business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

A number of years ago, an executive from a candy manufacturer told me the simple secret for hiking supermarket sales of his category: more holidays.

If you think about it, it makes sense. Holidays mean something special whether it’s about family tradition, national pride, religion or history. Savvy marketers from candy bars to cars know they are also great times to sell. So the question is simple: why not get creative on holidays?

What got me thinking about this is I recently ran into two examples of very different companies playing up holidays in a way that on the surface make little sense - except that in both it created excitement, interest and, no doubt, sales.

The first happened in Wegmans about two weeks ago. While I don’t make Earth Day one of the biggest celebrations in my home, I have a general awareness that it takes place around April 22nd each year and usually comes with a raft of great ideas on how to be a little more environmental. It’s a nice holiday, but hardly a sales dynamo.

Now re-read the first part of that last paragraph. It was two weeks ago, well before April 22nd. Yet the Wegmans we visit in Northern Virginia didn’t seem to care. Throughout the store there were demonstrations of food and non-food products all geared for the environmentally sensitive. When I asked one very enthusiastic employee about the strange date of the celebration, she said Wegmans decided the event deserved extra attention.

And they were right. Not only did it get people thinking about the environment, but it probably also juiced up sales in a number of unusual places. At one display, a breathlessly excited employee demonstrated cookware that she said is much better for the planet. I almost got into the holiday spirit and bought some until my practical wife stepped in. Bah, humbug!

But the event got me thinking about other unusual ways to celebrate holidays, including some that draw in everyone but the very people actually celebrating the holiday.

Vince and Dominic Pizza shop in West Bethesda, MD, has almost nothing in common with Wegmans. It’s a basic pizza place and one I frequent only for convenience. (It’s not going to make our MNB list of best pizza joints in the US. Trust me.) But on a recent visit, a special sign caught my attention. The sign explained that during the Jewish holiday of Passover, the restaurant would not honor any coupons or discounts for its special “Passover Pizza.”

Now West Bethesda is an area with a large Jewish population, including a significant percentage that is highly religious. So it’s hardly surprising that Vince and Dominic’s offers this special. Except for this. The basic rule of Passover is that observant Jews can’t eat foods that rise when they cook (hence Matzo) so a pizza of any kind is completely unacceptable or (for the less religious) not anywhere near as tasty as usual.

No problems at the restaurant. The manager told me the reason no coupons or specials are accepted during Passover is because it’s traditionally the busiest week of the year, with the Passover Pizza selling like, crazy. Remember, it’s not as tasty and won’t be bought by the main audience. But it’s special and somehow, that makes it a smash.

And that takes us back to the candy executive and the need for more holidays, expanded holidays or just silly reasons to have fun. Just get thinking fast: the Royal Wedding is in only three days and there has to be something special you can do for that.

English muffins anyone?

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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