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Extending The Season

When it comes to seasonal tabletop, the 2008 fourth quarter was just about nobody’s idea of a Happy Holiday, with most stores reporting tough sledding just to match their year-earlier sales levels.
And while most store operators say they expect this year to be somewhat better— often admitting to a little wishful thinking— most are taking a cautious approach to filling their shelves.
“I really got hit bad last Christmas because no one was entertaining,” said Claire Nelson, co-owner of Board and Basket, in West Lebanon, NH. “I’m not bringing in anything I have seen so far. It will be the first year I’m not bringing in Christmas tabletop.”
For many gourmet housewares stores, tabletop is a day-in/day-out challenge, requiring commitments of space and inventory to present and sell properly. That challenge is more pronounced for the holidays when opportunity narrows and the potential to over-assort is heightened.
“I try to stay as neutral as I can,” said Holly Mangelsen, owner of Siren, WI, Acorn Pantry. “I try to think of longevity. If it’s Santa, it’s only Christmas. If it’s a snowflake, a tree with snow or a snowman, people think they can keep it for the whole winter. It’s such a short season that I try to spread it out.”
The goal for most gourmet stores during the holidays is to balance space with merchandising impact. Most owners say they use colors reflective of the holidays while minimizing the holiday-themed wares.
“We carry a large assortment of Vietri whose colors are really conducive to Christmas,” said Sherese Van Mieghen, co-owner of Terracotta Kitchen, in Winchester, VA. “I don’t go much into actual Christmas-ware. I don’t find that people in this economy are spending a lot of high-end dollars on those things. Instead they’ll spend the money on reds and greens they can mix and match.”
Retailers contacted for this story noted that many consumers are looking for colors, patterns and products that can do double duty seasonally or performance-wise. They also noted that purchase of dinnerware sets or multiple place settings are being deferred. As a result, some gourmet insiders say they will be putting more of their tabletop attention on accessories or serveware. “There are certain product categories where people are more cautious,” said Laura Havlek, co-owner of Sonoma, CA’s Sign of the Bear. “The mood now is toward serveware rather than dinnerware. Accessories are where you’re going to see the movement.”
This emerging trend dovetails with strategies already being pursued by some storesthat are looking at seasonal activities to drive holiday merchandising statements. The focus is on extending food prep statements to encompass serving, and turning “Christmas” themes to focus on entertaining built around barware and decorative serveware.
“I don’t do a a lot of dishes and things that have Christmas trees on them. It just doesn’t sell for me,” said Vicki Tarbell, owner of The Good Table, in Belfast, ME. “I do more things that people need for entertaining, like roasting pans and casseroles. We bring in more wine glasses and stemware and I try to have a punch bowl all the time.”
By focusing on serveware and entertaining, store owners say they are better able to cross-merchandise vignettes, bringing together categories as diverse as cookware, bakeware, foods, cookbooks and serveware. Serveware can also be used effectively for samplings, with chip & dips filled with holiday food or decorative pitchers used to serve hot chocolate or other holiday drinks. Combining housewares and tabletop with foods can be an effective strategy for suggesting gift purchases.
Acorn Pantry’s Mangelsen for example, said she is planning to display Zak Design holiday plates as cookie trays, merchandising the plates pre-filled with cookies. “We used them last year to sample treats and I was thinking it would be a nice gift at a $7.99 price for the big one filled with cookies,” Mangelsen said. “I demonstrate all our products in them.”
Terracotta Kitchen’s Van Mieghen expressed similar plans for drinkware and accessories, such as coasters from Carrie and Co. “They work like a wine charm, where you can remember which glass is yours. They’re very giftable,” she said. “I can also display them with hot chocolate and coffee and it helps sell glassware too.”
Most store owner say the classics— red and green— in solid colors rather than patterns, remain the best bet, providing the opportunity to mix and match for in-store displays and for consumers when they get them home. Red also serves as an effective cross merchandising color, tieing in with many kitchenware items.
“I really go around the Waechtersbach colors,” said Board and Basket’s Nelson. “The red is a really good color for us whether its mixers or bowls.”
She and others also noted that red has greater seasonal diversity and can be paired with yellow, white or blue for spring and summer and with more subdued yellows, oranges and browns for the autumn.
Virtually all store owners speaking for this story stressed the importance of concentrating on the basics. Their advice: select colors, styles and products that won’t quickly fall out of fashion once the Christmas holiday passes and, whenever possible keep the focus on products that can suggest multiple uses to the consumer.

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