The gift and decor industry covers a wide range of merchandise, but some universal trends can be found when taking a closer look at the industry's suppliers. For example, as Americans continue to grapple with a tough economy, a number of gift and decor suppliers are finding ways to meet customers' needs, whether through utility, the promise of escape, or luxurious offers.
Take Sam Miller's company Morgan Avery, which makes and sells candles, gift baskets and home decor. "Strangely enough, our biggest seller is our largest basket," says Miller, a sales account manager. "Premium items and luxury items are perceived as being valuable." The product retails for $79 to $100. Miller reports that high end luxury is experiencing an upward trend. Morgan Avery's luxury items include lavender hand lotion, soaps, and bath products. One way, Miller suggests, for budget conscious shoppers to attain that feeling of luxury is through good things in tiny packages. "A small size means you feel that you're getting something luxurious without paying a high price," Miller explains. Another hot trend, he notes, is environmentally conscious merchandise. "Eco-friendly products with no paraffin, no artificial colors, and no mineral oils are selling well. There's a very strong natural aesthetic that appeals to some shoppers."
Morgan Avery is soley an ecommerce business. "Probably 99 percent of the company's business comes from online sales," Miller reports. The company is relaunching its website after three years with the original design. "The part that worked on the old site is that it was fairly easy to use," says Miller. He points out the ease with which customers could look at particular categories. "We're going to add new items and leave a lot of perennials that are wholesaler favorites."
Planned improvements include a better shopping cart and an improved ability to add accessories to an order, such as bows to gift baskets and tealights to an oil burner. Morgan Avery also wants customers to enjoy their shopping experience, if only for a moment. "We're incorporating an online game into our site. We want to encourage people to have a little fun while they are there, and possibly win a discount," says Miller. The website changes are a smart response to business conditions. "Our numbers are definitely up from last year, but the last two months were ugly," Miller notes. "We've just had our lowest month ever. These are things we're doing in an effort to change that. When you see something not growing, you have to fix it."
According to Rad Thurston, vice president of operations at GSI Home Styles, offering updated and unique products is the key to attracting customers. "Our business is driven by innovation. We don't copy anyone else's designs," says Thurston. By staying on top of the trends, "Our decorative accessories for the garden have weathered the storm. We've had a decent year, better than last year, and our bookings for next year look pretty solid too." One example of design innovation is GSI Home Styles' new line of high tech smartcell decorative outdoor lights. Another unique top seller is the company's line of gnome figurines, featured prominently on its website. "We definitely have a lot of gnomes that have been doing quite well," says Thurston. "There was a movie about gnomes out not too long ago, Gnomio and Juliet, that may have lit a spark. We also make fairies and fantasy creatures." With these innovative items, business has been good. "We're definitely seeing Internet sales pick up. Sales to online merchants have increased significantly. People just feel more comfortable buying online." According to Thurston, as people become increasingly comfortable making web purchases, the convenience factor becomes more potent.
Do not tell that to John Whalen, owner of Mission Imports, who says frankly, "My website leaves a lot to be desired. The most important thing in our business is to make sales, so the web goes on the back burner." Whalen would rather see the retailers who buy from him succeed with ecommerce. "I have a couple good customers who sell online. I don't want to sell retail. I want to sell wholesale," he says. A longtime industry veteran, Whalen opines that wholesalers who sell direct to end users are doing themselves and their retail customers a disservice. "I think it's short sighted on their part and unprofessional."
Supporting his customers is a hallmark of Whalen's traditional retail philosophy. "We are strictly wholesale, and we appeal to a wide mix of buyers, including tourist shops, Christmas stores, other brick and mortar stores, but we like to do business with small mom and pops," he says. In fact, Whalen has strong feelings about the way that big boxes have changed retailing across America, commenting, "Everything is changing. The larger stores are just shoving everyone out." With his years in the trade, Whalen has a keen sense of what sells, especially during an economic downturn. "I've seen this before, when the economy goes south," Whalen explains. "I've seen a big boost in our angel sales. Last year we had a 50 percent increase in angel sales, and I'm seeing that this year too." His other figurine line is also doing well. "Our brush animals are strong sellers, and we always receive reorders."
Whalen has an interesting Christmas product that has made solid sales over two decades as well. "One thing that I've been selling for 20 years are little figurines made from marbles. We call it ?Marble Land'," he explains. "They put the marbles together with a two-part epoxy, and then they hand paint them and create a nativity scene. It's my best selling nativity, and has been since day one."
Special event retailing is the forte of Cultural Intrigue, explains company Internet marketer Evan DuVerlie. The company has evolved in response to customer demand, and specializing in the wedding trade has really paid off. "Five years ago this company saw itself as a home decor company," says DuVerlie. "As we put ourselves on the web and saw who our customers were, we saw they were buying for weddings." Since then, Cultural Intrigue evolved over the years to become a wedding decoration business. DuVerlie says, "My personal view is that wedding products have really taken the Internet by storm. There are lots of vendors, lots of decisions to make, and the Internet lends itself to gathering information, as well as comparing and making decisions." Cultural Intrigue was in the right place at the right time, and was savvy enough to ride the wave. "We were lucky, in part, but once we saw the trend, we responded to customer requests," he says. In fact, the company website has earned kudos from wedding authorities and opinion setters such as Brides Magazine, which called Cultural Intrigue one of, "The 50 wedding websites you can't live without."
Cultural Intrigue's biggest sellers are its customizable items. "Our biggest product lines are paper lanterns, paper parasols, and candle holders," says DuVerlie. "Paper lanterns are an easy and affordable way to add color to a reception venue. Paper parasols are also trendy, especially in outdoor weddings. Bridesmaids use them instead of bouquets. Some offer a basket of parasols to guests to provide shade or for ambiance." The company website is crucial to Cultural Intrigue's business model. "It's 99 percent of our business," says DuVerlie. "We do a lot of customer service over the phone and some orders, but almost everyone comes to us through the website." One of the site's greatest strengths is that it allows customers to shop in various ways. "We've tried to organize the site in different ways, by product lines and by color," notes DuVerlie.
Aaron Morris, owner of Lantern Press, says his gift products have value because they combine beauty and utility. "Anything with utility tends to sell better," he says. "When someone can have artwork that is also functional, like a shirt or a magnet or a coffee mug, you are getting two things." Lantern Press designs custom artwork and puts it on magnets, postcards, prints and apparel. "We sell to souvenir shops, resorts, parks, and so on," notes Morris. All products are made in America, something appreciated by customers. "I think people are continually frustrated with importing because of shipping costs, mistakes, and the incredible lead time," Morris says. He is also in tune with the way that products are evolving. "We're seeing trends toward more edgy stuff. People are tired of buying beautiful flowers and puppy dogs. We're seeing more zombies and robots," he adds.
Online, the Lantern Press site functions as an invaluable graphics repository. "It is a showcase for our products," says Morris. "We have 60,000 images and no print catalog, so our website is a good resource for our customers. The website allows us to cohesively catalog everything in one place." The site also allows customers to see their order status, place an order, and view new products. Morris feels that for his products, the best way to actually sell is in person. "We have 80 sales reps around the country. You need a personal relationship to sell a line like ours."
The variation in the gift and decor industry is wide. Some wholesalers see the web as an adjunct to their business, while others would have zero business without the Internet. As suppliers react to changing market conditions, it is the ones who remain adaptable that find ways to thrive.
For more information:
26332 Ferry Ct.
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Toll Free: 877-438-3152
GSI Home Styles
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Atlanta, GA 30336
Toll Free: 800-273-4370
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Mesa, AZ 85210
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