Features Industry Profiles

July 27, 2020 •
22 Tips for Holiday 2020

Winter Gear gift wrap from Lana's Shop

Card and gift stores share what succeeded in ‘19 — and their 2020 plans.

Not so long ago, a retailer could forecast the basic framework of an upcoming season based on what worked well in the past, but thanks to COVID-19, that confidence is long gone. As we go to press, no one knows how long states will be able to adhere to existing reopening plans — or if they’ll have to backtrack due to new infections or even a second wave.

With so much uncertainty, I queried card and gift shops around the country to learn about what worked in 2019 — and what they can share about their 2020 plans. “It’s been changing day by day, and I’m feeling like it will only get worse before it gets better,” commented Shayna Norwood of Steel Petal Press in Chicago on March 25, adding, “It has been uplifting to connect with people and feel a sense of community, so the bad always comes with a little good too.”

Arcadia Home's Advent Calendar
Arcadia Home

Tip #1: Emailed Gift Guides

“We sent these out weekly, filled with recommendations of what we have in the shop,” Norwood noted.

Tip #2: Instagram Marketing

“This has been really successful for us during the COVID-19 crisis, and we want to continue to provide a face to the name via social media,” Norwood continued.

Festive Banner from Smarty Pants Paper Co
Smarty Pants Paper Co.

Tip #3: Theme it!

“Holiday 2019 was wildly successful because we had the best overriding theme and made it work into mini themes,” explained Barbara Mooney, creative director, Daisy’s Mercantile, Alameda, California. “My forever holiday theme is ‘Through the eyes of a child…’ and then I pick something to see through the eyes of a child. In 2019 it was ‘stars in the sky.’ We have Santa one night and there are mini stories in each section of the store about the stars in the sky. Special handmade invites go to 200 of our best customers for a private reveal party, and that alone is the best thing I ever did.”

Gift Bag from Steel Mill through Lifeguard Press

Tip #4: Video How-tos

“For holiday 2020, we are going to amp up the theme even more and do lots of video how-tos now that our classroom is up and running,” Mooney added. “We’ll also extend our hours even more than last year since we aren’t sure about how long social distancing will be on people’s minds.This year will be special as we all now see the power of being together.”

Tip #5: Bridge the Distance

Mooney has also been personally writing five-12 cards a day to favorite customers. “I let them know how much I miss them,” she described. “I’m going to continue this through Christmas. Connection right now is key and we are going to work harder than ever to help people connect.”

Portland Oregon Ornament from Maptote

Tip #6: White Glove Service

“Every year we contact our loyal clients around October 1 and offer services that would help them with their holiday cards,” detailed Carolyn Wasylczuk, Just Paper and Tea, Washington, D.C. “Most are photo cards so we offer to assemble and address them. It’s become increasingly more difficult as clients look to online sites. My clients are telling me there will be a lot of pictures with masks this year.”

Tip #7: Collaborate

“We are working with our Main Street group to have more events from Thanksgiving until Christmas (like) carolers, free gift wrapping, bagpipers, children’s shopping areas,” Wasylczuk continued. “This will have total participation of all the merchants here on Main Street.”

Season Greetings from The Gift Wrap Co

Tip #8: Create Traditions

“By Holiday 2019 we’d established holiday traditions that our neighborhood looks forward to!” observed Audrey Woollen, Urbanic, Venice Beach, California. ”For example ‘Sweet Friday’ is our Black Friday but much better. We open up super early with coffee and donuts. Early-morning shoppers get nice holiday kick-off savings on their entire purchase. We offer gift wrapping services all year, but during the holidays we offer other merchants on the block our specialty wrap services. They can send their clients to us to have those gifts wrapped, but with an Abbot Kinney discount.”

Tip #9: Lagniappes and Fun Features

“At the register, we often have treats out for a little ‘pick me up’ during the holiday season,” Woollen said. “People love novelties like little packs of vintage mint stamps to post special mail. We also host a little Santa Mailbox for children to drop their letters for the North Pole.”

Merry Christmas Card from PrintsWell

Tip #10: Crafts & Cupcakes

“For many many years we hosted an annual holiday event that involved crafting and cupcakes. We collaborated with other amazing businesses to give the party more layers of interest, and we’d come up with a new paper project every year that people could craft on communal tables and take home to incorporate into their holiday décor,” Woollen added. “People absolutely love the projects, the mingling and the community element of being together in this festive environment. We took a break the last few years but people have been asking so I hope to bring this holiday tradition back again!”

Holiday Washi Tape from Girl of All Work
Girl of All Work

Tip #11: Brainstorm

“I’ve been really wanting to find creative ways to give back to our customers going into this holiday season,” Woollen finished. “Although I don’t have it all figured out just yet, I do have a running list of ideas of some special activities we can offer in the shop and online to make the Urbanic holiday environment an even more special, interactive experience — like hand-lettered custom ornaments, mini family portrait sessions in our backyard with a local photographer and festive grab bag giveaways on social media.”

