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September 2007: 50 Golden Holiday Ideas

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These tips will help you sail through your busiest season

[dropcap cap=A]nother year of toil and adventure has almost drawn to a close. Peace, happiness and a fine carpet of the purest snow have settled across the land. In fire-warmed cottages and rural homesteads, adoring wives, anxious husbands and self-purchasing career women wait with an almost unbearable curiosity to find out what surprises their local jeweler has in store for them this holiday season. … [/dropcap]

So, Bud, what’s it going to be — an inflatable Santa out front and Perry Como on the boombox? Not if you’re serious about pulling in any of that mistletoe-colored paper stuff. You’re going to have to do something better, bigger and bolder to stand out.

But fret not, we’re here to help.

There’s a not particularly well-known remark made by 18th century painter Joshua Reynolds to the effect that if artists were left to their own imaginations they’d eventually create nothing but replicas of their own works — “the poorest of all imitations.” At INSTORE, we feel the same. Our greatest strength is the thousands of minds of independent jewelers and industry experts who contribute their ideas and inspirations each month. In the following pages we present 50 of the best holiday-season tips we could collect from our readers, consultants, designers, authors, business associations and from past issues.

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There are promotions that triggered 100 percent sales increases, ideas on how to make your store look redder, greener and more Christmassy than anyone else’s, tips for motivating your staff and organizing your shop. We believe there’ll be something in here for everyone. Read, be discriminating, and with a little fortune, there might be something here that could make your holiday season and ensure you spread real joy among your customers.

STORY BY INSTORE STAFF WRITERS

[h3](1) You’re Mr. Heat Miser [/h3]
If you’ve got a streetside location, it’s a good idea to add motion to your window display. But it’s a technical challenge that’s beyond the capabilities of many. To easily add some activity to your windows, put one of your new flat-screen televisions in the window, pick a few Christmas TV classics and rotate them throughout the season. Our picks: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Year Without a Santa Claus (better known for its unforgettable characters Heat Miser and Snow Miser), or, if you’re a jeweler whose sense of humor tends more to the offbeat, even National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

[h3](2) Tip Off the Concierge [/h3]

Located in a city that’s a major destination for business travel? If you’re looking to pick up some extra sales, make it a point to ensure that doormen and concierges at major business hotels know about your store. (Even better, make these people your customers as they’re excellent “sneezers” — author Seth Godin’s term for well-connected people capable of spreading your message.) That way, when a business traveler needs a recommendation for a last-minute holiday purchase, your store will be the name they hear.

[h3](3) The Six-Week Rule[/h3]

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Warning: Marketing backlash awaits the store owner who puts up his holiday decorations too early. It smacks of greed. The rule of thumb from Entrepreneur Magazine: wait until six weeks before the holidays start to create your own version of “Winter Wonderland.” One loophole: While they may hate premature holiday decorations, customers don’t seem to mind receiving holiday-themed direct mails or e-mails before the season begins. So feel free to start sending out invitations to your holiday events, reminders to update wish lists, etc., as early as the end of September.

[h3](4) Tree Farm Freshness [/h3]

This idea from Duct Tape Marketing is for retailers who like to send gifts to top customers — but always end up sending, fruitcakes, gift baskets or coffee cups with their company name on it. Know those little Christmas tree farms that pop up alongside highways as the holidays approach? What if you bought one out and invited your biggest customers to come down and pick out a tree — no charge — as the holidays approach?

[h3](6) The Old Cert Network [/h3]

So you’ve already had some success distributing no-strings-attached gift certificates to your loyal customers? Expand on your success with another idea from Duct Tape Marketing. Instead of just sending loyal customers a single gift certificate, this year send them five or 10, and ask them to distribute the extra certificates to their friends.

[h3](7) Hey, I’ll Shop For You! [/h3]

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Ask … and ye just might receive. SmallBusiness Now suggests offering a free personal shopping service to your customers. Some advice on making this idea work: Write a note in September or October. Send it to male customers who you know at least fairly well. Make the letter very casual and friendly — “Hey, we’re offering a new service that we think could make your holiday shopping easier.” Otherwise, it’s going to seem like a pretty blatant grab for his wallet. Partner with two or three other respected luxury retailers in your town to cover the different kinds of gifts he’d normally have to buy. Wrap everything and offer to deliver it. And remember, if you work hard to make him look great this holiday season, he’ll do it again next year. And so will a bunch of his friends.

