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Product Merchandiser Focus: Holiday Sales

Posted: Sept. 19, 2012, 12:55 p.m. EDT


Celebrate Holiday Spirit With Sparkling Sales
Increase profits from Halloween through New Year’s by combining creative marketing with attention-grabbing merchandise and incentives.
By Cheryl Reeves

As the holiday season approaches, retailers have an enormous opportunity to attract more consumers and put razzle-dazzle into the bottom line. The season of giving is also a chance to develop deeper relationships with customers and community.

Holiday pet store display
Get your customers into the holiday spirit with festive displays. Courtesy of LuLu & Luigi
With boosting traffic as the goal, a retailer has many options to increase frequency of holiday sales, industry participants reported. These include putting magic into store windows and decorations; partnering with local professionals to offer special events; placing lower price-point items at the register to inspire impulse buys; and creating imaginative displays that visually pop to wow the consumer.

“Retailers have to capture the spirit of the season with each and every holiday,” said Robin Kershner, a partner at Pet Palette, a distributor based in Sykesville, Md.

Most important, it’s essential that store owners don’t miss sales by not having merchandise for the holidays, she said.

“If you have fun with your purchases—and you give your customers the impression that you’re having fun—they will jump on board,” Kershner added.

Thumbs Up Merchandising Techniques
At D.O.G. Pet Boutique in Los Angeles, not only is holiday merchandise selected based on past sales performance and hot new trends, the store’s staff also asks customers what they would like to see on shelves.

“We actually create a list of products based on what customers tell us they want along with what we think they might like, too,” said Christian Velasco, co-owner of the store. “This becomes a Holiday Wish List that we then put up on Facebook to see how many likes each product receives.”

Dog bone Christmas wreaths
Dog bone Christmas tree ornaments
The range of pet-themed Christmas items that retailers can display is seemingly endless, from wreaths to ornaments and more. Courtesy of Pet Palette
Another successful strategy Velasco employs to inspire multiple purchases is matching holiday items, such as Halloween costumes, to related products that can be used year round.

“For example, we might sell a cute giraffe Halloween costume displayed along with a giraffe print collar and coordinating retractable leash,” he said.

Retailers will sell more during the holidays if they take the time during the entire year to get to know their customers, noted Susan Jansen, owner of Dog in the Closet in Ennis, Texas.

“When you know your customers, you know the types of holiday merchandise to offer,” she said. “For example, we offer rhinestone tanks for every holiday. And when stocking for Christmas and Hanukkah, remember that snowmen will work for everyone.”

Bringing in holiday-specific toys, such as reindeer and dreidel squeaky toys, works well for Ron Horen, co-owner of Dog Savvy Boutique & Spa in Denver. He also said customers love buying gift certificates to tuck into a pet’s Christmas stocking.

At Spoiled Rotten Boutique in Atlanta, finding out what products customers want to give and receive is vital to growing business, said Michele Simpson, the store’s owner.

“I sell clothing and accessories for both kids and pets, and I’ve discovered that my female customers really love lots of color, whimsical accessories and anything that makes for fun fashion,” Simpson said.

Dog scarves, jeweled collars, skull and crossbone tees and colorful tutus are top sellers that her customers enjoy buying for their own pets—and giving to pets belonging to friends and family, she reported.

Simpson also discovered how carrying sports-related apparel can really kick off more sales when a man came into her shop looking for a Texas Longhorn jersey for his dog.

“I didn’t have it, but I ordered one for him,” she said. “Not only that, I decided to add more athletic apparel to my stock in time for the holidays, and these turned out to be great sellers all year long.”

Lower price impulse buys, such as breed-specific holiday ornaments and individually wrapped bakery treats, are top selling gifts during the holidays at Beastie Boutique in Vancouver, Wash., said owner Kristina McLeskey.

“We also have a grooming department, and during the holidays, each pet receives a complimentary colorful scarf or bow with their spa treatment,” she said.

Industry Voices
What was your store’s most successful holiday event?

“We put on a Christmas Doggie Red Carpet that was very Hollywood, featuring a Santa Claus wearing sunglasses, ‘paparazzi’ photographers snapping photos as the dogs trotted down the carpet. The event featured contests, prizes and a lot more. We did this partnered with the SPCA-LA, and all money went to the good cause of helping animals in need.”
Christian Velasco, co-owner of D.O.G. Pet Boutique in Los Angeles

“Our Halloween Pet Psychic Fair featured four animal psychics, 40 vendors, catered food, photographers—and of course, lots of customers and their pets. We did great sales around this event, with proceeds going to local rescue groups. A lot of customers brought in pets they’d rescued. A psychic gave them readings and told the pet’s past story. They also relayed that the pet was now happy. This made people feel good and even more emotionally connected to their pets.”
Chris Watts, co-owner of The Petropolitan in Dallas

