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Industry Talk: Michael Russo

Gift Association of America president forecasts the hottest products for Christmas 2007.

If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to start ordering your gift selection for Christmas. As you make your decisions this year, consider these words from Michael Russo, chairman and president of Gift Association of America and president of Industry Advisors, Inc., a company that works with retail and wholesale organizations to develop and expand their gift and tabletop business. He shared his insights on the topic with Super Floral Retailing Contributing Editor Monica Humbard.

Q. What will be the hottest giftware for supermarket floral departments for Christmas 2007?
I see an expansion of gift tabletop and serveware. Some of these items are being used in floral arrangements and then used as functional items once the floral piece is discarded. Teapots, collector boxes, decorative canisters and jars make great containers for arrangements. Later, they make great decorative accent pieces for the home.

Q. What is popular now that will carry into the Christmas season?
Candles are everywhere, and the fall and Christmas seasons are when their sales really explode. Colors are basic Christmas colors: red, green, cranberry, burgundy, etc. Scents are traditional: burberry, spice, holly berry and so on. Scents such as vanilla and pumpkin, however, are much more versatile because they are not limited to Christmas. Votive lights and scented tea lights always sell well. Integrating candles into creative centerpiece displays is always a winner.

Q. How can supermarket floral departments increase Christmas gift sales?
The floral area can take some lessons from the bakery and deli departments. A good bakery is known all over town for its quality. Word-of-mouth spreads quickly about the supermarket with the best-tasting cakes and most creative cake decorating ideas. The same is true for the deli department.
If the floral department focuses on being unique [year-round], customers will come from a wide area [for Christmas merchandise] just as they do for specialty cakes and party trays. In order to build the business, however, aggressive marketing must be explored. Once the word is out, customers will spread the news.

Q. Have you seen a change in Christmas gift sales in the supermarket floral market?
I see an increase. Each year, I see the floor space increase for the Christmas area, which is a clear sign of a successful category. Also, I see a broader selection of available products.

Q. Do gift baskets continue to be a big seller for supermarket floral departments?
Gift baskets are a big seller because they serve two purposes. Usually, they are very attractive and have a “value-added” quality to them. In addition, there is a convenience factor that plays a strong role in the purchase. They make great Christmas party gifts, hostess gifts, etc. In addition to general appeal, gift baskets make great gifts for men. Shower soap, foot powder and shaving items are perfect gift ideas. They are basic necessities that can be dressed up to look like gift items. Baskets can be created to have a masculine appeal. I think there should be a small section devoted to men’s gift ideas since it is a difficult category to develop.

Q. Should supermarket floral departments increase their gift basket selection?
Absolutely. Gift baskets provide a wide variety of gift suggestions, and supermarkets have a wide range of customers. It is the one store that attracts all types of wallets. The promotional shopper needs food as does the customer with “money to burn.” If the supermarket is close to a corporate area, it can offer specialized services for corporate gifts.
Customers will not buy what they cannot see; therefore, it is important to show some creative themes without being overly concerned about the price. You never know where your customer’s wallet is until you reach for it. Don’t assume that customers will not pay for expensive gifts. That is just not true. Customers will pay when they feel that there is value in the purchase.

Q. What are the key retail price points for gift baskets for supermarket floral departments?
Gift baskets can range from $20 for a small basket to well over a few hundred dollars for a specialty basket. Stores that attract corporate customers can enjoy retails in excess of $150 to $200, depending on the importance of the client who is going to receive the gift.

You can reach Contributing Editor Monica Humbard by phone at (800) 355-8086.

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