The More the Merrier

Sandra Randolph decorates Good Goods in Saugatuck, Mich., with white lights and greenery for the holidays.

If you saw your fourth-quarter sales slip last year due to a slow holiday season, now is the time to start forming your game plan for a stronger showing in 2009. According to The Conference Board in New York, N.Y., consumer confidence rose more than expected in August, an indication that shoppers’ outlook on the economy may be improving.

Although it’s difficult to gauge when the recession will begin to abate—even business experts find it impossible to come up with a solid forecast or corresponding numbers—there are things you can do to encourage customers to bring their holiday shopping lists through your doors.

For good ideas, we decided to go straight to the source: Main Street. The gallery owners we talked to plan to take advantage of customers’ good cheer with the right mix of inventory, events and promotions. Read on to discover how to formulate your own strategy this holiday season.

Tweaking Your Inventory Balance
A major part of your holiday plan should include inventory management. Review your recent sales reports to determine which items are outpacing others, and offer a range of price points. “Starting in late September, we boost inventory in the affordable gift price ranges,” say Michael Gamble and Danny Burris of Pura Vida Gallery in Jerome, Ariz., and Kapa’au, Hawaii. That translates to work in the $50-$200 range.

Barbara Kaylor, who co-owns R. Grey Gallery in Boise, Idaho, with her husband Robert, has a different approach in mind this year. “We have a broad range of prices,” she says. “We’re also bringing in children’s handcrafted items.” Although they already carry lanterns and kaleidoscopes, they plan to expand their stock with handcrafted wooden toys and track how well they sell. And because the Kaylors specialize in jewelry, they’ll add work by a few new artists to keep the mix fresh.

What About January?

In-Store Events that Sparkle
Despite the economic climate, customers are always looking for memorable shopping experiences, especially during the holidays. Crafting special in-store events and exhibitions will help make their visits memorable.

Sandra Randolph, owner of Good Goods in Saugatuck, Mich., organizes two major holiday events, but is sure to do something a little different each year. On Nov. 12 she’ll host “Shop Fabulously,” a “posh holiday event not to be missed” where she’ll serve refreshments and offer free gift wrapping. “This year we’re going to combine it with our twenty-year anniversary party,” she says.

Good Goods’ second holiday event captures the often-elusive New Year’s Eve crowd. As a rule, Randolph does not discount merchandise, but she does offer a one-day bartering festival, the “However the Spirit Moves You Sale,” Dec. 31. “Usually we agree on a price,” she says. “Most people take it in the spirit it’s intended. They’re happy to have a percentage off.” The event boosts foot traffic and increases calls to the gallery. “Some of our customers call us from other states and pay for purchases that day,” she says.

R. Grey Gallery has a year-round approach. “We focus on various trunk shows, catered events and charitable fundraisers throughout the year,” explains Robert. “That way, when the holiday season comes around, we have established our gallery as the place to go for the perfect handcrafted gift.” This year, the Kaylors will unveil Robert’s new line of steel-and-diamond jewelry Nov. 5 to coincide with Boise’s First Thursday event.

At Pura Vida Gallery’s Arizona location, Gamble and Burris also align special exhibitions with local events. Their “Artful Giving” show features affordably priced items such as wine coasters, glasses and scarves—paired with mulled wine and chocolate—during Jerome’s Dec. 5 Art Walk.

Customers mingle in R. Grey Gallery in Boise, Idaho.

Boosting Traffic
No matter how enticing your event, it’s critical to get the word out. R. Grey Gallery prints a multi-page newsletter with gift ideas and a coupon to entice holiday shoppers. Barbara mails it to regular customers, and also pays to have it inserted in local newspapers. “It’s a pretty inexpensive way to get it to some new homes that aren’t familiar with our gallery,” she says. The 2009 newsletter will premiere at the end of October to promote Robert’s jewelry show.

Randolph mails and e-mails postcards announcing the gallery’s events to her mailing list, but she’s also sure to target holiday visitors. “Usually all of our bed and breakfasts are booked,” she says. To capture that crowd, she places promotional materials on site.

Connecting with Customers
Once you have customers in the store, it’s important to keep them interested. Homemade cookies and hot cider will help, but you may also want to offer additional services like free gift wrapping, wish lists or in-store giveaways.

“Many last-minute gifts come over the phone or e-mail from our wish lists,” say Gamble and Burris. “We maintain and update a list of their favorite gallery items, including ring and clothing sizes, and color preferences.”

Randolph has another tactic to keep customers buying. During special events, she has giveaways of chocolates, small items from the floor, grab bags and discounts to use that day. “We do something different almost every year,” Randolph explains. For the holidays, she plans to have custom-made jute shopping bags.

So give yourself a gift a little early this year—with careful planning and a bit of creativity, you can soar through the holiday season with increased traffic, bigger sales and very happy customers.

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