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  • What Men Want
    By Rich Smith

    Gifts for men can be a magnet for customers of both sexes.

    Father's Day may be the most obvious reason for promoting gifts and arrangements that appeal to men — but it's far from the only one. For florists like Jerome Raska, AIFD, AAF, PFCI, giftware merchandising for men is a year-round opportunity to keep the cash register going ka-ching. "We've done very well by making gifts for men a permanent part of our regular merchandising," says Raska, general manager of Harry Miller Flowers in Dearborn, Mich.

    It's true that most gifts for men are purchased by women. Nonetheless, an important benefit of male-oriented products and displays is that they can help to attract more men as customers. Most flower shops are overtly geared to female customers, says Karen Laich of Flower Girl in Bensalem, Pa. In such an atmosphere, having a "masculine" section of the shop can help to put male customers more at ease. "And if men are at home in your shop, they're more likely to enjoy the experience and want to come back," Laich says.

    And that's important because — as Don Duncan, of Westside Florist in Aloha, Ore. notes — the typical male customer usually spends about twice as much money during a visit to a flower shop as the typical female customer does. One florist who asks not to be named speaks bluntly: "I want men in my shop simply because they are more profitable. They don't like to ask questions and they want to get in and out of the shop in five minutes or less — which means they're not going to waste my time and keep me from being productive."

    A Man's World

    Cathy Hillen-Rulloda, AIFD, PFCI, owner of Avente Gardens—Florals Unique in Anaheim, Calif., observes that gifts for men are mainly bought to commemorate an occasion (such as a birthday), extend congratulations (a job promotion, for example) or offer thanks. "As florists, we could be doing much more to capture sales centered around men," she says. "I think the opportunities for increasing business along these lines are limited only by our imaginations."

    The place to start is with a selection of giftware men will want. At Laich's shop, customers can find shelves stocked with manly colognes, soaps and other toiletries. She also sells a line of plush toys for men — including a teddy bear adorned with a tool pouch (replete with enough hardware items to elicit envy from Bob Villa) and a bulldog chomping on a stogie.

    In Springfield, Va., at Michael's Flowers of Springfield, Michael Polychrones can steer his men's-gift buyers to real cigars: he carries a line of premium smokes, plus humidors. Polychrones also sells magazines such as Sports Illustrated and other publications glorifying cherished male pursuits.

    "The most effective men's gifts are those that are hobby-related," he says. "Items dealing with golf, fishing, boating and gardening are very popular." Raska agrees. One of his shops' best-selling men's gifts is a collections of ship models. "We've got a number of other products, too, that look good in a man's office or den," Raska says. "We have paperweights, tumblers, wall prints and beverage coolers."

    Another solid-gold gift line for men: junk-food baskets. These contain bags of chips, jars of salsa and other fast-food snacks, and are most often purchased, florists say, in the days immediately prior to any televised major sports event — football games in particular.

    However, the most often-requested gifts for men are plants, according to Tom Simmons of Scentiments in Venice, Calif. "Plants for men need to be sold in containers stripped of any fussiness — in other words, no pastels or ribbons," Simmons cautions. "We have a line of containers that are stainless steel — masculine, but not radically so."

    To masculinize the plants and arrangements he sells, Polychrones sometimes uses fishing tackle boxes as containers and adorns the greenery with fly-casting lures. "I've even been known to place a fishing pole in the arrangement," he says. Polychrones confesses to being a big fan of the line of containers for men put out by Teleflora.

    Picking Winners

    Can't decide what men's gifts are best to stock? Consider the following factors:

    Demographics. Learn as much as possible about the men who live, work and shop in your market area. Armed with that knowledge — obtainable from your local chamber of commerce, public library or market research consultant — you can more confidently select giftware tailored to their likes and needs.

    Crossover appeal. Look for items that could be owned and enjoyed by a woman as well as a man. For example, golf items (including balls, tees, club protectors, visors, wrist braces and the like) are wares appropriate for either sex, Raska explains. "By stocking items with crossover appeal, you can better consolidate inventory, which means you can buy less of it and improve the rate of turnover," he says.

