Christmas comes but once a year? but at London?s big department stores, it lasts a whole lot longer.
Harrods and Selfridges both launched their Christmas promotions in the first week of August. Harrods came first with the opening of its Christmas World floor two months earlier than usual. Selfridges followed two days later.
In Australia, businesses are generally well prepared for the festive season by late August, early September. Props and decorations are rarely left to last-minute chance, and if they are, or some catastrophe befalls the hapless retailer, help is close at hand.
The specialty outlets catering only to Christmas are seasonal by nature. They operate for about six months of the year and work flat out right up until Christmas Eve.
The Christmas Cave operates the largest chain of stores in Australia devoted entirely to products for the festive season. Christmas Cave trades from August to early January, seven days a week, but the business is open by appointment at other times.
These superstores are located in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. They stock thousands of products ? too many for the company to list online ? so a store visit is recommended.
They certainly wouldn?t be the only ones, but some smaller retailer operators in the southern capital have been known to cut things fine. However, there?s a good reason and it revolves around a horse race.
?Cup Day is such a huge event for Melbourne that the city does tend to focus on it. After the Cup, there can be a bit of a mad panic when people say ?Oh my God ? Christmas is the next big thing?,? says Oswald Sealy?s Deirdre Plant, who enjoys advising people on ways to make their business sparkle and stand out from the crowd.
Plant, who is the visual merchandising manager at Oswald Sealy (incorporating Mei & Picchi) says there are no hard and fast do?s and don?ts for setting up a Christmas display.
?The display depends entirely on the retail environment. You can have a vague guideline for an individual decorating a tree, but most retailers want the colour theme to fit with everything else in their store. And they often don?t want trees at all. We sell a lot of over-sized stars. They go for them because stars don?t take up valuable floorspace.
?When they come to us, they virtually get free advice on how to do their windows, which is great for them.
?Many retailers have small windows. We can set up concept areas within the store so they can visualise how the props and decorations will fit in their own store setting,? says Plant.
Oswald Sealy is located in Fitzroy and supplies every state of Australia. The business also exports to Asia and New Zealand. A second, more luxurious wholesale showroom will open in Surrey Hills, Sydney, prior to Christmas, and a revamped website for online orders has just been relaunched.
?From the end of August through to the end of September and early October we get all our new products. But we always have our standard lines in stock, like the basic trees and tinsel.
?We like to display decorations in our store so retailers get an idea how to display them in their own store,? says Plant.
?We get all kinds of requests, especially for thrones and arches for shopping centres, and we just had an unusual request for a lifesize sleigh.?
For top-up supplies, Oswald Sealy remains open right up until Christmas Eve. It closes on Christmas Day, reopening on Boxing Day for the annual 50 off sale.
Make a checklist
Sally Clarkson of Chas Clarkson in Sydney says there are some basic rules guaranteed to take the stress out of Christmas.
Clarkson suggests retailers compile a simple checklist for their store in advance.
The checklist should include gift wraps for their complimentary gift wrapping service ? to give that little extra to their customers ? curling ribbons and bows to complete the sale, gift vouchers and envelopes, table trees to add some cheer to the sales counter, trees and decoration (using red and green leaf lights to create an instant Christmas feel), and Christmas lighting.
Other tips include tailoring decorations to incorporate company colours for a complete and effective corporate Christmas branding, and investing in commercial quality products to create a stylish and professional sales tool that will last for many years.
Last but not least, Clarkson says get organised early to reduce stress levels at the busiest time of the retail year.
?A lot of companies such as ourselves deal with people all over Australia. So while many of us may be based in Sydney or Melbourne, it?s because the population isn?t big enough to open a showroom in every state.
?We manage David Jones and Westfield. This year, we?ve designed a brand new corporate theme for Westfield Bondi Junction. Our corporate business is growing and growing because a lot of the larger companies prefer to have it managed for them,? Clarkson said.
Evelyn and Barry Cook opened The House of Christmas 20 years ago in Abbotsford in north east Melbourne, on the city edge just behind Collingwood Football Club.
It?s a seasonal business, well known locally, open from October 1 (for small retailers) through to Christmas. For the larger retailers (including clients like Rebel Sport, ANZ and Medicare Victoria) The House of Christmas has been in full swing for four months already.
?A lot of smaller shops don?t wake up until the beginning of November. Every year, we get last minute orders and requests. We?re used to the crazy last minute rush,? Cook says.
Fogg Productions is well known Australiawide for its special lighting effects and Australian themed Christmas displays.
If a shopping centre wants flying kangaroos lighting up the night sky, Fogg Production?s Roger Foley is their man. Darling Harbour shopping precinct in Sydney once used Foley?s boomers (kangaroos), based on the Rolf Harris hit Six White Boomers, to spectacular effect.
Foley has been in the business for 40 years, but he wasn?t always creating Christmas trees and lights. He started out in the 1960s doing psychedelic light shows with rock bands.
He and his team are responsible each year for the Christmas Tree of Light, reputedly the world?s brightest Christmas tree, at Cockle Bay in Sydney. ?We check every couple of years to make sure it remains the world?s brightest tree,? he says.
