Although spring is just beginning, you finished plans for tulip caretaking and birdhouse building months ago. In retail, it’s crucial to plan seasons ahead, which is why holiday decor is a large segment of many wholesaler markets in the spring.
Home decor made up 21 percent of gift sales over Thanksgiving weekend in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Annual Thanksgiving Holiday Consumer Survey.
Nearly one-quarter of sales is significant, and that doesn’t include what consumers spent on holiday decor for themselves or what they spent during the ramp up to one of the biggest spending weekends of the season.
The season is larger than gifts, though. Independent home improvement retailers have an opportunity to pare their stock of holiday goods, no matter how many SKUs they bring in, to create a complete holiday experience for customers.
“I think independents can be too cautious sometimes,” says Pat Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Hardware & Garden Center, which has three locations in the Indianapolis area. “You’ve got to stand for something— what are you a leader in?”
In 2005, Sullivan asked himself that question when he was looking to try something new at the 66-year-old business that his parents, Robert and Rita Sullivan, founded.
“Where we are, we couldn’t just be a hardware store because we’re ringed with big boxes,” says Sullivan. “So I picked five things I wanted to be a leader in: live trees, artificial trees, fireplaces, mid-priced patio products and grills. Almost 15 years later, we are leaders in all but one of those categories. We failed with fireplaces for some reason, but the others took off.”
That first year, Sullivan spent $70,000 on artificial trees. He wanted to offer over 70 different styles because the big boxes didn’t offer as many. His goal was to offer top quality and variety.
“I think independents can be too cautious sometimes. You’ve got to stand for something—what are you a leader in?”—Pat Sullivan, Sullivan Hardware & Garden Center
“I thought, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen? If I don’t sell them, I can get my money back by selling them for what I paid,’” says Sullivan. “Now I sell six containers full of trees and offer 170 different varieties.”
In those early years, Sullivan says they focused on bringing in Christmas and holiday products. Now, their focus has shifted to creating experiences in the store around the holidays.
“Our biggest competitor on holiday products is the internet, so we have to give customers more than our competitors,” Sullivan says. “At our store, they can have a drink and touch and feel the trees before buying.”
In 2015, Sullivan added an outdoor garden center on his store’s 5-acre property and designed it around trackless trains that provide rides to the North Pole during the holiday season. The trains travel through scenes that change each year.
In 2018, the trains traveled through a reindeer workout room, a sleigh shop and downtown North Pole.
At the end of the ride, families get 15 minutes with Santa in a building that is equipped with craft supplies and toys to keep kids entertained while they wait their turn to see Santa. The company operates two trains (four cars on each train) each arriving at its own North Pole. Sullivan says the goal was to eliminate the long wait in line to see Santa and to make the experience more fun. The plan is working.
Tickets for the train go on sale at 4 p.m. on November 1. Tickets are $60 per family for a weekend ride and $50 per family during the week. In 2019, 35,000 people rode the train.
“The first year, we sold 89 tickets in the first hour,” says Sullivan. “Now, in our fifth year, on average, we sold 775 tickets in the first hour. We sold out before Thanksgiving.”
Ticket sales alone totaled $325,000, plus visitors spent additional money on food, drinks and gifts, including custom ornaments that look like the Sullivan Santa Express train.
“It is the most successful thing I’ve ever done,” says Sullivan. “I’ve never done anything that so emotionally attached people to my business.”
Trees, Trimmings & Trinkets
3 Holiday Decor Trends You Should Know for 2020
Based on data collected by the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) in 2017 and 2018, Pat Sullivan may have chosen the most opportune time to become a leader in artificial trees.
According to NCTA, artificial tree sales have recently started climbing, from 21 million units sold in 2017 to 23.6 million in 2018. Combine that with the latest census data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that indicates aging farmers are leaving tree farming, and one could conclude that the artificial tree business has more potential than ever before.
In 2020, the supply side may drive trends in holiday decor just as much as consumer demand. With this new data in mind, here are the latest trends in holiday decor driven by interior design trends, pop culture influences and consumer favorites.
1. Get the Unsheared Look
Recently, interior design trends have driven a growing demand for artificial Christmas trees with an unsheared look, and Sullivan says he has been selling more of those types of trees. This new tree design has fewer branches and a visible trunk, giving the trees an open, natural style, which in the past was more popular in Europe than in the U.S. Unsheared trees can have big branches that highlight large ornaments or thin, wispy branches reminiscent of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
2. We Need More Foliage on Set
Sullivan says artificial garland has become increasingly popular, outselling fresh and decorated garland. The growing demand may have more to do with pop culture than design trends. Dominating the holiday season, Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies show garland strewn over mantels, windows, doorways and home entries. According to Forbes, the Hallmark Channel attracted more female viewers ages 18 to 54 than any other network during the fourth quarter of 2018. Any retailer interested in growing their holiday decor category should stay tuned in to the Hallmark Channel.
3. Hit the Regional Highlights
Housewares items from wall signs and dishes to pillows and food can fall under the broad umbrella of holiday decor. These items, however, can be riskier to stock than trees and garland because they are influenced by annual fashion trends. Because of the risk, Sullivan recommends not going too deep in ornaments and holiday decor inventory. Instead, he recommends choosing regional items, like local sports team ornaments, state or city-themed items and popular local decor that you know will sell. Just as with traditional sales, holiday decor inventory benefits from niche options.
Did You Know?
Did You Know?
Sullivan Hardware & Garden Center is a basic hardware store with a “monster seasonal business.” At the flagship store, there are about 12,000 square feet dedicated to Christmas supplies. The gift shop on the property contributes to the overall total of up to $1.4 million in holiday decor sales. See the average holiday sales here.