Not all things are easy-sell during the holidays, but creativity helps | Crain's

Not all things are easy-sell during the holidays, but creativity helps

  • It’s not peak season for beer during the winter holidays, but crafters like Device Brewing Co. co-owner Ken Anthony have ways to cope with slower times. | Photo courtesy of Device Brewing Co.

  • Brewers like Device Brewing Co. co-owner Ken Anthony have ways to cope with slower times. The brewer promotes parties and merchandise sales during the holidays. | Photo courtesy of Device Brewing Co.

As shoppers hit the stores and go online for the busiest holiday shopping week of the year – the handful of nights before Christmas – some businesses are faced with a harder time than others peddling their wares.

That’s because their items aren’t the conventional gifts people usually receive under their trees or in their inboxes. Some of them aren’t true “gifts” at all, but things people can or will definitely use. For these businesses, the holidays mean a definite change in public demand. But a few have found creative ways to compensate.

Open wide

People need dental work year-round. The holidays are not always when they want to do it, especially if it involves orthodontics.

General dentistry – such as cleanings, fillings and crowns – tends to be on the upswing because dental benefit holders have deductibles that expire at the end of the year, according to Donna Galante, co-owner of Cater Galante Orthodontics in Rocklin, Roseville and Grass Valley. But the same can’t be said of people who need specialized care such as braces or oral surgery. “For us, most orthodontic work under insurance is lifetime, so it doesn’t matter when it gets done,” Galante says. “Instead, it can slow down because people don’t want to put a big investment into something right around the holidays, when they’re thinking of Christmas parties and Christmas gifts.”

Galante says her offices tend to see a 10 percent drop in business during the winter quarter, which is the worst of the year. In contrast, the previous quarter – from July to September – is usually the company’s busiest. “We tend to offer a lot more promotional offers this time of year, things we can do to get people to sign on the dotted line now instead of waiting for January,” she said.

It could be something simple, like free teeth whitening. Spreading the word on social media also pumps up interest. A more-elaborate effort is the offering of multi-year, no-interest financing. “There are a lot of ways to get things done without breaking the bank,” Galante says. “When you tell parents that they don’t have to pay for all the work up front, you can’t really go wrong with that.”

A different way to spread the cheer

Beer is an iconic symbol of merriment. But it’s actually not the thing many people go after during the winter season, according to Ken Anthony, owner of Device Brewing Co. in Sacramento. Demand actually drops during November and December as distributors slow down. “The time change affects people, and colder weather affects people,” Anthony says. “Things tend to rebound a bit in January and February, before it really starts to pick up again in March.”

In response, Anthony offers seasonal beer releases. “We want to keep people excited,” he says. “We try to emphasize that at the end of the day, any time of year is a good time for a beer.”

He also promotes company merchandise a bit more heavily. “We sell more hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts now than any other time of the year,” Anthony says. “Anyone can use another gift.”    

On-site beer parties are another big draw. Anthony says he’s had seven thus far in December. “That’s a good number,” he notes. “It’s definitely been a busy time for us.”

There’s no hurry here

Probably one of the most-awkward yet necessary sells occurs at the funeral home, which is a necessity no one really likes to talk about. According to Chris Meyer, owner of Lind Brothers Mortuary in Carmichael, the business overall requires a great deal of diplomacy. “It’s sort of a risk-adverse industry,” he says. “It’s something that is needed, and always will be. But it’s not the type where you tell someone ‘business is booming.’ You need to keep it modest.”

Sadly, the holidays are when funeral directors tend to be busiest. A 25-year study by three University of California researchers states that the death rate rises by an average of 6 percent during the two-week Christmas and New Year’s period, depending on demographic group. It also increases by an average of 5 percent, depending on cause of death.

It makes a difficult time even harder to handle, according to Meyer. “You’re dealing with people at the worst possible time in their lives,” he says.

The industry-standard marketing parameters apply: No hard-sell tactics; listen to the survivors’ needs and concerns; offer honest, practical advice. But there’s another approach that shouldn’t work but does, according to McClellan Marketing Group owner Drew McClellan: The prevention message. “One of the best ads for a funeral home I ever saw was one with an anti-drunk driving theme,” McClellan says. “The basic message was: ‘Don’t drink and drive. We’re not that anxious to see you.’ It made [the funeral home] seem very human and caring.”

When a product or service only comes into play when something bad has happened – and people are unable to avoid needing it – it’s likely that people will remember that you were compassionate enough to keep them away as long as possible, McClellan notes.

December 19, 2017 - 6:20pm