Christmas and Holiday Ideas

HERE COMES CHRISTMAS...
               SOME IDEAS FOR PRESENTING YOUR WARES

The seasons of Christmas and Chanukah always bring thoughts of giving and home. While voices on the radio are crooning, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” and “There’s no place like home for the holidays,” potential customers are making lists and then running around looking for the perfect gifts.
 
The holidays can be a real crazy-maker for the gift seller as well, whether home based or in a retail location. If I build it, will they come? When they do, will they buy? You want to offer them everything to make sure that you get your share of the Christmas pie, but we can’t—and shouldn’t—do everything. We should only do what we do best.
 
This is a great time of year to plan a cooperative marketing cooperative effort that sells product, entertains, promotes fellowship, provides marketing opportunities and fosters good will. That’s a powerful combination of results and the fall-out seems to last the whole year through.
 
A CUSTOM GIFT BONANZA
 
An Old-fashioned Christmas was the brainstorm of Marian, a young mother with a home-based embroidery business. She yearned to promote her business more, but operated on a limited budget. She presented her idea to her networking group: “Let’s combine our resources and our products and have an open-house Christmas celebration.” The idea was met with enthusiasm; the resulting pool of talent was impressive.
 
Sixteen businesses participated in the holiday fest. It took place on a weekend before Thanksgiving with high hopes of attracting the Christmas spenders before the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” rush to the malls. The event was open from 9AM to 7PM on Friday and Saturday, and Noon to 8PM on Sunday.
 
Each participant paid a set fee that was used to print and mail the invitations. The price also included an embroidered An Old-Fashioned Christmas shirt to be worn by all the merchants—designed and stitched by our embroiderer…her first sale of the event.
 
Admission to the event was a can of food and a gift-wrapped toy, which were donated in the name of the networking group to a pre-selected charity. As a result, advertisements in the local paper and radio coverage were provided at a reduced rate or free of charge. Flyers were printed and distributed at the churches and other civic organizational meetings and prominently displayed in the windows of shops around town.
 
Be sure to check with your local zoning and any neighborhood organizations before planning your event…and try to get as many of your neighbors involved as you can! Selecting a charity that is sponsored by the local police or fire companies will get you volunteers for security—perhaps dressed as Santa’s helpers—and traffic coordinators. Have a back-up plan for a local firehouse or hall in case your chosen location does not meet with approval. The idea will work anywhere—with a little imagination.
 
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
 
Marian’s home was a large one level structure with a finished recreation room in the basement. For the event, all the pictures were taken off the walls, and the knick-knacks packed away. The larger pieces of furniture were removed and stored in the garage.
 
At the appointed hour, the pathway to the door and the door itself were decorated with wreaths and lawn ornaments (that boasted a price tag), with more available inside. A greeter in an old-fashioned costume helped register each guest for door prizes—one from each merchant. This registration became a mailing list that would be made available to each participating business. A large sign listed the merchants and their locations.
 
The donated food and toys were placed under a large tree, lavishly decorated with ornaments—all for sale. Some of the ornaments were the work of the participating merchants, local church groups and stores donated others. The proceeds from the sale of these Christmas tree decorations were donated to the sponsored charity. In another corner of the living room, gathered around a piano, a group of musicians—lead by the husband of one of the participating merchants—played Christmas carols, “selling” requests for charity, and handing out business cards.
 
The side porch boasted a play area for children and a volunteer storyteller—dressed as Mrs. Claus—who kept the little ones entertained while the adults shopped.
 
The walls were decorated with artwork, wreaths, quilts and embroidered flags with a sign directing the way to the business that created the work—signs that offered and encouraged custom orders. A baker and a caterer manned the kitchen and dining room giving away samples for refreshments. There were boxes of candy and baked goods wrapped and ready for sale. Hot cider simmered in a pot in the kitchen filling the air with the smell of spices and apples. 
 
The rest of the merchants were situated throughout the house—with plenty of room for the shoppers to travel between displays. Each merchant provided their own display with a sign noting their business name and the address of their home location and plenty of business cards to distribute.
 
MAKING IT WORK
 
It was decided that all money would be collected at a single station near the front door to accommodate those shoppers who wished to pay with one check or a credit card transaction. Each merchant was given a number that was displayed on all sales tags, and they also gave the buyer a ticket to take to the door with the purchased items listed.
 
This method also allowed the merchants to mingle their offerings. Our embroiderer, who was stationed next to her machine in her regular business corner, was busily adding names to pre-embroidered gifts. Her display included a basket made by another merchant   filled with handmade soaps and potpourri from yet another, her own embroidered toilet paper, and hand towels, ready to be monogrammed.
 
