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Gifts Get Personal image

Gifts Get Personal

By: Mark Seavy

Things are getting personal in the gift and specialty category, for both retailers and customers.

While the customization of products is not a new trend, it is one that is taking on added importance in the current retail landscape. That much was clear at the NY Now Show in New York this week as specialty stores worked to stand out from mass retailers that are focused on launching their own exclusive collections and private labels.

The key, many specialty retailers said, is building a community around a store that generates repeat customers for products that are, in many cases, sourced from local artisans. It also means offering services that are only available at an individual location.

The Ann Arbor, MI-based pop culture store Rock Paper Scissors, for example, installed a “banner bar” by partnering with supplier Oxford Pennant to produce personalized felt pennants in six colors. Jaded CBD includes a thank you note with each order of its CBD-based sleep aids and oils. JK Adams promotes its wooden cutting, barbeque, and serving boards in partnership with artist Laura Zindel, using nautical designs that tend to cater to consumers on the East Coast. Moving forward, JK Adams is internally developing boards with themes that will target a number of U.S. regions.

“The purpose behind your brand is important because consumers are becoming conscientious to the point where they care about the story and mission behind the product and who is behind the brand they are supporting,” said Evi Triantafyllides, CEO of children’s book and toy supplier Worldwide Buddies, which recently landed a licensing deal for books and card games inspired by the PBS series Rosie’s Rules.

To underscore that story and mission for consumers—and to create experiences that feel personal to their brand—many specialty retailers are hosting in-store events. At Rock Paper Scissors, for example, there was recently a Taylor Swift-themed event that spawned ideas for tea and book clubs as well as merchandise, store owner Lisa Mattison Roberts said.

“Consumers want something that speaks directly to them, even if it is as simple as buying something with their daughter’s birth stone,” said Jessica Gebauer, founder of Yardley, PA-based Krysset Artisan Boutique, which draws solely from local artisans. “People want things that say where they are from, who they are with, and what they believe. Much of that comes thorough personalization and customization.”

But personalizing and customizing products means more than adding a name. In the case of JK Adams, this strategy accounts for 80% of its business and includes programs with Sur La Table and Crate & Barrell.

Personalization may mean creating a range with a specific style and color palette that a retailer wants to promote, said Tamara Moran, President of Town Pride, which develops town- and corporate-themed merchandise including sweaters and golf shirts. Town Pride recently signed an agreement with Disney and Warner Bros. for corporate apparel and opened its first 1,300-square-foot store in Yarmouth, ME in November. The company also hired Franchise Marketing Systems to expand the concept starting in April.

This focus on personalization doesn’t necessarily mean products are customized for each individual consumers, said Moran. Often, it’s more about creating products and experiences that feel special to customers and are unique to that retailer.

“Every retailer wants something that stands out and is different,” Moran said.

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