Spiritual Sales

Invitations and response cards, party favors and ceremony pillows, tiaras and flowers. If it sounds like a wedding, you’re close. With the planning that goes into many events celebrating religious milestones of youth, retailers would do well to take a similar marketing approach when it comes to this category.

These events — baptisms, communions, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and Quinceaneras, for example — are generally celebrated with ceremonies honoring both religious and social aspects of the occasion. It’s important for you and your staff to be familiar with the events those in your area plan to celebrate.

“In our industry, you must be aware of every religious celebration in your community,” said Denise Hagopian of Heavenly Choice Events. “If you make a donation to houses of worship and private religious schools, the congregations will be aware of your shop and you will become acquainted with the spiritual leadership.”

And when it comes to certain rites of passage for their children, parents are more inclined to spare no expense to make that event special, despite how tight their budgets may be.

“Most families still want a celebration to include all their friends and family,” said Robin Beth of Robin Beth Designs. “Perhaps they try to reign in their budget on the individual items, opting to include everything that they wanted to include, but to do so in a fresh, more budget friendly way.”

And although a religious connotation is the backbone of these celebrations, many still take on a specific theme to personalize the party to the guest of honor. A sports-centered Bar Mitzvah, Disney Princess communion or Hollywood-themed Bat Mitzvah parties have become popular requests in many areas. This is good news for retailers, as many of the theme products already in stock can be incorporated into the special occasion displays.

Baptism & First Communion
Christenings and baptisms are a way for parents to introduce their child to the church and religion of their choice, while First Communion celebrates a person’s first reception of the Eucharist. While most Catholic children receive their First Communion at seven or eight years of age, others can receive communion for the first time whenever they’ve met all the Church’s requirements.

“This category is something we carry year round and I stock all the basics: beverage and lunch napkins, 7-inch and 9-inch plates, tablecovers, invites and coordinating foil balloons,” said Brenda Fink of Party Magic. “Baptism and First Communion are the most celebrated, and I try to stock three patterns — one pink, one blue and one multicolor.”

A perennial theme to use is doves, bibles and even crosses, with traditional white and pink or baby blue requested most for color. However, as Communion celebrates a slightly older child, more mainstream themes are not uncommon, such as Disney characters or sports.

With both, favors are often given as a way to thank guests for sharing in the special day, such as candles, frames or small tins filled with chocolates or mints.

“We stock favors for christenings and baptisms, such as small pink or blue fabric bags with almonds inside,” said Ellen Prague of The Paper Shop, Inc. “Resin rosary beads are pretty and can be used around the napkins as napkin rings, etc.”

Personalized gifts are popular for these events — engraved silver cups, frames or votives — given as a keepsake to remember the day. And Hagopian doesn’t limit the customization to just gift items.

“Since a lot of our income is from decorating, we can alter any design and customize it for any celebration,” she said. “I also personalize it with names, nicknames and baby pictures, as this makes my work more unique and not able to be comparison shopped as easily.”

According to Lena Hayden of Nos Vemos Greetings, this traditional celebration of a young Hispanic lady turning 15 can be compared to the American tradition of Sweet 16 celebrations, but on a much larger scale.

“It is similar to a wedding in that it includes a religious ceremony, a reception and a Court of Honor,” Hayden said. “The Quinceanera wears a ball gown and her Court of Honor is dressed in gowns and tuxedos. Typical celebrations include invitations, party favors and gifts — treasured keepsakes, frames and albums, jewelry, etc.”

If a retailer is already offering wedding supplies and gifts, they can easily market to this customer by offering a few more Quinceanera-specific items and services.

“Quinceaneras are so much like weddings that we use many of our wedding invitations for them, as well as some of our wedding guest books, keepsakes and favor boxes,” Prague said. “With these, the theme is often something between princess, prom and wedding.”

For customers in Hagopian’s store, Quinceanera themes range from extreme color and patterns such as leopard, zebra, butterflies, stars and renaissance all the way to the traditional Disney princess. This year, hot pink and black with rhinestones has been highly requested.

“Ideas are everywhere,” Hagopian said, “and to get into the mindset of a theme, I walk around my store and pull everything that exists in that color — hot pink ribbon, hot pink rhinestones, silk flowers, etc.— then we start the creative process. We create an ambiance with unique fabric and fill in with solids and a cute prop.”

Bar/Bat Mitzvah
In the Jewish community, a celebration for children entering their teenage years is popularly known as the Bar (male) or Bat (female) Mitzvah. The Jewish law calls for children to observe the commandments when they reach the age of 12 and 13. Through the formal ceremony, these children who have come of age assume their obligations as young adults.

Although the Star of David and traditional religious decorations are still prevalent, more themes are taking center stage for the celebrations. Prague shared that one young customer named Nathaniel chose “Nate the Great” as his theme, making it all about him and his sports interests.

“Sports are a big theme for Bar Mitzvahs,” she said. “And one recent Bat Mitzvah theme was 'Boardwalk.’ The girl loved the beach, so the table centerpieces were giant cutouts of boardwalk-type entertainment.”

Another client chose “Candyland,” where a “field” of Astroturf held rainbow colored lollypops with guests’ names and table numbers on tags attached to the pops. A celebration held at a hotel called the Buena Vista Palace took on a princess theme, with guests invited to celebrate with “Princess Gabby” and have dinner before services at the “Castle”— the home of parents of the Bat Mitzvah girl.

“The big thing at Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties is the music,” Prague said. “The DJs basically run the party and give out all sorts of things to the kids, from day-glow socks, tambourines and moroccos to go with the dancing to funny hats and T-shirts to go with the theme.”

Getting in touch with not only the celebrants themselves, but everyone associated with the party can help retailers get involved in supplying more of the decorative details. Talk to local churches about upcoming ceremonies planned, find out if the private schools in your area are planning any celebrations and as Hagopian added, don’t forget your primary resource.

“Ask your youngest employees and relatives what they would like,” she said. “You might be surprised at the hidden talent right there in your shop.”

Originally posted Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010