[h3](8) More Than a Gift Card [/h3]

Gift cards are a great, and increasingly popular, holiday gift. But in the romance department they don’t exactly make the knees go weak. What if you created a special high-end gift-card package that included dinner, theater tickets and limousine transport — culminating in a visit to your store at midnight where the recipient could pick out her special gift as the only person in the store?

[h3](9) Go Do Some Good[/h3]

If you’re up for doing something truly great this Christmas, follow the lead of one of the jewelry world’s most inspirational figures, former Helzberg Diamonds CEO and chairman Jeffrey Comment, who died in October 2004. Each holiday season, Comment would spend the two weeks before Christmas dressing up as Santa Claus and visiting children’s hospitals across the country. How could he leave his business — one of the country’s largest jewelers and a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s mammoth Berkshire Hathaway holding company — at that time of year? Comment told Inc. Magazine in a 2003 interview: “When my boss [Buffett] learned about the Santa tour, he wondered how I could leave during our busiest season. I told him that if we’re not ready by then, two weeks before Christmas, I haven’t done my job.”

[h3](10) Cookie Creativity[/h3]

If you’re going to serve Christmas cookies in your store — and you should — why not give them a secular jewelry theme? Instead of tree, stocking and candy-cane shaped cookies, cut them in common gemstone shapes: round, pear, marquise, emerald. Bake with sprinkles that match different gemstone colors, and you’ve made yourself a valuable — and edible — teaching sales tool.

[h3](11) Gadgets Are Golden[/h3]

When it comes to competing for your customers’ holiday gift budgets, there’s no industry fiercer than the technology sectors. In recent years, DVD players, iPods, flat-screen televisions, have all taken big bites out of your holiday sales. And, coming for the 2007 holiday season, it’s the iPhone — at a budget-devouring $599 a pop. One way to get a little of that business back is by selling products that straddle the worlds of fashion and technology. Examples: gold-plated lariat headphones from Anna Tascha Larsson (www.annatascha
.com), or bling-y USB drives, key chains and headphones from the “Active Crystals” collection, from Swarovski and electronics manufacturer Philips.

[h3](12) Purely Ornamental[/h3]

Take a cue from the White House (or from Gelmici Jeweler in Edson, AB, which has tried the same idea): For years it has issued its own commemorative Christmas tree ornament — a different design each year. On gift-wrapped items, instead of just a bow, tie on your store’s own Christmas tree ornament. Every year, offer a different ornament exclusive to your store, and it will quickly become a holiday tradition not only with your store but with your customers and their families as well.

[h3](13) Choir Practice[/h3]

High-school choirs and orchestras are always looking for venues for Christmas shows. Call up your local high-school choir or orchestra director and see if he’d like to send a few of their best singers or a quartet to your store for live Christmas music, rather than the canned stuff from your store sound system.

[h3](15) Give ’Em Fake Snow [/h3]

If you’re in a hot climate, you’ve probably got a lot of snowbird customers who miss seeing snow during the holidays. Help them get in the mood with an artificial snow machine stationed near your entrance. These machines, which can range from $100 for a light-duty home model to $2,000 for a professional movie-effects model, create the look of snow — particularly under streetlights at night — with a chemical that’s not harmful to plants, skin or eyes. Check out www.starlight.com or www.snowmast-
ers.com to learn more.

[h3](16) Net Some Xmas Spirit [/h3]

When decking the halls, don’t forget your website. Most important, make sure your website is up to date with any holiday events or sales. But you might also think about giving your homepage a makeover with a holiday theme. Even if your website is not extensive, it will show that there’s been some recent activity and attention to it. You might also think about offering free holiday e-cards, and if you have charities you regularly support, now’s the time to pitch them or link to their sites. Remember to remove the holiday décor immediately after the big day.

[h3](17) Clean Your Slate [/h3]

Get your personal holiday plans and shopping out of the way early, and encourage your staff to do so as well. The less you have to think about preparations on the homefront, the more you can concentrate on the store and your customers who aren’t so well prepared.

[h3] (18) Make a Wish Tree [/h3]

Try a different take on Borsheims’ holiday “Wish Tree.” In 2006 the Omaha, NE, store filled a Christmas tree with Borsheims boxes. For $15 (all of which went to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Nebraska), customers could select a box off the tree. Each box contained a gift, ranging from tiny pearl bracelets or wish necklaces, to $1,000 Borsheims gift cards. The store sold out of boxes in three days, raising money for the charity and awareness about how much Borsheims is committed to giving back to the community.

