The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was written exclusively for Montgomery Ward.

Lessons in retail from the Christmas classics

By Gordon Hecht, YSN Contributor

Sometimes it seems like the longest elevator ride.

Starting around the day after Halloween and lasting until after the Rose Bowl, you can hear the seemingly endless droning of holiday music. The performers range from The Ray Conniff Singers to 50 Cent, all sharing their seasonal sentiments on radio stations, retail store PA systems, and of course, elevators.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy hearing Christmas music.  I also enjoy ice cream. I just don’t want a steady diet of it 24/7 for three months (unless it’s Butter Brickle).

The right holiday music can get you in the right holiday spirit. Certain songs have rhythm or lyrics that bring back memories of special days in the past.  Other tunes just set the mood for retrospection about the really important things. Here are a few songs from my own Holiday Hit List, which can do double duty as yuletide mood music and reflections on retail:

The Christmas Song was written and recorded by Mel Torme in 1945. My favorite version is the Nat King Cole recording.  The imagery of the lyrics evokes all five senses. Chestnuts roasting, Jack Frost nipping, folks dressed up like Eskimos … you get the idea. 

In the battle to win at retail we must also evoke multiple senses.  Sure, your store has sight and sound with displays and retail sales associates. But are your shoppers invited to “Please Touch”?  Satisfy their olfactory nerves (the nose, you know) with a soothing scent and add in some snacks like soft mints or gingerbread cookies, and your shoppers will smile like tiny little tots with their eyes all aglow.

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer first appeared in a 1939 booklet written by Robert L. May and published by Montgomery Ward. That year Ward’s gave away 2.4 million books featuring Rudolf to children who brought their parents into the store.

The song was written in 1949 by Johnny Marks (May’s brother-in-law). Although hundreds of artists have recorded Rudolf, the original was by cowboy singer Gene Autry, and it remains my favorite.

The song tells the story of a misfit reindeer with a physical abnormality. Rudolf’s nose turns bright red, and that’s not because of too many shots of Jägermeister. All of the other reindeer make fun of him until his bright shiny nose allows Santa to complete his annual delivery route despite a particularly bad winter storm.

You probably have a Rudolf on your team. It’s that guy or gal who doesn’t always conform to the rest of the team’s social norms. It could be the way they dress, a strong accent, or even the food they eat. So their opinions, talents, or potential are often diminished, just because they are different.

Being different has a value.  When you only listen to “yes people” who agree with you, you’re missing out on the total picture. Make it a practice to give everyone on your team a voice and let them play in the reindeer games. If you do, you’ll go down in history.

Here Comes Santa Claus was originally written and performed by Gene Autry, with music composed by Oakley Haldeman in 1947 following Autry’s appearance in the 1946 Santa Claus Lane Parade in Los Angeles. While this tune has been covered by such superstars as RuPaul, Pentatonix, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, I favor the boogie-woogie version delivered by the King, Elvis Presley.

Christmas is a time for giving. Back in the day, Montgomery Ward went viral without knowing what it meant with a nickel comic book featuring that aforementioned misfit caribou with a lit-up schnozz. They drew millions of shoppers to their stores; some people bought, and some people didn’t, but Ward’s made a lot of kids (i.e., future shoppers) happy.

It’s not too late to give a little something back to your shoppers and customers.  Why not check the records and find out who your 10 (or 50) top shoppers were in 2021? Give them a call and let them know you’re sending a special gift their way. Maybe it’s a gift card for a free turkey, a box of cookies, or a couple of accessory items.

You can still offer a gift to everyone who walks in, like a roll of wrapping paper, some bows, or a small stuffed toy. Some people will only come in for the free gift, then turn around and walk out. And that’s OK. It’s time to be like Santa Claus — he doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, he loves you just the same.

Blue Christmas was written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson and first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948. Later recorded separately by Ernest Tubb and Billy Eckstine, you’re probably more familiar with Elvis Presley’s 1957 version.

Many retailers fold their tents in the week following Black Friday. They just reckon that December is a lost month in the world of big-ticket home furnishings. They cut back on advertising, staff, and high-impact events. They forgo their own shoppers and say, “I’ll have a Blue Christmas without you.”

You don’t have to believe in Santa Claus, but you better believe that this month people are still buying the things you sell, and they are buying more in retail stores than last year or in 2019.

Never give up! I’m not suggesting you advertise like it’s President’s Day, but don’t go dark either. Be the store in your town that invites shoppers to become customers and “You’ll be doin’ all right with your Christmas of white and not have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas.”

My Favorite Things is a show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music, originally performed by Mary Martin in the role of Maria. Julie Andrews garnered the big-screen movie version of the show and it was released for Christmas 1965. And, yes, I saw it in the theater during the opening month.

Not originally written as a Christmas song, it’s now on the holiday playlist along with images of brown paper packages tied up with strings and snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes (what else rhymes with “sashes”?).

Maria sings about remembering happy things when she becomes injured or sad.  Most people have a mental list of their favorite things.

In my own retail world, my favorite things include sales associates that start a presentation with a happy greeting and end with a closing question. I enjoy seeing retail leaders who measure the few important metrics but don’t suffer paralysis by analysis. I celebrate the risk-taking of independent store owners and wish them abundant financial success. And I still smile when I think of the transformation from shopper to buyer to raving fan.

It can’t be Christmas or Hanukkah every day. We all win and lose sometime. On the losing days I simply remember my favorite things. And then I don’t feel so bad.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at