From CEO Bill Hallan: Find ways to keep Christmas magical

By WILLIAM J. HALLAN, MRA President and CEO

A few days ago my nine-year-old daughter, Olivia, came home from school with a tooth in her hand. While it wasn’t the first one she’s lost, it was unlike the others because this tooth came with a bunch of questions. Who was this tooth fairy and was she real? And while we’re on the topic of the tooth fairy, let’s talk about the Easter Bunny and Santa. A friend from school had already tried to spoil the magic, and so far, we’d been successful delaying the conversation, but this time it was too much.

We sat her down and had two main objectives: soften the blow to Olivia and make sure she didn’t tell her brothers Zachary (6) and Theodore (3).

In the moment, I had an idea. I pulled out my phone and cued up a video from Christmas morning in 2015. The video captured the most impactful gift we’d ever given. That year, Olivia had watched The Polar Express, and like the boy in the movie, she wanted nothing more than a bell from Santa’s sleigh. With all the toys and games our kids have opened over the years, we’ve never had a reaction quite like when Olivia opened that bell. With tears streaming down her face, that moment captured the magic of Christmas.

Tooth in hand, as she watched the video, I asked her to remember how she felt in that moment. That is how your brothers still feel we told her; let’s preserve that magic for them. My wife Michelle and I asked her to be our helper and now she’s in on the secret.

It occurred to me that this evolution of our tradition parallels what retailers experience every year. Retailers seek to maintain that emotional shopping experience for their customers, yet trends evolve and fads come and go. A once popular item bringing throngs of shoppers has now become a distant memory. Case in point: At one time my sister had about 300 beanie babies. How can a retailer recreate the frenzy?

Usually, there is no silver bullet, but retailers are resilient. And while change is not easy, we applaud those that have embraced it by unveiling a new product line, creating a new store layout, or developing new branding. Business models, like traditions, evolve over time. While it might not always be feasible to pinpoint the next trend, retailers can reference the past with an eye towards to the future.

I saw an interesting study the other day by the Journal of Consumer Research, which found that consumers spend more when they feel nostalgic. That’s particularly appropriate during the holiday season when we gravitate to our traditions that keep us connected to the magic of our youth.

So the next time you’re presented with your own sort of “tooth-in-hand,” look at that challenge as an opportunity to evolve. It certainly wasn’t easy breaking the news to Olivia, but our traditions (though slightly different now) are alive and well. I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous holiday season.