Tip #12: Set It Up

In 2018, Janna Willoughby-Lohr, Papercraft Miracles, Buffalo, New York, took her plantable seed bombs to the next level. “Our holiday-themed sets went over so well! We used shapes including wreaths, gifts, tiny Christmas trees and, since we’re from Buffalo, little holiday colored buffaloes!

Christmas Ornament from Coton Colors
Coton Colors

Tip #13: Limit the Edition

“In addition, we created a limited-edition Apple for the Teacher Seed Bomb and marketed it on social media towards parents buying teacher gifts,” Willoughby-Lohr continued. “They all sold within a week!”

Tip #14: New Year’s (Bullet) Resolutions

“Another fun package we had was the ‘Get your S*#t together for the New Year’ Bullet Journal Starter Kit,” Willoughby-Lohr recalled. “It included a refillable journal cover made with upcycled vinyl sourced from a local banner company, a bullet journal refill book, a set of jumbo paperclips and magnets, a clip-on charm for the journal cover and a favorite Staedtler pen! It made getting your resolutions organized look fun!”

Alexa Tell Santa Pillow from Sincere Surroundings
Sincere Surroundings

Tip #15: Celebrate Online and IRL

Coming up with comprehensive, cohesive celebrations both onscreen and in her studio shop was key to Willoughby- Lohr’s 2019 holiday season, her most successful yet. “We did an official Grand Opening party to kick off the season,” she stated. “We set it up like an art opening with different products displayed around. We took visitors on tours of the upstairs space where we make flowers and books and the papermaking studio space. We had a huge holiday display in our storefront window with a nine-foot Christmas tree COVERED with paper flowers. We (also) did weekly Pop-Up shop times when our studio was open to the public. On social media, we did many live behind-the-scenes videos so people could watch things being made. We utilized some fun styled shoots and flat lays to really highlight our products.”

Tip #16: Strong Online Strategy

Since regular shopping hours are still uncertain, Willoughby-Lohr is making sure her online space is pristine. “It’s hard to do too much long-term planning, so I’m focusing on making our holiday gift section on our website really attractive and robust before Thanksgiving, because I’m pretty sure that people will not be traveling or shopping in stores as much this year. We plan to expand our wholesale reach into new areas to get our products in front of some fresh customers as well.”

Santa is Coming Advent Calendar from Mud Pie
Mud Pie

Tip #17: Start Early — and Think Flash Promotion

For Mariah Mayfield, Shadowbox Paperie, Chattanooga, Tennessee, ‘19 holiday promotions began the Summer prior. “We encouraged clients to order photo card designs (we attached a photo to later) to take advantage of the crazy July and August sales from our vendors. We had several flash promotions throughout Fall that encouraged people to order early, and most ordered something a little more elegant than previous years. Connecting with clients was our big focus and it brought back so many who wanted to celebrate family.”

Tip #18: Think Connection — Both in Offerings & Community

“I see 2020 being a very different holiday season and I am starting to think through making cards about connection and message,” Mayfield added. “I have several clients that are having their kiddos make artwork to be envelope liners, and I think celebrating this time as one of growth and global connection is going to be a big part of the season. We’ve been working with other local businesses trying to promote sharing in this crisis. It has been hugely beneficial and people have responded to the community of support.”

Christmas Place Card from Color Box Design & Letterpress
Color Box Design & Letterpress

Tip #19: Key Partnerships

Small Business Saturday will be key in 2020 for many a small retailer, and Grace Kang, founder and chief buyer, The Pink Olive, New York, partnered with American Express in 2019 to create a fun holiday video. “It jump started the holidays and (helped us) stay current with the times. We also partnered with Emily McDowell and put together super fun giveaway bags, along with other perks, sips and treats. It always feels good to create win-win opportunities and treat our customers for supporting the little guys.”

Festive Banner from Smarty Pants Paper Co
Smarty Pants Paper Co.

Tip #20: Campaigns

Kang has also run a #12DaysofLoveCampaign for two years running. “Every day, we offered a special deal for our customers. It gave our customers a reason to come into the shop. This is our Super Bowl time!”

Tip #21: Exclusivity

If your customers have a favorite maker, Kang urged stores to consider something one-of-a-kind. “We partnered with Mr. Boddington’s Studio on an exclusive holiday card. It continues to be a TOP seller for us every holiday and again, gives our customers a reason to visit Pink Olive. (Meanwhile) our Pink Olive candle collection continues to be a top driving category. We’ll most likely launch a new scent and create fun promotions as we head into the holidays.”

Tip #22: Help Give Back

While Kang hasn’t solidified her Holiday 2020 strategy yet, she’s constantly looking for new ways to bring customers together — plus window display inspiration. “This holiday, I would love to partner with a charity or an organization that aligns with our mission and kick off the season with a ‘Shop for Charity’ event. We are all living in a time where we want to contribute to the greater good, and what better way to do that in a fun, engaging way?”

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