    Trendiness. The more in vogue an item, the greater the chances it will sell like hotcakes. Premium cigars, for example, have sold well for Polychrones since he brought them in two years ago in response to their rocketing popularity. But be careful: what's sizzling today can just as easily be fizzling tomorrow. "It's very difficult to gauge how long a trend may last," says Polychrones. A rule of thumb: the longevity of a trend is inversely proportional to the intensity of the media hype surrounding it (remember the macarena?).

    Wholesale cost. Some florists say they prefer to stock only those men's gift items that can be procured from a manufacturer or distributor for a song. Polychrones, for example, carries only a few humidors to go with his cigars because they are fairly expensive items that don't turn over rapidly. "I don't want my money tied up in humidors," he says.

    Competition. Before choosing a gift line for men, visit nearby rivals and find out whether they already carry that same set of products. That's what Laich does. Right next door to her is a gift shop. "I've had to pick my men's gifts carefully to avoid duplicating what's available at this neighboring store," she says.

    Bringing Them In

    Choosing the right merchandise is only step one. After that, the next major challenge is bringing buyers in through the doors. Recommendations:

    Send promotional pieces. Raska calls attention to men's products he wants to move with flyers that he attaches to every arrangement that leaves the shop. (Many of these arrangements, of course, are sent to women and men.) "The recipients may decide to buy the advertised items when they go to reciprocate with the person who sent flowers to them," he explains. "It works quite well."

    Advertise. And not just in advance of Father's day. A few Octobers back, Polychrones ran a successful newspaper ad for men's gifts. The ad featured a gender-neutral jack-o'-lantern, but it had nothing to do with Halloween. "The pumpkin was merely an attention-getter," he tells. "The ad urged people to send a gift to that special man in their life, and argued that October was as good a month as any to do it. You could just about pick any month, get a visual commonly associated with that month and do the same thing."

    Conduct a giveaway. Laich scored big one Father's Day with a red-hot promotion involving a drawing for a portable barbecue grill laden with cookout food items and utensils, all covered in gift-wrap cellophane. The grill and its contents (along with signage announcing the giveaway) were prominently displayed in the shop's street-front window, and a newspaper ad with a photo of the giftware-packed grill was run several times during the three-week lead-in to Father's Day.

    Readers were invited to fill out an entry blank at the bottom of the ad and mail it to the shop — or, as Laich hoped many would do, drop it off in person. The drawing was held the day before Father's Day. Laich reports receiving an impressive number of entries — not to mention scoring impulse purchases of men's gifts and other items by contestants who hand-delivered the forms.

    Show and Sell

    How men's giftware is displayed is every bit as important as what is displayed. "If you can't display these items properly, they're not going to move," Duncan warns.

    Use vignettes. Florists, upon adding guy-type giftware to their existing product mix, often discover that the sudden infusion of merchandise for the Y-chromosome crowd makes some women uncomfortable, in the same way that some men are ill at ease in a flower shop devoid of any men's items. This problem is addressed, say experts, by vignetting. "By isolating the men's items into their own vignettes, I can display those products while still retaining the shop's overall appeal to women," Polychrones indicates.

    Push the right buttons. Women respond best to men's giftware displays that evoke a mood or feeling, while men respond best to those that are pure eye-candy, says Simmons. Recognize, too, that certain color schemes are more effective than others in attracting men's attention: generally, bold and bright colors stimulate maximum interest, some experts say, rating red as most effective, followed in no particular order by orange, gold, bronze, yellow and white. Colors that work well for both sexes in a male giftware display include khaki and other earth tones.

    Place it up front. Display your most unique men's gift item in your front window where passersby can see it. "Unless you have something masculine in that window, something really special, a man who doesn't need to buy flowers or an arrangement won't come into your shop," says Duncan.

    And that would be a shame. It may take a little extra effort to reach the other 50 percent of customers, but it's effort well spent.

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