No Goose Eggs for Easter Sales

When it comes to holiday spending, Easter is no Christmas. But it is becoming a more important shopping occasion, as consumers snap up Easter-themed outfits, greeting cards, decorations, and flowers, as well as candy and other food gifts.

The NRF 2003 Easter Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, the first Easter-spending survey of the National Retail Federation (conducted by BIGresearch), found that 76% of Americans planned to celebrate Easter, and those planning to celebrate said they would spend an average of $102.76.

How food mailers fared

Easter sales were up 5% from last year’s for Matthews 1812 House, a Cornwall Bridge, CT-based desserts cataloger. The buying trend for Easter this year, which is the company’s third biggest holiday, behind Christmas and Thanksgiving, emphasized down-home products, such as shortbread cookies and spice cakes. “It seemed to be a little less fancy stuff and more old-fashioned, homey stuff,” says co-owner Blaine Matthews.

Matthews says the company’s success this spring is at least partly due to the exposure it received when it was profiled in June 2002 on the Food Network’s Food Finds program, which was rerun in July. Response to the show, which featured the company’s Brandied Apricot Fruit Cake, was so great that the company was left with most of its best-selling cakes out of stock two weeks before Christmas. With its stock replenished in time, however, Matthews 1812 was able to fill Easter orders without any problem, Matthews says.

Free TV exposure also gave a lift to North Country Smokehouse. Three weeks prior to Easter, a local TV station, WMUR in Manchester, NH, highlighted the Claremont, NH-based smoked-foods mailer along with other area businesses. As a result, North Country Smokehouse enjoyed a 20%-25% sales boost leading up to Easter this year. “We do aggressive P.R. to get on TV,” says president Michael Satzow. “And when we do get on TV, our sales go through the roof.”

Foods that are classic in nature, such as bacon, ham, sausage, and meatloaf, are selling well for North Country, Satzow says: “We’re seeing our business overall increase due to greater popularity of traditional comfort foods.” In addition to its catalog success, the $5 million company’s Web-placed orders tripled during the past year, as customers have responded to Web-only specials, such as a bone turkey breast offer.

Easter sales for Richmond, VA-based Padow’s Hams & Deli rose 33%, says president Sidney Padow, with Web sales accounting for more than a third of the increase. Moreover, the 30-year-old catalog, which has a circulation of 40,000, mailed only to its house file. The company stopped prospecting two years ago, Padow says, because prospecting was not profitable enough to warrant the expense of renting names.

Best-selling items included its spiral-sliced honey hams and Patters Gourmet Peanuts; the average order was $45-$50. Besides its catalog and Web business, the 67-year-old company has eight stores in Virginia.

For Syosset, NY-based food gift baskets cataloger Delightful Deliveries, meeting Easter sales expectations meant a 182% sales gain over last year, says president Eric Lituchy. In fact, Delightful Deliveries’ overall sales have doubled each year since its inception in 1999. The company, which mails a corporate gift-giving catalog in September and a holiday book to consumers in November, dropped 50,000 copies of its holiday 2002 consumer title — twice what it mailed in 2001 — primarily to its house file.

Delightful Deliveries’ average order size for Easter increased 10%, from $71 in 2002 to $78 this year. The best-seller for Easter was a $67 package of chocolate-covered strawberries that came with a chocolate bunny, Lituchy says.

Easter sales at Wabasso, FL-based Hale Indian River Groves were up 9% on a low-single-digit catalog circulation increase, says general manager Bob Daberkow. “Easter was above our expectations,” he says without revealing an exact amount. “We thought sales were going to be impacted somewhat by the war, but it did not have a significant effect.” The seller of orange and grapefruit gift baskets, which also operates three stores, reports that its average catalog order size was up slightly, to $60, for Easter.

But the spring holiday was a letdown for some food catalogers. Easter sales at Mobile, AL-based Tanner’s Pecans & Gifts were 5% below expectations, says owner Danny Fox. “We were expecting a little increase,” he says. “This is the first year we put Easter specialties that we manufacture, such as chocolate bunnies and eggs, in our catalog.”

Tanner’s, which does less than $1 million in annual sales — half through its store in Mobile, half through catalog/Internet sales — mails just one catalog a year, in the fall. Fox increased fall 2002 circulation 20% over fall 2001, mostly through additional prospecting. He also redesigned the 18-page catalog.

The Christmas gift catalog also featured a page each dedicated to Valentine’s Day and Easter. But Fox doubts he’ll take this approach again, blaming the sales shortfall on the economy and the fact that customers aren’t hanging on to Tanner’s catalog long enough for Easter.

Other categories

Business-to-business toys cataloger Mary Meyer enjoyed a 20% increase in sales over Easter 2002. Like many other catalogers and retailers, Townshend, VT-based Mary Meyer benefited from Easter falling later this year, on April 20.

“Any time you can have an added week for shopping, it certainly helps,” says vice president of marketing and business development Robert Zeif. “People wait until the last minute to shop.” He notes that retailers, Mary Meyer’s customers, tend to buy more than usual when Easter falls later in the spring.

But although sales were up for Mary Meyer, which had a print circulation of 100,000 for Easter, the catalog’s average order size was down 5%. “The biggest change this year is people ordered less-expensive items,” Zeif says. Thay also ordered from more-traditional categories, such as stuffed rabbits and classic teddy bears.

For Vero Beach, FL-based fresh-flower cataloger Calyx & Corolla, the combined Easter/Mother’s Day season was “pleasantly surprising,” says president/CEO Andy Williams. “We are tracking virtually even with the prior year during the 60 days leading up to Easter.” Moreover, the company had decided earlier in the year to cut its circulation 10% because of the impending war.

Although he’s pleased with Calyx & Corolla’s spring holiday business, Williams has a difficult time comparing this year’s results to last year’s. “Because Easter was in March last year, we went only one catalog followed by three Mother’s Day drops,” he says. “This year, we sent a March catalog followed by an Easter catalog with two Mother’s Day drops after.”

Easter is typically a distant fourth to Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day for kitchen goods cataloger Gooseberry Patch. But “seeing a trend of holiday home decor on the rise,” says chief operating officer Liz Plotnick-Snay, the Delaware, OH-based cataloger put more Easter products in its spring catalogs this year.

“We included an Easter egg bubble nightlight that did very well,” Plotnick-Snay says. “We also sold some great vintage glass bunnies and some nostalgic creative candy marshmallow lollipops for baskets and some small tree decorations, all of which also did well.”

Although Gooseberry Patch mailed the same number of books this year as last, the company produced some pullout spreads for Easter for a catalog mailing in mid-February. Overall, Gooseberry Patch increased its Easter offerings from 2% of the catalog’s merchandise to more than 5%, “because sales warranted it,” Plotnick-Snay says. “And we’re running right on plan now.”

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