Winter 2014 Jingle All the Way
‘Tis the season to be jolly—year-round! By building a strong organization, tying it to the community and hiring those that personify holiday spirit, Christmas in [Your City] is delivering a lot of cheery sales.
This Christmas tale begins in 2002, when Fatih and Neslihan Hidirligil were but 22 and 21 years old, respectively. “It was challenging to be that young and in business. People don’t think you are going to be successful,” says Fatih, co-owner of Christmas in [Your City], headquartered in New York City, NY.
Fatih and Neslihan opened their first store, a 700-square-foot one, in the Broadway Mall in Hicksville, NY. Handmade table décor, imported from abroad, lined the shelves. Due to customer request, “little by little, we started to carry holiday ornaments,” Fatih says.
As holiday ornaments took on a larger portion of sales and spread out to new locations, Fatih and Neslihan began looking for new vendors in what was quickly becoming their main product category. Micheal Brother, national program manager for one such vendor, met Fatih and Neslihan at a national training conference. “They came determined to learn all they could and they did it two years in a row. They were diligent,” he says. Fatih advises that due to those conferences, “[Brother] gave us a kind of courage. We were able to benefit from his knowledge and experience.”
But it was the year 2004 that their company mission would come to light. It happened at the Fetes de Noel in Bryant Park in New York City, an outdoor holiday market where they joined fellow retailers selling holiday wares. They were thrilled by the joy they brought people in selling Christmas product, more than anything they ever sold before – and were determined to do so all year round.
They opened their first year-round store two years later in South Street Seaport in New York City. In 2007, a two-level store comprising 7,000 square feet, located in Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, MA, followed. Other locations soon lined up. “This year, our plans include the cities of Las Vegas, St. Louis, Denver, Orlando and Dallas,” says Brother, who joined the company full-time as national consultant in 2012. Fatih adds that their first international location, in Niagara Falls, Canada has had such an enthusiastic reception that he is planning more stores in other countries, including Italy and Australia at the top of the list.
Hurdles along the merry way
Growing has not come without its challenges. Their first hurdle surfaced last March when Fatih required major surgery. But the company’s core group managed just fine. “We have a core group of about 17 that come to monthly core group meetings and can switch assignments. There is always someone to pick up the slack. We all know what’s going on and can prepare,” Brother says. “Even on a day-to-day basis, there is a mobile team that travels to set up stores and manages them until local managers are found. Fatih has built a strong infrastructure.”
The second major hurdle came in 2012, a few days before Halloween. Hurricane Sandy struck the company’s NY flagship store and wiped out more than a month of peak season sales and merchandise. “We survived that because we had faith and determination to stay with our vision,” says Fatih.
Not only was the store closed for 38 days, the Seaport store had also served as the company’s communication center. “This was a major setback,” says Brother. After the store was back up and running, South Street Seaport announced they would be closing for renovations in the summer of 2013. Fatih and his wife searched the city for a new place where Christmas in New York could go on. A new home was found in Little Italy, bigger and better than they could have imagined, growing from 6,000 to 13,000 square feet—in fact, it’s the largest year-round Christmas store in the city today. The extra space provided enough room to accommodate a food service area.
The Mrs. Claus Cafe concept is a new addition to the stores. The food service area has been very successful, says Fatih. It enhances the quality of the experience, by giving customers a place to rest, pause and soak in the surrounding spirit. The coffee bar offers coffee, pastries, Rudolph’s Hot Apple Cider, Santa’s Hot Chocolate, and Elf-Made Gelato to enjoy all year long, for a dash of Christmas cheer. The company hopes to follow suit with food service areas in other locations, but so far has run into restrictive use clauses in regional shopping malls.
Spreading Christmas cheer
Community outreach is an important component of Christmas in [Your City]’s success. In 2012, Project Runway, a reality TV series about fashion, sent their designers to the Christmas in New York store with the goal of buying materials to create an outfit that didn’t look like it was made from Christmas trimmings.
Christmas in Boston serves as a professional tree decorating service for area businesses, houses and hotels, as well as Blink!, a six-week light and sound sensation (read: 350,000 LED lights to illuminate the Boston skyline). Signs posted during this event give Christmas in Boston credit and customers come to the store because of it, says Brother.
