We don’t procrastinate when it comes to holiday shopping. In fact, no sooner is one Christmas in the rearview mirror than we start planning for the next one.
It’s not that we’re eager for the passage of time. Rather, we’re beckoned by AmericasMart in Atlanta, which describes itself as the nation’s leading gift, home furnishings and area rug wholesale marketplace.
In Atlanta, we might purchase containers bearing a Christmas decoration, or snowflake or snowman stick-ins to complement an arrangement. We source Christmas décor at AmericasMart but also gifts that customers will give at the holidays, such as a picture frame.
A half-dozen Connells Maple Lee representatives visit AmericasMart’s three-building, 7 million-square-foot complex every January, buying gifts and arrangement accents for the next Christmas season, and again in July, when the focus will be on the next spring.
Focus on larger gifts
Jenni Eberly has made six trips to Atlanta, so she’s a veteran now. But as a first-time visitor, she found the experience daunting.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said, “looking at all that merchandise set out in the displays. Because then you have to take these huge displays and then pick out what you’re going to buy.”
As vast as AmericasMart is, Connells Maple Lee spends most of its time on five floral and holiday floors. In July, the group arrived in Atlanta on a Wednesday and worked through Friday. The pace is constant, and even lunch and dinner conversation turns to what each of them has seen from vendors.
Geoff Royer coordinates the Atlanta trips. He sets up meetings with specific vendors. He also arms each member of the Connells Maple Lee delegation with a folder that identifies, by holiday, items on their shopping list.
The needs range from broad to specific. In January, some of the focus was on larger gifts, such as clocks, afghans and pillows that are relatively new for Connells Maple Lee. In July, one of the goals was to find new versions of a heart stick-in and accent ribbon to give a new look to an existing arrangement.
Erica Bixby has been to Atlanta three times. With experience, she has learned to think beyond the initial appeal of new products to identify how they will work in Connells Maple Lee’s stores.
How will they complement other items, and will they work given the price at which they will have to sell, including once freight costs are factored in?
Something might look nice, Erica suggested, “but you can’t really sell it for $50.”
Moments of inspiration
Technology has made it easier to document the trips. Photos taken with a tablet or smart phone are invaluable for jogging memories. After all, Christmas giftware purchased in January won’t arrive until summer or fall.
Photos also capture moments of inspiration.
“I have a bunch of things that I liked for silks,” Erica said, with an eye toward Connells Maple Lee crafting similar arrangements in-house rather than buying them already made.
“Or I take pictures of displays that I’d like to duplicate in the stores,” Jenni added.
On her phone, Jenni pulled up a photo showing how one vendor used eye hooks and ropes to display pillows.
“It’s up, it’s still in the display, but it’s out of the way,” Jenni said, noting that pillows are vulnerable in a flower shop, where the need to water plants is constant.
One week after returning from the July trip, Erica and Jenni were looking at tables filled with arrangements being created or revamped for fall debuts. They estimated that 30 percent of the items were from Atlanta.
“That container, that container, that container,” Jenni said, pointing at specific arrangements. “That vase. Those deer [figures]. Those are all things that we picked up in January.”