?I have done a lot of work with David Jones, Grace Bros, Myer, Roselands, Westfield and numerous small stores over many years developing theatre lighting techniques for use in window displays.
?We also manufacture specialty items with a particular Australian theme. Some can be made easily so a late order is often acceptable. While we make very large traditional bells, balls and bows, we also make kangas, koalas, kookas and many other items for an Australian clientele.?
Foley and his associates are a small, highly manouverable group with headquarters at Hazelbrook in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.
?Many artists are complete snobs when it comes to retail. They think they will have to compromise their work and do something lesser than they otherwise would.?
Department stores work their window magic
By Lyn White, senior journalist for Inside Retailing
There is one thing Myer?s new owners won?t be changing this year, and that?s the lavish animated Christmas window displays ? classic, timeless images that define Melbourne in December.
The tradition of the Myer Christmas windows began in 1956. It was the year of the Melbourne Olympics and also the year television was introduced.
Myer?s first chief visual merchandiser, the late Fred Asmussen, was inspired by the displays he had seen in the windows of New York department stores and set about creating something magical for the people of his own city on an equally grand scale.
Throughout the years, the Myer windows have delighted generations of children and adults, with families from all over Victoria making the annual pilgrimage to see them. The themes have included much loved fairy tales, famous children?s books and concepts from the ballet and opera.
The flamboyant Asmussen lived in South Yarra in a house that had 13 chandeliers and a black and silver dining room. He had an all-white garden. He loved his job and he gave style to Myer. Asmussen not only created the Christmas windows, but was also Moomba?s famous float designer.
The 1956 window was not a fairy tale or famous story, it was called Santa at the Olympics. Subjects over the years have included Santa?s Journey into Space, Chinese Fairytales (1967), Arabian Nights (1966), Gilbert and Sullivan (1982), Wind in the Willows (2001) and Peter Pan (1964 and 1990).
Deb Burkin is Myer?s current creative concept brand manager, windows and events.
?Our animated windows feature in the Bourke St Mall store and they are an absolute institution.
?These incredible windows are a full year in production. We also have our generic Christmas overlay, which is a more contemporary window interpretation extended through all the Myer stores.
?There?s a lot of excitement surrounding the Bourke St display. It?s the element of surprise. People don?t know what to expect or how the display is created, and that?s the way we like to keep it so as not to spoil the mystique,? Burkin says.
?We have a creative panel. We might chat to Universal (Pictures) or we might talk to different publishers to see what?s relevant. Then about three of us get together with four or five ideas. We make a selection and a judgment based on the target customer, which is a child aged five or six through to the child?s mother and grandparents.
?It takes about a fortnight to install the window displays. In the middle of this month we do a full setup off site in Port Melbourne. We then pack it all up and send it to the respective destinations - Bourke St Mall and Brisbane City for the end of this month. The theme is the same for both cities. Finally, we have our big reveal in the middle of next month following a top-secret dress rehearsal.
?There are about 60 people employed contractually to do the work. There are costume designers, people who hand-mould the figurines, scenic artists and the technical crew.?
Not all Myer store windows can incorporate the spectacular animation. For example, in 2003, 10km of cabling was used in the construction of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas window setting.
?In Sydney, where the windows aren?t deep enough, we?ve compensated by having an amazing SantaLand for the children,? Burkin says.
Likewise, the windows of David Jones? flagship store in Sydney are a huge drawcard for people of all ages and from all parts of NSW.
The Elizabeth St display will be unveiled at the end of this month, ahead of the store?s official Christmas launch on November 1.
Lisa Lubar, GM, visual merchandising, says this year?s visual treat followed a traditional Christmas theme.
?We?re confident it will appeal to a broad spectrum of customers of all ages. In particular this year, when the viewer approaches the window, not just looking in but gazing up, there will be another element or level of interest. I think that will intrigue a lot of the adults.?
She says the planning process took a minimum of six to nine months.
?We?ve gone with a different technique or concept this year, which was mostly inspired by an overseas trip last year. We did New York, London and Paris, but there was something very special about all the animated windows in Paris. When we realized what it was, we wanted to try a different approach, so we?re using a more traditional style of marionette puppetry.
?The company we employ has a full team. They have the engineers, animators, puppeteers, scenic artists, costumers, sculptors, carpenters, electricians and so on.
?The display is set up as a full operating module over a period of months. It gets transported in, disassembled and reassembled back into the windows all under cover.
?Our soft unveiling this year is Monday, the 30th of October,? Lubar says.
?The company we?ve employed specialises in puppetry globally. We were very fortunate to find the level of expertise and passion to turn our vision into a reality.?
?This is a gift to the people of Sydney. The younger children are the most delighted, but watching the morning foot traffic and the customer reaction is a joy for us.?
Short note about the author
Encouraging that Christmas spirit is what makes the difference between a very profitable trading season or a disappointing one. Here are some professional tips and solutions for last minute decorating and merchandising, writes Lyn White of http://www.insideretailing.com.au