Overlooked, tie-obsessed and severely challenged in the respect category, Father’s Day is the Rodney Dangerfield of gift-giving holidays. Compared to the year-end extravaganzas, or even the double whammy of Valentine's Day and Mother’s Day, for most business owners, the third Sunday in June appears to be little more an after-thought, worthy of perhaps a two-day sale and a one-page advertising flyer.
And that’s somewhat understandable, given that this year, Americans are expected to drop just $12.5 billion on gifts for Dad, down from $13.3 billion last year and barely a rounding error compared to the $602.1 billion spent during the 2013 year-end holiday season.
On the other hand, $12.5 billion is a pretty respectable sales figure. And there are, according to the Census Bureau, 70.1 million fathers who are all potential gift recipients.
How the Gift-Giving Pie Is Sliced
When it comes to sales and marketing, Father’s Day deserves at least a little respect, suggests Kathy Grannis, spokesperson for the National Retail Federation (NRF), which reports sales figures for Father’s Day and other holidays. “Father’s Day is one of the smallest gift-giving holidays of the year,” Grannis says, “but it's still very important for consumers and retailers.”
One business owner who gives Father’s Day its due is Keith Brown, co-founder and president of State Traditions, a Birmingham, Alabama, wholesaler and e-commerce retailer of apparel and accessories. “Since we're predominantly a men's brand, Father’s Day is an important holiday for us,” Brown says. “It's tough to beat year-end holidays, but Father’s Day does give it a run for its money.”
Brown’s offerings—which consist of state-inspired items from Texas flag-themed phone cases to ties celebrating the annual Alabama-Auburn football matchup—sit squarely in the middle of the conventional vision of what dads want for their special day. However, the NRF says givers these days are trending toward gifting fathers with experiences, such as a day on the golf course or a special meal, rather than the traditional neckwear.
The retail group reports that 42.6 percent of celebrants will mark Father’s Day with outings, such as dinner or tickets to an event, spending a total of $2.5 billion. While that’s just slightly less than the apparel-giving percentage (41.5 percent), in dollar amounts, it's significantly less: The necktie-and-sweater crowd will spend just $1.8 billion to keep dad neatly attired.
The most popular gift choice of all is a greeting card, selected by 64.1 percent. Gift cards that allow dads to select their own specific gifts will pull in an additional $1.8 billion.
Father’s Day also accounts for $1.6 billion in sales of electronics, including smartphones and tablets, as well as $662 million on sporting goods and leisure items and $645 million on home improvement-related goods. Other categories include personal care items ($641 million), books or CDs ($555 million) and automotive accessories ($520 million).
The Retailer's Point of View
Timing is an important part of the appeal of Father’s Day to retailers who sold their last Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah gift six months earlier and still have nearly half a year to go before Black Friday rolls around again. In the intra-holiday doldrums, Father's Day gives them something to sell about. As Grannis notes, “Retailers will use the holiday traffic to roll out summer merchandise and offer promotions on patio sets, grills, gardening supplies and tools.”
While products and services appreciated by fathers sell year-round, during the middle of June, the average sales ticket tends to shift upward, perhaps as givers bestow on their dads luxuries the men won’t indulge in on their own. According to Brown, “Our orders during this time trend toward our higher-priced options, including woven shirts, ties and belts.”
In addition to emphasizing higher-priced items, Father’s Day retailers are wise to look at niches in the overall male parent market. For instance, according to the Census Bureau, while 24.7 million fathers are part of married-couple families, another 2 million are single dads. Marketing aimed at female spouses, who buy many Father’s Day gift items for their children, is unlikely to reach this demographic.
Technology is a meaningful presence. According to the NRF, nearly a quarter of all Father’s Day shoppers will research purchases using a smartphone, and almost one-fifth will make the actual purchase with a tablet. To better address this digital dimension to Father’s Day, Brown says his company markets through all social platforms. And while State Traditions does offer promotions on select items, he says its online marketing primarily aims to stress fresh product availability rather than discounts.
Although sales for Father’s Day 2014 are expected to be somewhat lower than 2013, when retailers rang up $13.3 billion in gifts for dad, that likely reflects a temporary reaction to family budget pressures rather than a diminishing appreciation for father figures, according to the NRF analysis. Meanwhile, Father’s Day remains firmly in sixth place among the nine holidays the retail group ranks by sales—between Easter at $15.9 billion and the Super Bowl at $8.7 billion.
And as for Rodney Dangerfield, the late comedian’s recollections of what his father wished for remain as pungently hilarious as ever. “I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent a piece of my finger to my father,” Dangerfield quipped. “He said he wanted more proof.”
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