The poet Virgil said love conquers all things — but can it triumph over economic hardships and deliver healthy Valentine’s Day sales to recession-weary retailers?
It looks like Cupid has his work cut out for him. California’s unemployment rate is at 9.3 percent, and many more people are fearful of losing their jobs. Retailers contacted in the tri-county area who traditionally benefit from Valentine’s Day have a guarded outlook on sales and are looking for ways to make the holiday easier on their customers’ pocketbooks.
For Ziad Elkurjie, North American distributor of Patchi upscale chocolates from his center on State Street in Santa Barbara, this means offering candies ranging widely in price. Among the options on his Web site, www.patchi.us, are two pieces of high-quality chocolate in a decorated box for $3.50; a half pound of candy in a box topped with a handmade silk flower for $25 and chocolates on a heart-shaped porcelain plate adorned with a red rose design for $69.50.
Despite holding the line on prices even though production costs have risen, Elkurjie said he is “not forecasting very aggressive numbers” in sales.
Maya Schoop-Rutten, owner of Chocolate Maya on Gutierrez Street in Santa Barbara, said chocolate retailers do have a certain capacity to weather hard times. “I can tell you that when there is a big crisis — it can be a war or a problem with the economy – people can go to the movies and they can eat sweets,” she said.
Greeting card shops may fare well over Valentine’s Day because they offer selections that are easy on the pocketbook. Diane Leone, owner of Paper Star on State Street in Santa Barbara, said “Valentine’s Day tends to be for smaller gifts and thoughtful gifts.” She has been making displays of gift items in reds and pinks and has a good stock of fun Valentines — somewhat risqué cards that are always top sellers to male customers.
As for the Valentine’s sales, she said, “I think it’s a holiday where people don’t spend a lot of money, so I think they will be about the same as last year.”
Nancy Manzer, owner of Lautzenhiser’s Hallmark on Victoria Avenue in Ventura, said that in purchasing for her store, she is now looking for more items in the under-$30 range and fewer expensive items. She noted that she is already buying stock for next Christmas using the same strategy.
Some of the florists contacted said that the timing of Valentine’s Day, which falls on a Saturday this year, will hurt them. Dana Andrews, manager of Loma Vista Florist in Ventura, said sales are traditionally lower when the occasion falls on a weekend.
“Men like for their wives and girlfriends to get stuff at work and make a big to-do about it,” she said. Although she is getting some orders for deliveries on the 12th and 13th, she said many customers may choose to go out to dinner instead of buying flowers.
Loma Vista is one of many florists offering customers a chance to win a $60,000 ruby and diamond necklace and hundreds of other jewelry prizes in a sweepstakes run by Teleflora. Those who buy Teleflora’s Rubies & Roses Bouquet for $57.95 are automatically entered; the recipient of the arrangement, which comes in a clear glass vase etched with a “necklace” bearing a small red heart jewel, can also enter.
Andrews thinks the tough economic times could actually benefit her business this year. Even though the Monday after Valentine’s Day is a holiday, she said far fewer people may be able to afford a Valentine’s trip, and there may be much more giving of candy and flowers.
Richard Finn, owner of San Roque Florist in Santa Barbara, said that although he will be busy the week leading into Valentine’s Day, his sales could sink as much as 50 percent from last year. He said he has tried a variety of advertising and coupons with unsatisfying results and gets most of his business from wire services such as FTD and Internet searches.
Finn believes that with some schools closed on Friday, many potential customers will have a four-day weekend, and he thinks a good number will travel in spite of the troubled economy. “We are gearing down on how many vases and roses we order,” he said.
Jewelry business slows
Jewelry is one of the more romantic gifts for Valentine’s Day, but gem sellers will need more than Cupid to prod some cash out of lovers’ hands this year.
Tony Gomez, co-owner of B. Anthony and Co. Jewelers and Gold Concept in San Luis Obispo, said both stores are cutting prices. He and partner Brad Bilsten are offering 30 percent discounts on everything.
“You have to be proactive and make something happen to really generate sales,” Gomez said. He expects most of the Valentine’s sales to come at Gold Concept, which features lower-priced items that generally sell well for the occasion.
Shannon Loar-Coté manages Fibula Jewelry, a Santa Barbara store that sells custom designed jewelry and does not carry Valentine’s Day necklaces or bracelets. Although she expects business to be down, she knows there is one thing that can be counted on.
“People are still getting married and they need wedding rings,” she said. “A lot of people like to propose on Valentine’s Day. It is one of our busier times.”
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