Retailers will sell more higher price point home decor items for the upcoming fourth-quarter holiday seasons of Halloween and Christmas, said executives polled during a recent conference of the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo.
However, once these products find their way to the shelves, it will be the ones that consumers can readily perceive as a value -- even among upscale products -- that will sell, the executives said.
Among the products that will move at retail for the coming holidays will be resin figures, collectibles, licensed merchandise, candles, outdoor inflatables, fiber optic products and old standbys like wrap, ribbon and toys. But home decor was singled out by the executives as the one trend that is taking off.
"Home decor is expanding dramatically, no matter what the season is," said Al Jones, senior vice president, procurement and merchandising, Imperial Distributors, Auburn, Mass. "Christmas has always been big for home decor, but it is even bigger now."
Resin figurines in particular are going to be hot this year. "The things they are doing with resin these days is just amazing. Very realistic looking pieces, all hand-painted, and the prices are very reasonable," Jones said. Fiber optics also are coming back, he noted.
"There are just so many good designs and good quality resin products that are available in the Orient that if a retailer has got the space to merchandise them, there is product available at any price point," said Larry Ishii, general manager, GM/HBC, Unified Western Grocers, Commerce, Calif. Concern over SARS will not impact Unified's program, he noted.
"We see more of our customers moving into higher price point product, up past $10 to $14.99 and closer to $20 because the value is there. That's been a strong part of our business for the last several years, and it continues," Ishii said.
At Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, even higher price points are on the radar, noted Joel Wilson, general merchandise coordinator. "We have stores with clientele that will buy $100 or $200 items, and we have stores with clientele that will only buy the $1.99 strands of lights. But in the overall view of home decor, the customers will still be looking for value," he said.
Consumers are still haunted by the memory of 9/11 and they are averse to spending money, he said. "But if you can show a value, that you can save somebody money, and you can prove it to them while creating a price perception, you are going to do incredibly well. I think that is what our stores are going to do," he said.
"The seasonal business has been good for most food retailers and it continues to be a growth segment for us," said Steve Urgo, GM buyer/merchandiser, Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif. Save Mart has already seen the holiday home decor trend peak, he noted, but will continue to try new products.
"We've looked at some new fiber optic items. We are not afraid to try some higher-end product, that is, $59, $69, $79 decorative product if it makes sense. We won't go too deep in it, but if it is unique and we can come in with the right quantities, we will definitely consider it," Urgo said.
At Associated Wholesalers, York, Pa., "Our fastest growing area is home decor," said Charles Yahn, vice president, non-foods division. "We might not be selling as many pieces, but we are selling more in dollars because the products are more upscale. But at the same time, it has to be a value.
"The consumers are smart and Wal-Mart has taught them that if it is not a value, don't buy it," he said. Like other nonfood executives, Yahn told SN that his company is cutting back on basic tree lights this year as they have become too much of a commodity.
Affiliated Foods, Amarillo, Texas, is importing more products for the holidays, said George Satterwhite, director of nonfoods. "The stores are learning that they can sell this kind of thing," particularly home decor items, he said.
"If the independent will buy the holiday merchandise and put it out, it will sell. They are always just a little surprised by their success with it," he said. More of Affiliated's retail customers are expanding with these programs, he added.
For an upscale, urban retailer like Gristede's Foods, New York, the customer base tends to be older and without children in the household. "So we are very selective about the types of items we offer during the holiday season," said Bob Schwartz, executive vice president. The retailer focuses on gift-giving opportunities for parents, grandparents or employers, he said.
Top-line toys, like those from Mattel and Hasbro, will be strong for Ingles Markets, Asheville, N.C., and will complement a large import program, said Dan Spears, director of nonfoods. "Plush will always be a big part of holiday toys, and Hot Wheels is extremely big for us -- that's probably our biggest toy item in the fourth quarter," he said. Limited floor space keeps Ingles from doing much with home decor, Spears noted.
While home decor, toys, imports and other specialty products are increasing for supermarkets, other traditional holiday items are not.
"We are not going to do as much trim-a-tree, because the reality is, how many trees can you trim with what we carry, and the answer is, not many. So we are going after the home decor items like wreaths and the little villages," said Doug Lowe, director of HBC/GM, K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va. Outside inflatables like a giant snowman is another "trendy" product K-VA-T will carry. "There's also a nutcracker this year that should be very good for us."
"We are starting to see Christmas lights get a little stagnant," said Gordon Thompson, buyer and merchandiser, GM/HBC, Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash. "We are starting to look at other options to increase the category," he said.
"We do some lights, but we got away from ornaments and things," said Larry Schimpf, director, HBC/nonfoods, Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa. "We just don't have the space to get into it."