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Strategies for success
at the holidays and beyond

Maxine Burton, of burton + BURTON, offers ideas to boost your sales and your connection with customers.

     As 2010 comes to a close, many of you are looking ahead to 2011 and planning for the major floral holidays. To find out the best ways to plan for the holidays, we turned to one of our industry’s top marketing and trend experts, Maxine Burton, president, COO and founder of burton + BURTON, a leading supplier of balloons and coordinating gift products. In an interview with Editor-in-Chief Cynthia McGowan, Mrs. Burton shared her strategies for successful planning, product selection and merchandising for the holidays as well as for everyday occasions.

SFR: When should retailers start ordering for the major holidays?

MB: It is important to begin planning for the major holiday selling seasons as soon as possible. Many retailers start planning for next year’s holiday as soon as this year’s holiday season has ended. This allows them to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work while the season is still fresh in their minds. Planning this far in advance is not always possible for everyone, but it does allow the retailer to more easily build on whatever was successful that season and, hopefully, create a better plan for the following year.

We mail our catalogs approximately four to six months before each holiday season. We strongly urge our customers to review these catalogs immediately and place their orders early to ensure that their choices are readily available. burton + BURTON works hard to ensure that inventories remain plentiful well into each selling season, but it is not always possible to accurately forecast demand, especially when there are challenges in the economy. My best advice is to plan ahead, determine your needs, and order as early as is practical for your business.

Early ordering also allows you to carefully plan your seasonal themes and displays well in advance of the season. burton + BURTON prides itself not only on our quality products but also on our ability to make these items visually appealing—on their own, in groups or in a series—using any number of visual design techniques to market the merchandise. 
maxine's seven steps for holiday success
  1. Start planning for major holidays at least six months in advance.

  2. Conduct a sales review at the end of each selling season to help plan for next year.

  3. Pay attention to all forms of media as well as local, national and global events.

  4. Know the trends; for 2011, top consumer trends include personalization, nostalgia and the craft movement.

  5. Listen to your customers; offer products that meet their particular needs.

  6. Create displays that WOW your customers.

  7. Work with vendors that can support you.

SFR: What is the best way for mass-market buyers to stay ahead of consumer trends, especially when they’re ordering in advance?

MB: I believe that you can predict trends if you pay special attention to the world around you. Retailers should constantly keep up with what is going on in the world—the economy, pop culture, fashion, music, politics, athletics, local community activities and national events all contribute significantly to style, trends, color and design. For example, when you know what teams are going to the playoffs, make sure to have the appropriate sports-related items, including balloons, up and ready to go to meet that demand.

Global events also play a significant role in predicting trends. Middle Eastern and European trends do affect the American market and are sometimes good indicators of what might be coming our way. Retailers must also pay special attention to international events because they so heavily influence our everyday lives. An example of this is the military uniform influence seen in fashion design (military-style hats, uniform jackets, etc.) International awareness of events in the Middle East also has led to an increase in the use of traditional Middle Eastern patterns and colors in many areas of design.

SFR: How should they get that information?

MB: Information comes to us in many forms—television, movies, news programming, magazines, books, etc. Pay attention to your environment. It is also helpful to pay attention to burton + BURTON catalogs. We are constantly traveling, taking note of the current trends and making sure that we have the products that retailers need.

SFR: What product trends are you seeing for the major holidays next year?

MB: Personalization is still very popular—monogramming everyday items is a very hot trend and one that will continue for the foreseeable future. Nostalgia is also strong. With the economy continuing to be a challenge, items that bring hearth, home and family to mind—the things that are most important to us all—are very popular. Items with a nostalgic theme such as glitter and luster glazes; polka dots, stripes and grosgrain; craft-style items such as hand-painted beads on curly wires, buttons, rickrack and hand-lettering; and items with plastic, metal and wood accents are trending very strong right now.

SFR: How can retailers make sure they’re offering the right products for their customer base?

MB: I spend a lot of time in our showrooms just listening to our customers. Retailers need to do the same thing. Retailers must also try to make a statement with their displays—use display products liberally. Don’t take two or three items and try to build a whole display from them; offer a series of similar products in an innovative display, or go deep with a single product or two, emphasizing color, form, etc. Do one or the other, and make it all flow together. Avoid a lot of mismatching in your store—this confuses the eye and does not create excitement. You want your customers to walk into your store, see a dazzling display and say, “Wow!”

SFR: Are balloons another good way to get customers’ attention?

MB: Definitely. A display should be built from the floor to the ceiling, and balloons are an excellent way to pull the customer’s eye up. They can easily be customized toward a specific theme, color, event, holiday, etc., and everyone loves them. Balloons add punch and excitement to any display, if they are used correctly.

SFR: How would you sum up your tips for merchandising for the major holidays?

MB: Build impactful, appealing displays; offer the right product mix; and make sure you are buying from a trusted vendor that is able to fully support you and your goals. Also plan ahead, and create a written plan of action; you are much more apt to follow the plan if it is something tangible that you can hold in your hand.

SFR: How are you feeling about the economy now and in the future? Are you optimistic about our industry?

MB: We are very optimistic. We have been confident all along that the gift industry would weather this financial storm and have seen a positive change in the last six months. Customers are buying very conservatively and carefully, and rightfully so, but as we all know, the gift industry is all about making people happy. If retailers have the right product, customers are going to buy.

I also think it is critically important that retailers offer their customers quality customer service—the shopping experience is more stressful now than it used to be, with belts being tightened around our country. Customers who feel welcome and valued when they visit your store, and who are remembered when they return, are the kind of customers who buy ... and buy again!


Super Floral Retailing •• Copyright 2010
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.