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Getting to the Heart of the Valentine’s Day Impact on Business

Even when the displays of candy and flowers abound, and red paper hearts adorn every shop window, it seems most shoppers still forget about Valentine’s Day until it is upon us. This means some retailers and restaurants see a late surge in activity, but however brief, it still warms the heart during the cold — and quiet — midwinter blues.

Kathie Williams, co-owner of Richardson’s Candy Kitchen in Deerfield, has one specific visual she associates with Valentine’s Day every year: a parking lot full of pickup trucks.
“People — men — do not plan ahead for Valentine’s Day,” she said, noting that her business will ring 75% of its Valentine’s Day sales on Feb. 13 and 14, and there are markedly more male shoppers than female. “It’s a very last-minute holiday. But it’s also one of our top holidays, and provides a great midwinter boost.”

These are just a few of the hallmarks of Valentine’s Day when it comes to its impact on the marketplace. One is that, unlike any other holiday, it brings the 11th-hour shoppers out in droves. Another is that, for many niche retailers such as Richardson’s — confectioners, florists, jewelers, and the like — it’s a robust day for sales in an otherwise desolate stretch of winter.
Consumers, too, tend to think of Valentine’s Day shopping as a frenetic time, but while greeting card aisles and restaurants might be packed on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day is not a major event across the board. The occasion still leans very heavily on a specific set of traditional, romantic items, and the late, day-of rush to the stores also makes marketing new promotions or products a challenge.
Jillian Gould, senior marketing manager for the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, said it’s a holiday that seems to sneak up on most shoppers, and many tend to rely on time-tested purchases: flowers, candy, and jewelry.
“We’ve found it difficult to advertise for Valentine’s Day — consumers haven’t really responded, and I think that speaks to the lack of planning,” she said. “The activity is very last-minute, and it’s mostly men. Valentine’s Day in the mall looks very similar to Christmas Eve at 4 p.m.”
Gould added that while Feb. 14 is historically a busy day at the mall, the average consumer will spend only about $100 on Valentine’s Day purchases, making this a relatively minor shopping day for department stores, clothiers, and other outfits with a broad range of offerings.
In fact, Valentine’s Day doesn’t even pull in the largest number of sales of some of those traditional items often associated with it. Gould said it’s the fourth-largest holiday for confection sales, behind Halloween, Easter, and Christmas, and the third-largest for greeting card sales, behind Christmas and Father’s Day.
“Many consumers will spend a lot on this holiday, but they’re not making the typical purchases we see during other times of the year,” she said. “They’re still looking for specific types of things, and because of that, it’s not a huge day for everyone. But for some retailers, it’s a very big deal.”

Love in Bloom
One such retailer is Brad Parker, owner of Longmeadow Flowers and Gifts, which has three locations in Longmeadow and Springfield. As a specialty gift, food, and clothing retailer as well as a florist (with delivery capabilities), Parker’s business is well-suited for Valentine’s Day, and takes measures to prepare for what is the company’s single busiest day of the year.
“There are busier periods — Christmas, certainly, and Mother’s Day to a lesser extent — but barring bad weather, this is the biggest day, and it continues to grow.”
Parker agreed that most Valentine’s Day shoppers are still looking for traditional gifts, but he added that he’s seeing a move toward more innovative, personalized combinations and arrangements within this vein.
“People are getting away from the ‘balloon and a teddy bear’-type things,” he said. “They might want something traditional or romantic, but not run-of-the-mill.”
In his stores, Parker said unique pieces of jewelry sell well, as do gourmet foods and clothing such as pajamas and robes. From a floral point of view, Parker said roses are still by far the holiday’s best seller — he expects to sell upwards of 12,000 this year — but a dozen long-stem red roses are not the only option.
“Roses are still the big flower, but people are choosing colors other than red,” he said. “People are less afraid to ask for ideas, and many more men are walking into the cooler and choosing their own arrangements.”
Parker said that this year, he’ll attempt to target last-minute shoppers, in an effort to extend these new shopping patterns over a greater period of time. Until the 10th of February, for instance, the stores will offer anyone who orders their roses ahead of time a lower, locked-in price.
“After that, the prices can double,” he said, “So we’re really trying to get people to understand the value of ordering things ahead of the rush.”
Williams said she, too, is careful to put her advertising dollars where they matter — mostly, toward late campaigns (largely radio) run on Valentine’s Day or the day before. Still, for the most part, she said this is a holiday that just doesn’t benefit from aggressive marketing.
“Valentine’s Day sells itself,” she said.

Heart and Parcel
And while it may not return the same sales figures as other traditionally busy times of year including the Christmas season and the back-to-school rush, Valentine’s Day does provide a boost in foot traffic during an otherwise flat time of the year. With the holiday rush behind them, retailers in particular have months to go before the next large-scale consumer-driven occasion — Mother’s Day.
“It is a great time for a holiday,” Gould said of the retail scene in February. “Christmas is huge, and January is busy with gift-card shopping, but then there’s a lull. Even those stores that don’t expect big sales will try to capitalize on Valentine’s Day, by positioning relevant items and small impulse buys.”
Martha Salem, one member of the family that owns and operates the Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield, agreed with Gould, saying that restaurants, too, hope for a brisk Valentine’s Day, but like many retailers, don’t rely heavily on any aggressive marketing to pull new diners in.
“We advertise in local papers, but we find that, truly, the best form of advertising is word-of-mouth,” she said. “Still, we do hope for a good Valentine’s Day and weekend. It’s an important holiday during what can be a long season.”
Salem added that it’s not an occasion that demands or requires a lot of bells and whistles. Simple recipes for success, she said, both in the kitchen and otherwise, work best.
“We don’t feel that the public’s response has changed much; people are still looking for a nice, romantic spot to share quality time with their loved one,” she said. “We do find that people seem to be drawn toward our fireplace cooking — our prime rib roasted in the fireplace, and chowder made from scratch — nothing more than good food in a quaint location.”  

Just Desserts
Similarly, Williams said chocolate is a trusted standby that will probably never go out of style.
“Luckily for us, people love chocolate any day of the year,” she said.
And yet, there’s only one day of the year that Richardson’s Candy Kitchen sells it by the truckload.

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