with a different twist and lots of fun signs.” Presenting merchandise in a different context allows customers to see it in a new light.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore merchandise that is specific to the occasion, especially greeting cards and gift items that bear specific sentiments for Mom and Dad. And even those gift items have a shelf life beyond the occasion, re-merchandised for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries or “just because.” Make sure to keep a range of price points in your selection, so there’s something for every budget.

© 2008, Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved. First printed in Gifts & Decorative Accessories, February, 2008 and reprinted with permission.