These savvy retailers share their secrets for bringing the bling that makes cash registers ring.
By Susan Grisham
Don’t look now, but the holiday season is around the corner. The last quarter of the year is often the busiest for a lighting showroom as consumers spruce up their homes in anticipation of entertaining family and friends. To provide inspiration and stay top-of-mind with customers, why not incorporate the holidays as a theme in your merchandising, product promotions, and events?
Providing seasonal decorating ideas can become a competitive advantage for design-oriented stores. For example, the co-owners of Dream House, in Frederick, Md. –Wendy Flynn, Cassandra Vaira, and Bonnie Kravitol – start their holiday promotions early.
“We kick things off before Thanksgiving to get people thinking of new ideas when decorating their homes,” Vaira notes. “In the showroom, we have five fir trees dressed for the holidays and offer discounts on items that are related to the season. We have given away little gifts like measuring tapes in the past and we offer refreshments to make the [environment] a little more festive.”
To get the most mileage out of the event, the furniture and design store’s pre-season event takes a broader seasonal approach. “It’s more than just decorating your home for the holidays,” Vaira explains. “We concentrate on a winter theme that is more long-lasting. We feature statuary, topiaries, mercury glass, and unique things that can also be given as gifts. The looks are eclectic and the prices vary from promotional to high-end.”
Dream House has built a reputation for its Christmas tree decorations and provides a service for homeowners and businesses offering custom wreaths, outfitting windows, mantles, and staircases on an hourly fee plus the cost of the materials. Equipped with its own workroom, Dream House also customizes and individualizes accessories for clients.
“We are always tweaking,” Vaira adds. “For example, we [stock] The Light Garden ( HYPERLINK “http://www.thelightgarden.com” www.thelightgarden.com) twigs and show customers how to mix them with seasonal colors. We also have bare branch arrangements that customers can imitate. For winter we concentrate on whites, silvers, and golds, and things that can be mixed with other accessories and colors later in the season, such as adding blue accents in springtime.”
Since moving to Frederick two years ago from its former location in Charleston, W.Va. Dream House has participated in the town’s Frosty Fair. “It’s a kind of anti-mall event that takes place the day after Thanksgiving,” Vaira comments. “Frederick merchants and restaurants are open to greet shoppers for breakfast and all day (until 9 p.m.) there are special events, carolers, free hot cocoa, and sometimes costumed characters such as Frosty the Snowman or Scrooge walk down the streets. It’s a casual fun day, and we offer special discounts and refreshments.”
One Midwestern retailer who really ramps up an already packed event calendar with seasonal celebrations is Mary Liz Curtin, owner of furniture/home décor/gift store Leon & Lulu in Clawson, Michigan. “It’s all about the customer,” she remarks. “You have to keep in mind what’s going to benefit customers. If they have a good time or learn how to do something, they will return. For instance, we have invited guest instructors in on some nights to show customers how to choose paint for a room. We don’t sell paint, but we know our customers are interested in home décor and want to spruce up their homes for the holidays, and paint is pretty essential.”
Curtin knows a few things about special event marketing. The store schedules happenings year round, with a total of 84 held throughout 2012. Her favorites start the day after Thanksgiving and continue until after the New Year.
“We always have a low-key breakfast the day after Thanksgiving and invite customers to come in and relax after those crack-of-dawn [Black Friday] sales at the malls. We have plenty of refreshments and fun things to do,” Curtin says.
The retailer is also known for her inclusion of local talent in her promotions and for sponsoring an Artists’ Market during the holiday season. “It is juried and the artists pay us commission on anything that is sold in the store,” Curtin explains. “Our customers can shop for totally unique gifts, but there is a secondary benefit as well: these artists each have their own following and that means new customers come into our store.” Leon & Lulu also holds book signings that serve as fundraisers to buy books for school children in nearby Detroit.
The store – a former roller rink – still features the original wood floors, wide open space, and vintage rental skates contributing to the décor. Although Curtin feels the mood is already welcoming, she delights in kicking it up a notch. “We talk with our suppliers about how they can be involved in various events, but it’s still all about the customer. People don’t know what they are doing when decorating, so it’s up to us to make them feel comfortable – even if that means having them sitting on the sofas and enjoying refreshments.”
Holding so many events throughout the year, Curtin was initially worried about spills and breakage. “There has been nothing significant,” she reports. “I don’t think we had one item break last year, and when it comes to a spill, you just clean it up and the piece is reduced in price.”
The store promotes events via eblasts as well as traditional advertising. “We also ask any charity that partners with us to also promote the event, whether by telephone, mail, or email. All we ask is [permission] to check any printed or emailed pieces for spelling and appropriate store name,” Curtin explains. In addition, press releases are sent to newspapers and local bloggers. Of course, the staff always talks up all of the upcoming events.
The holiday fun doesn’t end with Christmas. Leon & Lulu concludes the season with its popular Goodbye Santa promotion. “It’s a kind of closure for the holidays,” Curtin remarks. “On the weekend after Christmas, we have kids and their parents come in and write Thank You notes to Santa. Children who haven’t had their picture taken with Santa that year have a last chance to do so. We always have refreshments and make [the event] a toy drive for the Salvation Army.”
How will Curtin tweak it this year? “Well, Santa will be pretty tired after all his visits, so I’m thinking he may just show up in his Santa pajamas, plus a red velvet and ermine-trimmed robe, of course,” she quips, adding, “I’m still working on the slippers.”