Christmas is a year-round selling opportunity for gift and souvenir retailers who are offering memorable, collectible and unique holiday-themed merchandise.

July 11, 2023

Holidays like Christmas only come once a year, but because customers buy gifts on vacation or other “off times,” they are big business for destination retailers all year long. Christmas decorations also provide a unique opportunity for gift and souvenir stores, because they can be displayed in multiple locations.

For example, a sea turtle ornament can be placed among other sea turtle merchandise for cross selling, and the same ornament can also be placed in a dedicated Christmas section. That way customers see the ornament twice.

That’s how the Lazy Gator does it. The gift store in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, sells a variety of apparel, accessories, gifts and home decor, most of which has a coastal theme. The store opened in 2006 and was converted from an old restaurant space and is known for its wide variety of merchandise, relaxing front porch and southern charm.

As patrons work their way back through the expansive, 12,000-square-foot store, they’ll encounter some holiday items sprinkled throughout the store, until they eventually come upon an entire room located in the back of the store dedicated entirely to Christmas.

“We do a lot of name-drop items with Murrells Inlet on them because a lot of people, when they are shopping in the summer, want a memento they can take home for Christmas,” says Jennifer Beall, Lazy Gator store manager.

Dorothea’s Shoppe in Folsom, California, carries thousands of ornaments, arranged by theme.

The store carries snow globes and other general Christmas items, but many of their ornaments are not ones visitors would have the ability to purchase back home.

“You’re probably not going to be able to find an octopus ornament in the Midwest,” she says. “We try to get things that are very geared toward where we are because as a destination for vacationers they want a little piece they can take home.”

You name the coastal icon and Lazy Gator probably carries it in an ornament. Flamingos, alligators, manatees, sharks, octopus and other sea creatures, Santa, snow- or sandmen on the beach are just some of them.
“I like to group things by theme like snowmen, beach or coastal, name-drops and Santas,” says Beall. The store also has a small candy section that carries holiday-themed items for children.

Spreading out the holiday love

Lazy Gator Gifts’ displays many of its Christmas decorations on tables. Coastal-themed ornaments are displayed on several trees. Ornaments also hang on a large wall. Some ornaments are grouped by vendor.
For instance, customers will visit specifically for glass ornaments from Old World Christmas, so Lazy Gator has a special section where that company’s ornaments are displayed. And within that brand section, the ornaments are further grouped by theme.

“I like to be uniform so people can find things more quickly and we have separate break-out tables for each theme,” Beall says.

During the summer months, Lazy Gator has seven Christmas trees set up in the Christmas section of the store.
“As it gets closer to Christmas, we bring more trees out to other areas of the floor,” adds Beall.

These extra trees are strategically placed in areas that coordinate with the merchandise. For example, a tree with candy items is placed near the homemade fudge area of the store. Preppy style ornaments from Kurt Adler pair nicely with the store’s Simply Southern merchandise.

Lazy Gator Gifts displays Christmas merchandise in a dedicated room and in other strategic locations.

“People know what they like so if you give them all of those options together then they aren’t going to put something they found down when they find something similar in another area of the store,” explains Beall.

There are some exceptions. Santa can be found in various locations throughout the store. While you can find him in the Christmas section, you might find a summery version of the jolly man in the red suit with the summer-themed merchandise as well.

The store also has tables with bulkier sit-around items and home decor — each set up with themes like beach or traditional.

The extra trees usually go up in early November. Some people complain that it's too early, according to Beall, but they're often the same customers that end up buying, she adds.

“We’ve all learned that if you don’t buy it right away, it might be gone,” she says.

The name-drop ornaments are the store’s bestsellers, including a shark with Murrells Inlet printed on it.
“We sell those all summer,” Beall says.

Oh little town of Bethlehem

As a business owner located in what is known as the Christmas City, it’s understandable Joanne T. Smida, owner of Hand Cut Crystal in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, would have a selection of Christmas merchandise displayed year-round.

“Our bestsellers are Swarovski — we’re a premier retailer and sell their ornaments and souvenirs made especially for our store. We have stars made in Poland, and locally made glass stars. People are looking for something unique,” she explains.

Decking the halls

Year-round Christmas store owners find they must be more creative with merchandising so newer items stand out.

Christmas in Manitou Springs is busy with tourists starting in mid-March.