Since the merchants came from a networking group, there was no duplication, and all the participants were screened in advance with an eye to appropriate as well as quality offerings. The result was a combination of unique gifts of class. The theme of the advertising and the sales talk was exclusivity and service.
 
One of the incentives offered by several of the merchants was a gift certificate. If the customer purchased a certain dollar amount, they received a voucher for $10.00 that could be applied to any purchase made before Christmas. This not only encouraged an additional purchase if the dollar goal was within reach, but also encouraged later visits to the merchant’s individual shop.
 
Volunteers manned a gift-wrapping station with ribbons and paper donated by local merchants. The minimal price of the gift-wrapping service was added to the collected funds for the charity.
 
The local radio station with an on-site broadcast covered the Sunday evening finale of the event with a representative of the charity accepting the donated gifts and money from the networking group.
 
THE EMBROIDERER’S CORNER
 
Marian, our resident embroiderer, had the advantage by holding the event in her own home. She did not have to move her machine, she was able to leave her displays in place, and all the shoppers now knew the way to her door. Her stock of threads was a bright attraction and her running machine fascinated the customers.
 
Marian had ordered stock shirts in limited colors and popular sizes—and was careful not to focus too heavily on the holiday theme. Instead she designed a holiday shirt that ran the gamut from fall to Halloween and on through Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. It incorporated autumn leaves, snowflakes, and pumpkins and appealed to the shopper as a seasonal celebration.
 
She had plenty of Baby’s First Christmas bibs, and pillowcases with a visions of sugarplums design ready for instant personalization. She also offered non-holiday pillowcases with designs for both boys and girls. Her stock offerings included many things that were not limited by size requirements, such as afghans, baby blankets, tote bags, bath towels—some made into animal shapes for the younger set—and caps. Embroidered tooth fairy pillows were a big hit as stocking stuffers. She had a supply of stockings read to personalize—and a sign that encouraged the shoppers to bring their own stockings to be embroidered.
 
Marian also took stock of what she had from the passing year’s business—and marked down the things that she did not care to see again after the first of the year. She pre-embroidered some of her unique local designs for quick name-drops and had a ready supply of golf towels and caps for hard-to-buy-for men on the shopper’s list. A favorite cap boasted the words Santa’s Helper and a close second read Bah! Humbug. 
 
 Since it is hard to prepare for the unknown, the embroiderer’s corner was full of ideas and samples. A book of stock designs was available for browsing and gift certificates were offered—both for those who didn’t know what to buy and for those who wanted to be sure the gift was the right size or sentiment before personalizing. All sales were final. Looking forward to the rest of the year, our embroiderer was sure to display Valentine designs, Mother’s Day ideas, grandparent’s shirts and wedding and graduation gifts.
 
THE BOTTOM LINE
 
The first year An Old-fashioned Christmas was held, the donations of food and toys filled a van and two pick-ups. The check presented to the charitable organization totaled over $5000.00. The participating merchants were listed in follow-up newspaper stories and a thank-you notice from the charity. The radio reported their success on the local news and encouraged people to patronize the participating businesses.
 
While each of the merchants was pleased with their bottom line figures from the event, the real benefit was the advertising and marketing exposure. That alone made all the work worthwhile. Marian’s networking efforts also netted orders from the individual merchants for company shirts, smocks and aprons.
 
This idea can be made as large or as small and your time and budget allow. Use your imagination and those of entrepreneurs to come up with themes and ideas that suit your region and circumstances. Don’t be afraid to try it with only a few participants—as word of mouth will help the event grow in following years.
 
VARIATIONS ON A THEME
 
The retail shop can borrow any of these ideas to augment their seasonal offerings. Invite a home business owner—or two or three—to set up in your shop for the holiday season so you can offer your customers something different.
 
If you do sublimation or transfers, invite an embroiderer to visit for the holidays. A home business would be thrilled at the opportunity to showcase embroidery in a retail setting…and the machine can really attract a crowd. If you do embroidery at your shop, invite the transfer or sublimation expert. Combine embroidery and printing on some shirts to offer the shopper some multi-media magic.
 
If you don’t have room for an embroidery or printing set-up, consider filling a corner of your shop with consigned quality gifts made by the local entrepreneurs. You may discover some winning ideas that you will want to carry in your shop permanently…and one business helping another can be the greatest gift of all.
 
The holidays are a magical time, but the real magic is in the networking with other custom gift-makers…and the opportunity to build business relationships that can outlast the holiday season.