[h3](19) Rub ’Em the Right Way[/h3]

Holiday shopping is stressful, so help take away that holiday stress with a free chair massage for customers waiting for their free gift-wrapping. J.D. Moore of www.marketing
cometcoach.com suggests teaming up with a local spa or massage school.

[h3](20) Hang Up Your Brand[/h3]

Instead of — or in addition to — shopping bags, have Christmas stockings made with your store’s logo. Place gift-wrapped packages in the stockings … all set to be hanged over the fireplace on Christmas Eve.

[h3](21) Greetings … and Savings[/h3]

Look ahead: Buy next year’s Christmas cards the week after Christmas. You’ll save 50 percent or more, and it will be one less thing you have to prepare for next year.

[h3](22) Avoid Color Clashes[/h3]

The colors red and green, says Bruce Brigham, principal of Retail Clarity Consultants, are the simplest, most effective way to say “Christmas.” But, if they clash with your store’s color theme, try winter colors like blue and white. Brigham advises staying away from silver and gold, as they will steal attention from your merchandise. Your overriding goal when it comes to Christmas decorations should be to create a distinctive atmosphere that doesn’t overwhelm your jewelry displays. Need inspiration? Check out www.fashion
windows.com, which features window and holiday displays from famous retailers around the world.

[h3](23) A Little Sprig Of Spirit[/h3]

Christmas trees are often overdone. But a sprig of fir or spruce suggests the tree in a more creative way, says Brigham, who argues that having an evergreen scent in your store is “absolutely essential.” In addition to the sprigs placed strategically in cut-glass vases, you can buy scented oils such as cinnamon, or even machines that atomize scents into your air ducts. “Smells are powerful, especially at Christmas time,” Brigham says.

[h3](24) Going For The Cream[/h3]

Rick Segel, author of Retail Business Kit For Dummies, suggests the best approach is to target only your very best customers. He tells of one retailer who paid $10 apiece for the most expensive invitations he could find. These were sent to just 78 customers. The result? Better than any other promotion he had done. More than 60 percent visited the store during the two-day event, and the majority bought something. “He did more business (with this one promotion) than he had on his last three promotions — for which he’d sent out 6,000 postcards, one for each person on his mailing list,” Segel says.

[h3](25) Avoid Color Clashes [/h3]

Cross promotions of an event or sale with a local retailer who serves a similar clientele are a fairly standard practice. Mary Gillen of Idea Site For Business One suggests you take it up a notch by holding a “Rolodex Party” with your business partner. Set a place to meet and take turns making calls on behalf of the other person. Says Joe Ilvento and Arnold Sanow, authors of Nobody To Somebody in 63 Days Or Less: The Ultimate Guide To Business Networking: “This works well because if a client likes and trusts you, and you recommend the other person, that trust is transferred. Just be sure you have confidence in the person you’re recommending.”

[h3] (27) Cash ForClothes [/h3]

Want a sharp-dressed staff for the holidays? Follow the lead of David Nygaard Fine Jewelers in Virgina Beach, VA, which gives employees a clothing “bonus” in November. If you give them cash, they will probably feel obliged to spend it on gifts for others. This way, they can treat themselves without feeling guilty.

[h3] (28) Bribe Male Buyers [/h3]

When mobsters do it, it’s called a kickback. When retailers do it, it’s called gifting the giver. Either way, it’s a great method of greasing a sale. One way to get male shoppers excited — and let’s face it, most guys just don’t “get” jewelry — is to partner with the local sporting-goods store to make a special offer. Here’s the deal: he buys his wife a 1-carat diamond, and he gets a new pair of Bose noise-reduction headphones or top-of-the-line Ugly Stick fishing rod.

[h3] (29) Black Friday Coupons [/h3]

James Dion, author of Retail Selling Ain’t Brain Surgery, It’s Harder, believes little good comes to those who wait. He urges you try to get your piece of the Christmas pie even before December. In the weeks before Thanksgiving, hand out coupons to everybody who makes a purchase. Give them $1 for every $10 spent, or more. No strings attached, aside from the fact that the coupons can be only redeemed on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving. This gives your customer the strongest possible incentive to come in then.

