Within the retail industry, there is little doubt that the entire year is a build-up for December. Christmas is the biggest retail holiday in America and can make or break corporate financial projections. And while a strong Black Friday might be a good indication of how the holiday will play out, it is the days in between Christmas and New Years can “save” a weak season or “add the icing to the cake” of a successful one. So, when your business is Christmas, what is happening during the rest of the year—while Santa is sleeping? A lot more than one might think.
Like many retail stores, once January 1st rolls around it feels like it should be time to take a breather and step back from the hustle of the season that often demands 7-day work weeks and 12-hour days. The truth of the matter is, once January comes around, it all starts up again… preparing for next season. After you’ve finished cleaning the house, taking down the decorations, and worrying about your New Year’s resolution, typically Christmas shopping is the last thing on your mind. But, during the first week of January, we make our annual trek South to cater to those who are just starting their Christmas shopping: the stores.
The months of January and February are quiet for our retail gallery. Immediately following the holidays, we close completely in order for our retail staff to do their annual inventory. It is during this time that the retail store goes through the arduous task of taking down the decorations and physically counting quantities of every item. Reports are made, paperwork filled out, and a deep analysis of the previous year begins. It takes no less than the month of January, and often spilling deep into the abbreviated February month, to get everything in order. Apart from taking inventory, sorting product, and refreshing the displays, the retail store is careful to look at upcoming shopping trends based on last season’s consumer behaviors. Ironically, while the retail store is taking down decorations, the wholesale sales force (e.g. Judi, Gary, and Luke) is at their Atlanta, GA showroom putting decorations up!
Atlanta is home to the Vaillancourt Folk Art wholesale showroom on the 20th floor of building 1 at the AmericasMart—the mecca of wholesale trade; home to every major label, brand, and manufacturer of every product that you find in retail stores around the world. This is where the next season’s product line is introduced to stores like, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Colonial Williamsburg, catalogs, and small shoppes. Usually starting immediately after New Year’s, the showroom—which was built as a replica of the Smithsonian’s chocolate shoppe—is decorated with a fresh look for the season. It is during the month of January that products are sampled, custom pieces visualized, and orders placed for winter.
In addition to selling, Judi and Luke spend time buying for the retail gallery. AmericasMart consists of four skyscrapers, with hundreds of “stores” on each floor. Finding some rare downtime from selling, allows the ideas to flow for the year’s holiday decorating theme and also to see what new products can be brought into the retail gallery. Working with lead decorator, Bette (who is busy in Sutton helping with inventory), items are purchased, themes developed, and the ball is rolling in preparing for the fall opening to kick off the Christmas season in November.
By the end of January, after all of the orders and samples are finalized, the real work begins: scheduling production to be able to paint and deliver.
February & March
Once the January show in Atlanta is completed and our staff returns from their after-Christmas time off, production begins again for another season. It starts with painting the new Valentine and St. Patrick’s chalkware Santa and then focus is brought to the production of premier numbers of the new year’s line. In addition, all paperwork from Atlanta is carefully organized and scheduled for production where spring orders are diligently painted to ensure they can be in stores for the spring holidays. Judi also begins the daunting task of looking at all of the custom pieces (for 2014, Judi designed 49 custom pieces for stores—not including our regular line and in-store custom pieces) that she’ll need to create—both for department stores to sample and for our dealers to approve. During this time, all reports from year-end are in and analyzed to see how Vaillancourt Folk Art can increase quality while reducing areas of unnecessary inefficiencies.
After inventory has been completed and the store decorated for non-Christmas, we begin preparing for the first event of the year: Premier Number Weekend. Typically, the first full weekend in March, Premier Number Weekend is when the year’s line is first introduced and the low production numbers are available for customers. This weekend, in conjunction with a second trip to the Atlanta Showroom for the March show, keeps all employees at Vaillancourt Folk Art on their toes.
The real work, however, begins in the weeks succeeding Premier Number Weekend as preparation for the annual Collector’s Weekend.
It’s a misconception that Christmas companies work hard during the holidays and have downtime for the rest of the year. As a small, family business, it’s pivotal that the first quarter is spent preparing the frameworks for the holiday season. From a retail standpoint we are focused on coming up with themes, ordering products and decorations that fit that theme all while making sure that the retail gallery is decorated for spring customers. The production is busy painting premier numbers of the year’s line as well as products that are required for both retail sales and to start with wholesale orders with early delivery dates. The management aspect of the company is focused on wholesale orders, production scheduling, and marketing strategy for both retail and wholesale. Santa may be sleeping, but Vaillancourt Folk Art is just getting started.
While Santa Is Sleeping is a series that analyzes the domestic wholesale and retail Christmas industry. Since 1984, Vaillancourt Folk Art has hand-painted chalkware figurines in their Sutton, MA studios. This small, family business produces fine art quality products for their retail gallery in Sutton as well as custom designs to stores around the country.