Adding holiday cheer to restaurants is Christmas in Hollywood’s specialty. Other stores are now following suit. “Our stores can provide this service to any restaurant with decorations in their own unique theme, as we all celebrate Christmas together as a community,” says Brother.
“In Canada, we developed a special relationship with a music school. Now we have live music playing in our store,” says Brother. “We have local musicians in New York City, Boston, Niagara and Hollywood, as well, who are doing music events at our stores to sign and promote their CDs,” he says. All music is, naturally, Christmas music.
And lastly, connecting to the local demographic is important. Christmas in Hollywood brings customers to their door by leaving promotional materials at area attractions, such as Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.
Do you see what I see?
Whether you’re an adult or child, store excitement is palpable. Think candy cane columns with giant peppermint lollipops flanking store entrances. Inside, a twinkling oasis of sparkly cheer. “We want each store we operate to be a wonderland. Every one has a different experience or feeling about Christmas, a personal experience,” says Fatih “It’s all about your presentation, so customers feel welcome,” he says.
Customers return year after year, with their own special traditions in mind. In some cultures hiding a “pickle” is a tradition. “Whoever finds it, gets to open their present first,” Brother points out. Christmas in [Your City] stocks glass pickle ornaments produced in Germany; customers requesting pickles are often of German or Scandinavian descent.
“Christmas takes on different flavors and forms depending upon where the store is located,” says Brother. A New England Christmas is traditional, a Miami Christmas includes cruise ships and a Hollywood Christmas has nods to the film industry.
Store displays follow suit. “In the Little Italy store, we recreated neighborhoods of New York, with the Chrysler Building and Yankee Stadium. In Hollywood, Santa is on a motorcycle underneath a palm tree,” says Brother. At Bayside Marketplace, in Miami, Santa is on the beach.
All the year-round stores keep their Christmas ambiance through the seasons. Within the displays are ornaments in every imaginable shape and size. Christmas in Boston carries more than 10,000 different ones. Featured designers include Christopher Radko, Enesco, Department 56, and Kurt Adler. In addition, artists make exclusive products just for them, says Brother. “As we go forward, we will be creating more in the way of proprietary designs,” he says. “We want our stores to have a boutique style,” adds Fatih.
In addition to ornaments, customers can find stockings, hats, nativities, snow globes and plush, to name but a few categories.
In most of the new stores, approximately 20% of the store’s assortment is shifted to products related to an upcoming holiday, such as Easter, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Cinco de Mayo, Father’s Day and Halloween. Fatih calls it Christmas Plus, as these stores add their boutique touch to the other holidays and to everyday gifts for birthdays and newborns, weddings and anniversaries, congratulations and condolences, and more.
Marketing events are planned for all occasions. “Sweethearts of [Your City]” being especially popular for Valentine’s Day, says Brother. These events feature photo contests for categories, such as “Best Couple,” with prizes awarded in the form of gift certificates. Another popular photo-op event is the annual Halloween Costume Contest. Photos are posted on Facebook and the core group does the voting, says Brother.
There’s no business like snow business
“We expect to add between 5-10 year-round locations and 10-16 temporary ones. Seasonal deals also depend on how attractive the deals are,” says Brother.
“We have to create an ambiance, and that takes time and money. We have to have staff well trained in the Christmas spirit,” says Brother. “Elf Wanted” are Christmas in [Your City]’s help wanted signs. “Eighty percent of training is selecting the right personnel,” he says.
“We decorate our stores so deeply, like a permanent store. We always open our stores with a dedication similar to a permanent store,” says Fatih.
At this time, all locations are company-owned. Opportunities for specialty retailers exist on a managerial level only. But franchise plans are in the works for 2015. “All stores will have the same feeling, not only in décor and storefront, but in customer service,” says Fatih. “We want our mission statement, to make every customer that walks into a Christmas and [Your City] store, feel glad they came in, to be at the heart of every location,” adds Brother.
“The advantage of being year-round, whether switching out a percentage of the stock or not, means you always have a presence. You can build relationships with your regular customers, because you know their tastes and you then become the gift center of choice,” says Brother.
And with customers returning year after year to the same places, it makes you a reliable destination, he says. Reliable, community-tied and mission-bound, Christmas in [Your City] delivers magic to its customers, its communities and its bottom line.
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