[h3] (30) Gift With A Purpose [/h3]

Want to be more selective with your gifts? Hire an actor (or use one of your staff members) to dress up as an elf, Santa, or maybe even The Grinch and distribute holiday gift baskets full of fruit — including, of course, a few additional features like your latest catalog, gift certificates, wish lists, etc., to businesses that you think will have a high percentage of potential jewelry buyers. Be careful though — those who appear to have the most ready cash in your community often don’t. Small businesspeople like the owners of dry-cleaning chains, real-estate brokers, providers of refuse and home-improvement services and equipment wholesalers will often make better targets than doctors.

[h3] (31) Lend To Your Friends [/h3]

The holiday season is party season. Levinson Jewelers in Plantation, FL, helps out its better customers — meaning, “those who know Levinson’s, and we know them,” says Robin Levinson — by lending them jewelry. There’s not much of an immediate pay-off, but the goodwill generated is huge. “We usually take out extra insurance on the piece or pieces and let a customer have it over the weekend,” she says.

[h3] (32) Promote Your Bargains [/h3]

This is no time to be “hoity toity” about your prices, says retailing consultant Bob Olmstead. “In the book The Millionaire Next Door  it was found that your average million-dollar household looks for bargains, especially during the holidays,” he says. “That’s why Saks and other high-end retailer do price/item advertising during the holidays.”

[h3] (33) A Grand Store Tour [/h3]

Make your customers’ holiday shopping an experience to remember this year with a luxury shopping tour, suggests Olmstead. Partner with other local retailers to organize an evening holiday tour of your stores. Participants move from store to store by bus, spending 30 minutes to an hour in each store and being treated to hors d’oevres and drinks while they browse. Each participating shop needs to offer specials (pricing, gifts, etc.) that will pique consumer interest. This event works especially well in small- to medium-sized markets.

[h3]34) Show Ads To Your Staff[/h3]

Whatever you are advertising, make sure your employees know what the deal is, says Michael Corbett, author of The 33 Ruthless Rules of Local Advertising. When clients come in asking for the ring they saw in Saturday’s newspaper, too many times an employee scratches his or her head and says, “Uh, what ring was that?”

[h3](35) Try Local Gift Shows [/h3]

While Cunningham Fine Jewelry in Tulsa, OK, holds two trunk shows during the holidays for core customers, co-owner Vicki Cunningham has found a way to add $30,000 in outside sales every year. Her secret? A local gift show called Holiday Mart, held annually the weekend before Thanksgiving. “We pay $700 for a booth, and we display our Goldman-Kolber line of interchangeable rings,” says Cunningham. “People are out shopping for holiday gifts, so it makes sense to showcase low price-point, trendy merchandise like this. Many of the people at the show have never heard of our store, or maybe they’ve just never had a chance to come in. By going to them, we can show them a little of what we’re all about, and it tends to pay off not only in the immediate sense, but also down the road.”

[h3](36) Dress Up the Media[/h3]

If, via a charity event, a special sales promotion that has lines of people forming out your door at 6 a.m. or an offer to be a seasonal trend analyst, you manage to score an interview with a local media personality, make sure to encourage the reporter to try on some jewelry while she conducts the interview. She’ll most likely talk it up and provide some extra pizzazz and airtime.

[h3](37) Clean Off the Smudges[/h3]

Cleaning jewelry isn’t just a downtime project at Underwood’s Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville, AR. Craig Underwood warns, “If a customer sees a fingerprint on a piece of jewelry it sends a subliminal message that another person has seen that piece and rejected it.”

[h3](38) Welcome Everybody[/h3]

The easiest way to discourage shoplifting is to make sure staffers acknowledge the presence of every shopper with a simple hello. Retailing expert Paco Underhill cites Sam Walton’s homespun observation that if you were to hire a sweet old lady just to say hello to incoming customers, none of them would dare steal.

[h3](40) Think of February[/h3]

Your mind is on December but February shouldn’t be far from your thoughts — you won’t get a better time all year to build your customer list. When a sale is completed, tell the customer: I’ll check in with you after Christmas, just to make sure you’re fully satisfied with your purchase. “That way, they don’t have the opportunity to turn you down, and you are communicating that their happiness is important to you,” says jewelry store consultant Kate Peterson.