“We don’t have a huge store so it’s a little challenging,” says Julie Pasture, owner of Christmas in Manitou Springs in Manitou Springs, Colorado. “We do 8-foot sections with shelving in between.”

She adds, “We have a small ledge up top, all around the perimeter of our store, where we try to arrange little vignettes — something like woodland animals or Colorado-themed souvenirs.”

The store also tends to put higher-ticket items higher up to draw peoples’ eyes. “We also use Christmas lights and up-lighting to draw customers’ attentiom,” she adds.

Pasture has a strong tourist customer base from mid-March through Labor Day. These customers look for regional items — “anything with the name ‘Colorado’ on it, or anything we can personalize with a lot of ‘Colorado’ on it,” Pasture describes.

Post Labor Day, she has a stronger local customer base who does their Christmas shopping in her store and usually do not look for name-dropped items, according to Pasture.

The store’s Alice in Wonderland-inspired nutcrackers from Kurt Adler’s Hollywood Nutcracker line is one of her biggest sellers.

“The Hollywood Nutcracker line is very unique,” she says. “Some are characters and don’t look like the average nutcracker. That’s my favorite kind of stuff to sell.”

Out of the ordinary ornaments

Sherri Metzker, co-owner of Dorothea’s Shoppe with husband Jim in Folsom, California, arranges the thousands of ornaments available in her store by theme.

“We specialize in the kind of Christmas ornaments you don’t find everywhere, for things like different milestones,” she explains. “We have various mini-departments in the store, such as food, two racks of dog-themed ornaments, cat-themed ornaments, occupations, Mom and Dad and boys and girls.”

Most of the store’s merchandising is set up by theme. “It makes it easier for customers to find things and for staff to remember where items are,” says Metzker.

She puts new items up front in glass display cases at customers’ eye level. “We find eye level is best,” she explains. “The eye focuses where it is easiest to see. We’ll put what would be of interest in a particular season in the glass cases. People tend to stop there to look.”

Ornaments by Kurt Adler and Old World Christmas are Dorothea’s Shoppe’s top two bestsellers. The Metzkers have long-standing relationships with their reps at both companies.

They attribute their connections with reputable companies to helping boost sales because the reps can make solid product recommendations, they note.

Varying tastes

Tastes tend to vary based on demographic and that is even the case with the holidays. According to Metzker, preferences tend to vary based on the age of the customer.

“Younger people have different tastes than older people, and we’re trying to discover what they want to see,” Metzker says.

She explains that while older generations like more of a lasting piece that might become a family heirloom, “younger people like licensed things — not necessarily something their parents or grandparents would choose.”
This past holiday season, Metzker stocked decals in a variety of designs and “the younger people loved them. They sold really well,” she says.

“We try to be aware of trends but are careful not to go too deep.” Jim Metzker adds, “What we try to do is be different and provide an experience for our customers.”

To create a customer experience Jim Metzker says they will often walk around the store with customers and help them pick out items for purchase by educating them on the products.

“We have generations of customers, and we don’t take our customer base for granted,” he says.

Windows of opportunity

Smida likes to display Hand Cut Crystal’s holiday-themed items as soon as they come in.
“Because we sell holiday merchandise all year round, we always keep it on the floor. So as product comes in, it goes right back out,” she describes. “My customers buy the jewelry year-round.”

In addition to being located in the heart of Christmas City, every August, Bethlehem plays host to Musikfest, one of the largest music festivals in the country, attracting over a million visitors who also spend time parusing the local shops. Hand Cut Crystal’s foot traffic increases considerably when the festival is in town.

“During Musikfest I get a lot of ‘lookers,’” Smida says. “I focus on putting things in my window that are music-related, or I’ll pull in some summer, and maybe start adding some Halloween items, because it will say to people, ‘Oh, they sell Halloween items, too.’”

Smida says shoppers tend to splurge a bit around Christmas.

“Retail is still always a challenge. It’s not a sure thing. My prediction is Christmas will come, and people will want to spend."

Hand Cut Crystal calls its windows ‘windows of opportunity.’ “We’re changing our windows constantly. Replenishing items is important,” says Smida. “It’s about making the windows impressive enough so people will want to come in and look.”

While Christmas time may be a few months away, it can be alive and well throughout your gift or souvenir store. Help your customers create happy holiday memories with reminders of their favorite destination or holiday with a stylish decoration or a lasting keepsake that can be passed along to future generations.