“The Sip ‘n Shop event was a great time for everyone: I kept my store’s door open, played music, offered wine, cheese and crackers. Customers came in to shop and socialize. Even dog walkers passing by came in to join in the fun. We also did a Doggie Date Night where customers came in with their pets and kids. We had food, a DJ, games, the works. All the dogs ran around playing together and got hooked on the pupcakes. People really enjoyed it. Events like these really pull in customers and bring the community together, so I try to do one every month all year round.”
Michele Simpson, owner of Spoiled Rotten Boutique in Atlanta

Because the holidays are a time when consumers splurge on their pets, pricey items such as beds should also be a part of every retailer’s holiday assortment,” said Cary Duggan, marketing spokesperson for West Paw Design, in Bozeman, Mont.

“We see increased sales in dog beds as well as pet apparel, especially in cooler climes,” Duggan noted.

When ordering merchandise for the holidays, the first and biggest mistake some retailers make is waiting too late to order seasonal items, reported Debbie Bohlken, president of Claudia’s Canine Cuisine in Maumelle, Ark. Early ordering allows the manufacturer plenty of time to plan its production schedule and order supplies, she said.

“We begin production months before to ensure that there will be a good supply of treats for the holidays,” Bohlken said. “So plan ahead, place your holiday selections early and specify the ship date so you have them ready to display when the holiday buying season begins.”

Retailers should include all customers during the holidays by focusing on the giving most of all, Duggan advised.

“Buying during the holidays isn’t about the holiday, it’s about the gift recipient,” he said. “Presenting products with that in mind will help you make your buys.”

Presenting Irresistible Displays
When it comes to holiday displays, “entertainment” is the operative word.

“Create fun product gifting vignettes throughout the store in key traffic areas,” Duggan said. “For example, you could build your vignettes based on products for a given pet personality: ‘the pet who has everything,’ ‘the lazy dog,’ ‘the frisky cat.’ You can also then take your vignette displays to the next level by creating custom gift packages in a range of prices.”

Another idea is to have a selection of pre-wrapped gifts, Pet Palette’s Kershner said. This type of display works best with some product showcased unwrapped along with a supply of wrapped items, she added.

“And don’t forget to use a branded gift card so that when the recipient opens the gift they know exactly who you are,” Kershner said.

“You can also offer baskets filled with clever gifts that customers can give to the hostess of a holiday party,” she continued. “These are normally in the $20 range and can be finished off with a little flourish of rafia or pretty ribbon. Again, brand that gift by lacing your store card through the ribbon.”

Retailers can also maximize holiday earnings with outstanding treat displays.

Claudia’s Canine Cuisine’s Bohlken suggested showcasing treat displays storewide, noting that the most important thing to remember is to create visual interest not in one place, but all over the store.

“Along with many different types of display styles, we always utilize the simple strategy of placing some dog treats at the dog’s eye level,” said Chris Watts, co-owner of The Petropolitan in Dallas. “So many times, it’s the dog initiating the purchase by staring at a treat or actually grabbing a bully stick out of a box. Few pet owners can resist.”

The Magic of Store Windows and Special Events
Always pay attention to your window displays,” Kershner said.”It’s your front door. If you feel like you need new ideas, head to the Internet and search ‘window displays’ under Google Images. To narrow it down, you can search ‘window displays Halloween’ to give you inspiration.”

Pet store holiday display
Opportunities for creating standout displays abound during the holidays, such as this gift table at Gone to the Dogs Boutique in St. Pete Beach, Fla. Courtesy of Gone To The Dogs Boutique
At The Petropolitan, the store features four huge plate glass windows that Watts uses to maximum advantage to introduce each holiday’s new selection of merchandise.

“As people run by the front of our store during the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, they’re also seeing our store’s Christmas displays,” he said. “We transition merchandise from holiday to holiday. The windows really pull in the customers.”

In addition to offering all the toys, the treats and the blingy fashions, retailers said they find that giving back means a lot to consumers these days.

“Holding an event or promotion where proceeds are donated to a local nonprofit might cause a customer to visit your store for their holiday shopping versus another store,” Duggan noted. “These events will also build positive word-of-mouth and referrals in the community.”

When retailers do a product or service giveaway, they should be sure to collect customer email addresses and add this information to the store’s newsletter distribution list, he added.

“And always invite the local media,” Kershner said. “Also, get pictures and announcements up on Twitter and Facebook so everyone can see what a great time was had by all.”

The idea of giving back is a guiding principle at The Petropolitan, Watts said.

“Everything we carry works to further our mission statement: philanthropic purchasing,” he said. “Every item a customer purchases is something that involves giving back, whether to a local shelter, rescue group or an organization such as The Planet Dog Foundation. It’s important to remember that the idea of generous giving, what we celebrate during the holidays, is really something that’s important to do all year round.”

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