[h3](41) Wrap It Up Right [/h3]

It’s the same deal at the wrapping stage. You should have “With compliments” or “Thanks for shopping with us” cards already printed up. Take one of those and write a short note while you’re ringing up the sale. Just write something short and simple that shows you care. For instance: “It was a lot of fun serving you today … I think your gift is going to be a big hit! Best regards, Joanne.” Elapsed time: 30 seconds. The second “must” for the bag is a coupon. The best coupons encourage quick return visits. Even better is one with a time limit on it. During the holiday season, Canadian jeweler Phillip Sullivan of Jewellery Plus always puts in a coupon for $20 off any purchase over $79. It’s valid from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15. This is a smart way of boosting Valentine’s Day sales.

[h3](42) Put on a Smile For Staff[/h3]

Everything’s heightened during the holidays: your workload, your income, and, of course, your emotions. In three-plus weeks, you can do more than 30 percent of your yearly sales — while experiencing 75 percent of your yearly allotment of mood swings. Your job? To control your darker side and let the sun shine through. Use praise not lectures to guide your staff. Human-resources consultant Andrea Nierenberg advises you keep five coins in your left pocket, and move one coin to your right pocket every time you praise someone. By the end of the day, all the coins should be in your right pocket. Try it … and why not, during the holiday season, make it 10 coins? Encourage your staff to praise each other too. Judy Richardson of Davidson’s Jewellers in Ottawa does. “Staff often come to the back of the store with a big smile on their face, saying ‘Guess what I sold?’”

[h3](43) Add To Your Wealth[/h3]

At any other time of the year, the pros and cons of add-ons can be debated. But during the holiday season, you’re simply putting goods out on your stall. Everybody’s got a long list of people who need gifts, says sales trainer Shane Decker. All you have to do is assume that those gifts will be jewelry. (Earrings are a particularly good option.) So, once they commit to buying the first piece, say “OK, that’s done … so who else is on your list?” Don’t ask, “Are you looking to buy jewelry for anyone else on your list?” And even those who don’t buy will not be offended — all you’re doing is trying to make their holiday shopping easier. Venita Peterson, a top salesperson at I. Gorman Jewelers in Washington, DC, uses a variation on this approach, designed for customers who have already bought jewelry for several other people on their holiday gift list. Peterson asks such clients, “And what are you giving yourself this Christmas?” One such customer ended up buying a $22,000 ring for herself. Final point to remember: Your staff are often so excited about making the main sale they’ll forget to ask for the add-on. It’s your job to think of ways to incentivize them.

[h3](44) Don’t Stop Changing[/h3]

During the Christmas season, a shopper can pass by your jewelry store several times in a short amount of time. That’s why Steve Kidwell, Chippenhook’s vice president of design, suggests shifting around your merchandise every few days. “If a customer walks by your store’s display on a Monday and sees that your store sells gold jewelry, and comes back a few days later and sees watches in your display window, that leaves a good impression on the range of inventory your store.

[h3](45) Day-After Bonanzas[/h3]

Consider placing an ad in the newspaper on Christmas Day, a few days after and right before New Year’s Eve. It should read something like: “Christmas present the wrong size? We offer repairs and sizing while you wait”. There would be an asterisk next to it and at the bottom of the ad it would say “extra charge for while-you-wait service.” Says David Geller, “We charged 50 percent more for anything done while you wait. It was almost as busy as the first week in December. The profits from this week can be terrific.”

[h3](46) Keep Up On Paperwork[/h3]

Many jewelers get so caught up in the day-to-day rush they forget to keep up with their paperwork. Don’t. In some areas, it’s OK to wait until later to enter the data you collect. For example, Cliff Yankovich of Chimera Design in Lowell, MI, calculates his inventory and sales figures every night before he leaves the store, but waits until after the holidays to enter new customers into his database. They can safely wait, but stay on top of the money.

[h3](47) Try Snow, Not Santa[/h3]

The trend for Christmas display windows is going nondenominational. “Retailers are even moving away from red and green colors,” says Lucy-Ann Bouwman of Sightgeist Design. These days retailers are opting more for winter themes such as snow flakes and ice crystals. “Keep window displays magic and nostalgic,” adds Bouwman. “Typically when families go out shopping retailers are appealing to two generations, the parents and the kids.” For retailers on a budget, try snow-frosted risers.

