Hot Trends are Frosting Over

Hot Trends are Frosting Over

With "Frozen" themes thawing out, new birthday bonanzas are on the rise

Cindy Kavanaugh knows when a birthday party theme has the potential to snowball into strong sales.

Weeks before Disney’s “Frozen” really heated up, Kavanaugh, co-owner of Parker Party America in Parker, Colorado, with her husband Matt, planned their buying to include elements, such as snowflakes, that could be promoted to customers looking for ideas.

The runaway success of “Frozen” has meant sizzling sales for party and paper retailers like Kavanaugh but even she’ll admit that things have gotten out of hand in that area: “It’s almost like there’s this ‘Frozen’ competition out there, everyone’s going over the top — the gift bags are getting bigger, every child must have a wand and tiara, the tableware has become larger, as have the balloon bouquets,” Kavanaugh pointed out.

Creativity sells

Does the continued popularity of “Frozen” place the rest of birthday products on icy tundra? Not quite. There are other concepts making inroads that party and paper retailers are delighted to see cropping up. And with many of these themes not having packaged solutions, retailers are meeting the challenge and solving consumer needs by thinking outside the box.

For example, Minecraft, the popular video game, is one that customers have asked for, said Mariah McKechnie of Northland Party Inc./Party America in Duluth, Minnesota. Since there’s not much in this line yet, retailers have come up with creative solutions to meet needs. McKechnie has used solid colors that match Minecraft’s designs as a starting point, while Kavanaugh has brought in square plates in brown and green and thrown in some cube-shaped CUBEZ balloons. Kavanaugh has also suggested customers use the “creeper heads” the store sells that is a signature Minecraft look. “We suggest they use those as a centerpiece for the parties,” she added.

Solid color tableware and related goods are also especially useful for popular Lego themes, especially since Lego recently stopped licensing its lines, said McKechnie. In addition to these, Kavanaugh also stocks candy bricks in primary colors to go with a Lego theme. “They are like giant Sweet Tart candies that look like Legos,” she explained.

Another impact on the party business is the resurgence of comic books, which has stimulated an increase in demand not simply for the more classic products, such as Batman and Superman, but also for others, including Wonder Woman, Kavanaugh said.

And these choices are not limited to birthday celebrations. “It’s also for dress-up days. People are even having superhero baby showers with everyone dressing up in superhero T-shirts,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s not just only for boys anymore either — it’s for everyone from babies, girls, all hopping on.” Kavanaugh suggested stickers with the words “Bam!” and “Pow!” for such events, as well as keeping a stock of red and gold superhero colors, like Wonder Woman’s costume. “As long as you have something to springboard off of, you’re fine,” she said.

Look to where you are located and stock themes accordingly, advised McKechnie. Her store location, close to the Minnesota’s Northwoods country, has prompted her to stock camouflage themes in various colors, a move that has been hugely popular.

Cause for celebration

With few licenses on the horizon promising the lure of “Frozen” products, and with the popularity of DIY ideas on the rise from social media sites such as Pinterest, party and paper retailers are at a crossroads and are mixing up merchandise, sometimes with an express purpose of carving a new niche for themselves.

While licensed merchandise still plays an immense role in the birthday category, not every line seems to pull its weight equally, said Ray Pogue, owner of The Party Guys!, which has two locations in Modesto, California, and another in nearby Stockton. Some of the more popular categories, both in terms of customer requests and what they have seen sell, are Parisian themes, tea parties, mustaches, foxes and even Alice in Wonderland. “The DIY trend means that people want to put together their own parties, and we’re helping them do that,” Pogue said.

Exactly how is Pogue doing so? He is including motifs that might be trending in giftware and translating those to ideas for birthday parties. Buying happens in smaller increments while adding to the mix a lot more popular designs (chevron and polka dot) and colors. Ideas for birthdays can be borrowed from another hugely popular category — Halloween. Day of the Dead and even zombie merchandise works well for older folks’ birthday parties, Pogue said with a laugh. Milestone birthdays for grownups are also popular at McKechnie’s store.

The importance of an independent retailer is one Pogue makes sure to convey to the customer. “With competition from Wal-Mart and Party City, we make sure to stand out in terms of our merchandised displays and customer service — we’re about more than just sales,” Pogue said.

Kavanaugh agreed. “When the customer comes here, they get somebody who will brainstorm and bounce ideas. We pride ourselves on building relationships,” she said. “That’s what you get from a truly independent retailer — we are about the entire experience.” 

— By Poornima Apte, Special to Party & Paper Retailer

Originally posted Friday, Mar. 20, 2015