Valentine’s Day in New Orleans competes with Saintsmania, Mardi Gras
By R. Stephanie Bruno
February 14, 2010, 6:20AM Valentine's Day usually ushers in a flurry of chocolate, flower and jewelry sales. But this year the holiday comes in the midst of a citywide love affair with the New Orleans Saints and at the height of the Mardi Gras season, forcing local retailers to resort to creative tactices to keep consumers interested. harkins.jpgJohn McCusker/The Times-PicayuneSabrina Burns assembles a floral arrangement at Harkins the Florist in New Orleans."It's the most challenging Valentine's Day in 30 years," said John Harkins of Harkins the Florist on Magazine Street. "But once the Super Bowl game was over, it seems like our newsletter started working and sales began to pick up."
Recognizing long ago that Valentine's Day sales would be affected by a double whammy of Saints fever and Carnival merrymaking, Harkins says he tackled the issue head-on in his newsletter by urging his customers to order early. "The idea is that the later in the week it gets, the harder and harder it's going to be to deliver orders because of the traffic and parades," Harkins said. "So the point was to get our customers to order early. And with all the distraction, we're making courtesy calls to customers who placed Valentine's Day orders last year, reminding them of the date. Most of them are so appreciative and say they hadn't even thought of it yet. We probably saved a few marriages that way." Ann Streiffer of Blue Frog Chocolates, also on Magazine Street, agrees that male customers tend to wait until the last minute to make Valentine's Day purchases and then visit the store in desperation. "They come in without a clue of what to buy, so they buy whatever we tell them to," she said. "But mommies come in earlier and buy gifts for their husbands and children and their children's teachers, or something to mail to their college kids." Today, the Thoth parade will pass outside the front door of Blue Frog Chocolates, and Streiffer plans to capitalize on that. "We'll be open before, during and after the parade," she said. "Last year we just sold some things outside, so it's an experiment to see how it works having the store open." To combat the distraction of the Saints and Mardi Gras, Streiffer put out a chalk board on the sidewalk this week touting Saints black-and-gold candy, chocolate-dipped strawberries for Valentine's Day and special treats for Mardi Gras. She also made sure she had molded chocolates in three themes: hearts for Valentine's Day, crowns for Carnival and fleurs-de-lis for the Saints. "Our business is very thematic," she acknowledged. "People come in to the store and want to feel the essence of New Orleans." As for how her product positioning and marketing efforts are faring and whether the surge in Saints and Carnival sales will balance out a possibly lackluster Valentine's Day, Streiffer says the jury is out. "It's too early to tell," Streiffer said. "I'll know next week." And though flowers and chocolate are two traditional sentiments on Valentine's Day, Joan Biderman of Hiller Jewelry on Metairie Road says that the holiday is also good for jewelry sales. "Valentine's Day doesn't come close to Christmas as far as sales of fine jewelry go," she said. "But there is usually an upturn even if it is modest. This year the city's only love affair is with the Saints, so that has taken up a lot of attention that customers might be paying to the Valentine's Day." Like Blue Frog Chocolates, Biderman says she has all three bases covered as far as store dÃƒÂ©cor goes. "I have a sandwich board outside cheering on the Saints. I have Mardi Gras tinsel rimming the window and I have a big red heart hanging in the door. We figure that at least one of those symbols might spark someone's interest and lead to a purchase," Biderman said. "We have a lot of items like diamond fleur-de-lis pendants that can appeal to Saints fans and Valentine's Day shoppers." Biderman reports that at least one customer, recognizing that her husband was simply too distracted by the football hoopla to remember Valentine's Day, decided to take matters into her own hands. "She picked something out and then she called him from the store and told him that he had just bought her a Valentine's present," Biderman said. Ben Lazich of the Wine Seller on Prytania Street says that Saints games and Carnival parties have resulted in a slew of orders over the past week or two. But he doesn't really expect Valentine's Day sales to make much of a difference. "Usually some of our regular customers come in and buy a special wine or champagne," he said. "The rosÃƒÂ© champagnes are traditionally especially popular for Valentine's Day. But this year, to be honest, I don't think there will be a lot of romantic dinners taking place on Sunday night while Bacchus is rolling and Drew Brees is king." Still, Lazich says that there is a possibility that robust sales related to the Saints' triumph and Carnival season could at least partially make up for what may be a Valentine's Day deficiency. His store assistant, Laura Eyman, agreed. "So far this week, I haven't sold a lot more champagne than usual, but I did last Sunday before the Super Bowl," Eyman said. "I think a lot of people wanted to have a cork to pop in case they had a reason to celebrate, and they did."