[h3](48) What You Should Spend[/h3]

Not sure of your Christmas display budget? Bouwman recommends: Small stores with $1 million or less in sales should budget up to $10,000. Medium-sized jewelers, with sales ranging from $1.5 million to $3 million should budget $15,000 to $20,000. Large stores with sales of over $3 million should budget $20,000 to $30,000. “This is, of course, if stores have the budget,” Bouwman says. “If you can’t hit the high end of this budget, make sure the display has integrity and looks like it was made with loving hands.”

[h3](49) Upgrade Your Organization[/h3]

September is the time to upgrade your organizational methods. Today’s plastic totes are more than just about avoiding water damage or critter infestation — some even have tote storage systems. Try color-coded totes for seasonal decorations. Simply look for all the totes that are colored green or red and know you have found your Christmas decorations. Some good online or Main Street sources are: The Container Store (container store.com); Stacks and Stacks (stacksandstacks .com); and IKEA (ikea.com). A final organizational tip: Put a detailed list of what is stored in each box on the outside of the tote. That’ll save you the hassle of rifling through each tote trying to see what’s in it when you can read the outside list.

[h3](50) Make It ‘Game Day’[/h3]

It’s the morning of the 15th. Electricity is in the air. Only 10 days to go until Christmas. This, in the words of retailing legend Jack Mitchell is “game day.” Make sure people know from the start that this is not just a typical day at the office — bringing in grandé versions of each team member’s favorite coffee from Starbucks is a good start. During setup, get your people thinking about fast, efficient sales and service. (It’s OK to be more direct than usual — your customers have got other shopping to do too). Tell them one behavior you want them to concentrate on specifically for the day: e.g. maintaining eye contact, asking for follow-up sales, getting people to try on items, etc. And then, right before you finish, make sure everyone’s focus is where it should be — on the customers who will be pouring through the door a few minutes hence. Look meaningfully around at the other members of your team, and say something like, “Today, I think we’re going to make a lot of people very happy.” Then go out there and win the game.

[componentheading]BEST HOLIDAY PRACTICES [/componentheading]

[h2]Get a Treasure Chest [/h2]

[h5]Miner’s Den, Royal Oak, MI [/h5]

The Miner’s Den, a family-run operation founded in 1971, specializes in diamonds and custom jewelry.  

THE IDEA
A lure as old as the days of pirates: Try your luck and see if your key opens the treasure chest. Inside were prizes ranging from $10 gift certificates up to a 1-carat diamond. The Miner’s Den mailed 28,000 tubes containing keys to its entire customer list. One in three of the keys opened the chest. Further, the first 100 hundred customers who showed up for the event would receive a charm bracelet. “That was really important,” says owner Dave Schowalter. “We’ve been running this promotion for 25 years, but last year was the best ever. It proved to us that some type of additional giveaway really ignites the response.” That response was nothing short of phenomenal. The first customer arrived at 4 a.m. in temperatures in the high 30s; by opening time at 9 a.m. there were more than 160 people standing in line. Over the event’s four days more than 5,000 customers showed up with their keys.  

THE EXECUTION
The store paid the local high school players and drama club $1,500 to wrap and stuff plastic tubes with a key and a flyer. These were then taken to the local post office, along with pizzas, donuts and bagels to appease the postal workers who had to deliver the almost 30,000 toilet-paper-roll sized packages. Eighteen extra sales staff were hired to help the Miner’s Den’s regular team of 23 salespeople convert the human surge that came through the door into sales. Finally, customers were given a chance to win an extra prize ? a set of earrings and a men’s watch ? if they would fill out a form providing additional data such as birthday and anniversary dates. 

THE REWARDS
The Miner’s Den invested $18,000. The immediate return in terms of direct sales made during the four days was almost $200,000. It was the biggest sales day in the store’s 35-year history. In addition, there were follow-up sales and orders for Christmas jobs. The store turned down media requests for interviews to keep the event focused on its customers.  

TRY IT YOURSELF
1. Begin preparing the tubes and keys three months before the schedule date. Event companies can provide the keys. The Schowalters designed the tubes and packaging themselves because they felt they could do it better than an outside agency.  

2. Ask a local group to help make the tubes to increase community involvement. 

3. Prepare the mailing list ? in the Miner’s Den case it was customers who had bought something in the previous five years ? and post. 

4. Bring in extra sales staff to handle the rush. Train one to handle emcee duties for each person who tries a key: “Yeah! Another winner!” Or, “Better luck next time.”

