Sometimes a fantasy

Dec 01, 2006 10:30 PM  By

How would you like to be the person responsible for finding the fantasy gifts that appear in the annual Neiman Marcus Christmas Book? It may sound fun, but it’s certainly not easy. Ginger Reeder, vice president of corporate communications for the Dallas-based luxury merchant, is charged annually with finding the extravagant items for the holiday catalog. Considering some of the over-the-top gifts and services Neiman Marcus has offered for Christmases past, outdoing its efforts each year is hard work.

Multichannel Merchant caught up with Reeder to go behind the scenes with the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book.

Q

Over the years Neiman Marcus has offered hot-air balloons, Chinese junks, submarines, camels, Egyptian mummy cases, robots, windmills, and other unusual gifts. Is there a method to the madness?

A

I am never confident that we will be able to outdo ourselves year after year. And then the phone rings….

But we are constantly planning for the next year. Sometimes what is going on in the world means that a gift doesn’t feel right for one year, and we wait until the next. Or, for example, a gift doesn’t appeal to the selection committee for a couple of years in a row, and then something drops at the last minute and we take a gamble — like the custom mermaid tail offered in 2003. It was a huge publicity generator but not the favorite choice of the committee.

Q

What are the advantages of having a Christmas book with such extravagant offerings? Is there a profit to be made, or is it more of a way to expose the luxurious reputation of the Neiman Marcus brand?

A

[Neiman Marcus chairman emeritus] Stanley Marcus established the use of the extravagant “fantasy” gifts in the late 1950s, and the goal was purely to generate publicity. The gifts are chosen for being unique, unusual, whimsical, and of the highest quality. His advice to me was, “If you are going to offer a $20 million submarine, make sure it is the very best submarine available.” I follow that advice closely today. The publicity that the fantasy gift pages generated spread the reputation of Neiman Marcus — helping us to grow our mail order business and to be able to more easily open stores in other parts of the country.

Q

Do gifts such as the his-and-hers Twike human-electric hybrid commuter vehicle for $40,000 and the $3.8 million membership to the Club at Castiglion Del Bosco in Tuscany actually attract buyers?

A

About half of the fantasy gifts sell every year. We never try to predict which those will be. The membership at the Club at Castiglion del Bosco has attracted the highest number of serious inquiries. Often we receive orders or inquiries on these gifts years later. For example, two weeks ago we received an inquiry on the bowling center offered in 2004.

Q

One of this year’s gifts involves an online charity auction for a sports-celebrity dream package, with the gross proceeds benefiting the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation to prevent domestic violence. What are the challenges of adding a cause-marketing element?

A

We have had a cause-related marketing element as part of the Christmas Book for over 20 years. We have donated a portion of the proceeds of certain pages of merchandise to a charity that we promote through the catalog. Past charities have included UNICEF, Habitat for Humanity, the Nature Conservancy, Best Buddies, and the Alzheimer’s Association. Last year we sold a private concert with Elton John for $1.5 million, and all the proceeds went to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. This gave us the confidence to move forward with the Safe at Home Foundation online auction this year. Prior to the Internet we had write-in auctions of fantasy gifts.