Birding Business December 2014: Gifts that Sell

Gifts that Sell

By Hank Weber – Contributing Editor

If it is true that you learn from your mistakes I should be an expert on selling gift merchandise.

I’ve made every possible mistake.  I can instantly spot a new feeder design that will sell well.  Customers rely on my selections and opinions.  But I’m terrible at choosing gift items that customers will want to buy.  Maybe that is why my wife is never excited when I give her a big gift.

I am better than I used to be though.  I remember proudly filling a display with the cutest ceramic figurines of Santa feeding birds only to overhear “Boy, are they tacky” and “Must be made in China.”  Even my selection of coffee mugs was always the wrong color, too big or too small.  At trade shows, I was a sucker for buying folksy items that customers hated.  Often my carefully selected holiday gift items would become unsold leftovers.  I should have started my half-price holiday sales in November.  Each year I would carefully pack-up unsold holiday items and store the cartons in the back room.  There my inventory dollars rested comfortably waiting for next year, or the following year.

Fortunately, I learned from my earlier mistakes and now focus on a few ideas to successfully sell gift merchandise.  Most important is selecting the right merchandise.  I used to pick items that I liked.  My concept of fine design has been compared unfavorably with garage sale leftovers.  Now I create a mental image of a typical customer who I call Aunt Mary.  When I’m considering buying a new gift item, I ask myself “What would Aunt Mary say?”  That keeps my mistakes to a minimum.

I used to buy only limited quantities of gift items worrying that I would be stuck with too much unsold merchandise.  So I would buy one of this and one of that.  Now I realize that displaying only one or two pieces doesn’t make much of an impact.  You need to show customers that you are serious.

They shy away from buying the last item on display, subconsciously concerned that something may be wrong with it or that it is not a popular gift.    So think big.  If you want to sell window thermometers, don’t just display three or four of them.  Buy one or two dozen.  Display enough merchandise so customers will notice.

Make displays dramatic

Larger quantities allow you to create more visible displays and you definitely want customers to notice what you are hoping to sell, especially gift items.  Make your displays dramatic and colorful.  Position them near the front of the store where they will be seen, not hidden in a corner.  Illuminating the display with a flood light makes the merchandise stand out.  Adding brightly colored ribbons and bows to the display conveys the idea that this merchandise makes a wonderful gift.  Maybe pre-wrap one item in colorful wrapping paper (good for the last minute shopper) and add it your display.

Try to avoid too many holiday-specific gift items.  A scary ceramic witch might be perfect for a Halloween gift, but if it doesn’t sell by November, you probably won’t sell it any other month.  On the other hand, a classic solid brass thermometer could make a lovely Christmas gift.  More importantly, if it doesn’t sell during the holidays, it still makes a wonderful birthday or housewarming gift and could sell in any month of the year.

My favorite gift giving technique involves turning everyday merchandise into gift items.  For example, you can create a great Beginner Bird Feeding Kit simply by combining a feeder, a small bag of seed and a basic bird ID book.  Place them all into a small basket or other container, wrap with large cellophane sheets, add ribbons and bows, attach a card and you have created the perfect gift for a nature lover.  Even better, this prepackaged gift ready for giving, justifies a higher retail price than for just the sum of the individual items.

With a little imagination you can create a host of different gift packages using just your existing inventory.  You might package a suet feeder with 2 or 3 different cakes of suet.  Or combine a field guide with compact binoculars, or a bird bath heater with a small bath, a coffee mug with a deck of playing cards, a birding journal with a fancy pen, a hummingbird feeder with premixed nectar, a lens cleaning brush with binoculars, indoor bird ornaments for the tree with outdoor seed ornaments for the birds. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.  Look around the store and think about what items you can package together.

The secret is to package the combination of products in an appealing way.  I had a customer who has a part time home business doing just that.  She would take regular products off my shelves.  Then using oversized sheets of cellophane, she would wrap them in dramatic fashion adding fancy ribbons and bows.  Combine a $10 coffee mug with peppermint stick, wrap it dramatically and you have created a $15 gift item.

In addition, when displayed throughout the store dramatically wrapped merchandise adds a festive look to the store.  Customers notice.  It may remind them that that bird feeding items can make good gifts.  While they may not buy the prepackaged gift, they may buy regular unwrapped items to use as gifts.  Create your own ideas for combining your everyday products into gift packages.  It is a fun exercise.  Get your entire staff into the process.  Brainstorm ideas.  Think big.  You are making a memorable gift.

Another simple technique is to wrap a single feeder in festive holiday paper.  Add a bow or ribbon.  That’s all.  You have turned a functional feeder into a lovely gift.  Pre-wrapped gifts appeal to last-minute shoppers, especially men who are innately incapable of neatly wrapping even a simple rectangular box.

One of the more satisfying moments comes after the holiday has passed.  Collect any pre-packed items that did not sell.  Carefully remove the bows, ribbons and holiday gift wrapping and what remains is your everyday merchandise.   Simply place it on the shelf – no need to pack and store until next year.  No inventory sitting idle.

Gift merchandise generates added revenue.  And you need to choose your gift items with the same care as selecting a gift for your loved ones.