5. The event was held the week before Thanksgiving, which, according to Schowalter, belongs to the malls. — CHRIS BURSLEM

[componentheading]BEST HOLIDAY PRACTICES [/componentheading]

[h2]Discounts That Grow On Trees [/h2]

[h5]Blue Marlin Jewelry, Islamorada, FL [/h5]

Blue Marlin Jewelry is an AGS store in the luxury business located in a resort town with both local and repeat out-of-town customers. 

THE IDEA
On your store’s Christmas tree, hang small bags that contain different discount percentages. Blue Marlin owner Armando Gonzalez says the Christmas tree idea started out as Santa Claus at Blue Marlin Jewelry. ?It was a way to pay back to our customers by rewarding them with a once-a-year discount promotion.? The unknown discount ranges from 5 percent to 50 percent off the entire purchase.

THE EXECUTION
Gonzalez says they make up the discounts, fold them and then shuffle them all around in a bag. Each little gold bag is stuffed, tied and hung on the tree. Each customer who makes a purchase is sent to the Christmas tree to select one of the bags to find out his discount. The discount tickets are then attached to the store copy for documentation, and the tree is replenished with bags as needed. “We only make one 50-percent discount coupon per event and the customers are made aware of that,” Gonzalez says. “It is part of the mystery and fun.”

THE REWARDS
December is Blue Marlin’s most important month — it accounts for 25 percent of the year’s business. “It is hard to say what percent increase is due to the promotion because I have had it since being in business,” Gonzalez says. He opened the store in 1996. “We have many customers who return at Christmas time looking forward to picking from our tree.”

TRY IT YOURSELF
Whether you believe in Christmas, Santa or just celebrate the holidays, any store can have the same or similar event. Simply call it your Holiday Tree and offer the discount amounts.  — RALF KIRCHER

[componentheading]BEST HOLIDAY PRACTICES [/componentheading]

[h2]Target Your Mailings[/h2]

[h5]Grand Jewelers, Ontario, CA [/h5]

In business since 1961, Grand Jewelers is mall-based and operates mainly as a diamond store, while also selling gold jewelry, colored stones and alternative metals.

THE IDEA
In an effort to better target promotional mailings, David Abrams purchased The Edge POS software and got his staff to complete more customer profiles including mailing addresses and e-mails. Abrams began combining database fields to determine the average amount of money spent on jewelry by zip codes. He now sends out catalogs and flyers to 12,000 to 15,000 customers in areas proven to have the most big-ticket purchasers. “The rule of thumb is to cover a 20-mile radius from your store,” says Abrams. “We do that but now in a more targeted way, but we are also finding out that there are some lucrative zip code areas outside of that radius.”

THE EXECUTION
Grand sends mailings before Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas. Shortly after another flyer goes out for double coverage of the targeted market. Each month the store also sends to purchasers letters of appreciation and a rewards card with a dollar amount based on the amount of purchase. There’s no expiration date on it and customers can use it for any amount at any time.

THE REWARDS
The combined effort has led to double-digit growth on net sales for the two years the store has been doing this. And, with more customers coming in, more customer profile cards are completed. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a battery change or a blue sapphire, every new customer is asked to fill one in,” he says.

TRY IT YOURSELF
Decide on a POS system that will work well with your store’s present accounting system and/or accountant. Make sure the POS system has features for inputting customer profiles and allows users to conduct specific searches by various fields of customer data. Double-coverage of direct mailings ensures saturation. Back up the direct mailing effort with radio ads. And, when customers make a purchase, send out thank-you letters with gift certificates. Set goals to generate more completed customer profile cards and increase sales. And know the zip codes in a 20 mile radius of your store.  — PAUL HOLEWA

[componentheading]BEST HOLIDAY PRACTICES [/componentheading]

[h2]Make Them Pay For Your Partty [/h2]

[h5] Tompkins Jewellers; Lethbridge, AB  [/h5]

Tompkins Jewellers is a second-generation family jewelry and giftware business established in 1983.

THE IDEA
Host a Christmas event that people pay to attend. The idea came from the percentage of people who didn’t show up to the store’s annual Christmas function. “As I used to rent an upscale restaurant for an evening. It was extremely stressful when I was paying by the head on a pre-set RSVP count,” Tompkins president Lisa Corbin says. Previous years had a 10 percent failure-to-show rate. In 2006 Corbin decided that people who paid in advance to attend the party would be more likely to show up — and if they didn’t, the store wouldn’t lose money. Show up they did, however, with a 98 percent attendance rate, double the normal Christmas-party sales and a donation to charity for good measure.

THE EXECUTION
Here’s how Tompkins did it: A $20 ticket included all the food-and-beverage benefits of past parties, but instead of having it at a restaurant, Corbin hosted it in the store and made it an all-day event called Santa’s Night Off. “This way they could pop in on their coffee break,” Corbin says. Customers were eager to pay because of pot-sweeteners: $5 of each ticket went to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, and upon arrival each ticket purchaser received a gift worth $15 (Tompkins’ cost for 80 gifts at 20 percent off wholesale: $4.80 each). “To make it impossible for them not to attend, we also included a $20 gift certificate, usable only on that day,” Corbin says. “People could not say no.”

THE REWARDS
All 80 tickets sold out by word-of-mouth, and only two failed to show. Tompkins doubled its regular Christmas party sales while halving the cost. Additionally, Corbin knew exactly how much food to order. She plans on making it a regular event, expanding the guest list and hosting the party once a week in the three weeks before Christmas.

TRY IT YOURSELF
1. Decide on a reasonable ticket price that your customers would bear. 2. Choose a favorite charity to receive a portion of the ticket price. 3. Search for a deal on a gift whose retail price is about the cost of the ticket. 4. Offer a discount or gift certificate with the ticket. 5. Order your food and beverages based on the number of tickets sold. — RALF KIRCHER

[componentheading]BEST HOLIDAY PRACTICES [/componentheading]

[h2]Hold a Product Election [/h2]

[h5]Emitations; San Diego, CA [/h5]

Emitations is an online retailer established in 1999 that specializes in celebrity-style jewelry. 

THE IDEA
Get a jump on Cyber Monday at the beginning of the holiday season by inviting regular customers to vote on their favorite piece of jewelry. The item that garners the most votes is then offered at half price for three days only. This 72-hour offer creates a sense of urgency. “Internet retailing is increasingly about creating a good shopping experience, just like in traditional brick-and-mortar retailers,” said Emitations’ founder and president, Au-Co Mai. “You have to engage and incentivize customers by offering shopping events with compelling and interactive content.” Pink Friday was based on a similar promotion that Emitations regularly uses to drive website traffic and generate sales on the weekends, when most Internet shoppers are away from their offices and work computers.

THE EXECUTION
Emitations chooses just four items for the voting short list — the decision is driven by inventory (the company must have enough stock to satisfy all the potential winners) and an assessment that the pieces will be exciting enough to encourage participation. The 50,000 customers on Emitations’ e-mail list are sent a bulletin that contains a specially designed voting application (although a link can work just as well), inviting them to take part. Only one vote per IP address is allowed to ensure no one rigs the poll. A special code is then sent to the supporters of the winning item, allowing them to purchase it at half price for a limited period.

THE REWARDS
Pink Friday is Emitations’ second-biggest promotional sales day. Average order value was up and the numbers were better in almost every other regard — traffic, and conversion, open and click-through rates. “Consumers look forward to these promotions because they want to know if their preferred item wins. And even if it doesn’t, it gets them back to the website for a few minutes, which results in more sales,” says Mai. Finally, the polls give Emitations great insights into what its customers like and don’t like.

TRY IT YOURSELF
1. Decide on a shortlist of pieces you want to move.
2. Use an e-newsletter service like a Constant Contact to alert customers on your mailing list. 
3. Enable the e-mail with a voting application. 
4. Gather sales orders made with the winning code.
5. Use Google Analytics to track your best, most active customers and most popular merchandise.  — CHRIS BURSLEM

[componentheading]More Advice [/componentheading]

[h3]The Five Most Common Mistakes Retailers Make During the Holidays [/h3]

Casey Gollan of The Business Growth Specialist has a list of five common mistakes retailers should avoid making during the Christmas season. Topping the list is 1.) not to understaff — when people come to your store, they must be served promptly.  2.) Make sure customer details are taken down for after Christmas follow-up and to better target direct mailings.  3.) Avoid stressing out your staff by developing ways to keep them positive and enthusiastic during the long haul.  4.) Set budgets daily and weekly so that you can guide your business into profit. 5.) Spending too much of your Christmas sales? With an increase in sales, your cash-flow should be good. But make sure you keep enough to pay your suppliers back in 30 to 60 days.

[span class=note]This story is from the September 2007 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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