Whether you call them vintage, retro, reproductions or any other tag that may apply, pieces of the past continue to do well in shops around the nation. These products’ popularity can be attributed to many factors, from innate sentiment attached to past experiences to a longing for a simpler time. BellAir Motorsports sells retro motorsports and hot rod collectibles. Co-owner Mickey Ogle notes that since times have changed, more people are reminiscing about the old days. “I think it makes them happy because it was a happier time with less stress,” he says.
Businesses who deal in vintage items benefit from this merchandise’s evergreen appeal—in other words, retro pieces aren’t by definition trendy or flash-in-the-pan. “Nostalgia is one of those things that won’t go out of style because it already went out of style a long time ago. It’s not like we are affected by trends in that way,” points out Julianna Castro, marketing manager for B. Shackman Company, Inc. “Occasionally, you’ll see a nostalgic revival for something, and that also benefits us.”
A built-in fan base of vintage lovers comes in handy in marketing and promoting such products. As one might expect, nostalgic pieces often spur spontaneous sales. Castro cites the reaction from retailers who browse trade shows and come upon Shackman’s reproductions. “They’ll stop and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I had this when I was a kid!’” Those merchants, in turn, hope to get that reaction from their consumers.
Todd Sheets, owner of Beeker’s General Store in Pemberville, Ohio, says such gleeful reactions make marketing vintage and retro pieces rewarding. “That is the fun part—when you hear the stories and families sharing their tales,” he notes.
In order to tap into a broader sentiment, Sheets offers various nostalgic pieces from different points in time. After all, what is retro to one group of shoppers may not be retro to another. “We have a lot of different time periods represented. Everyone seems to relate to a certain era,” he remarks.
Likewise, vendor MaryJean Mollard, president of The MaryJean Collection By Artifacts, Inc., says that many vintage items that have been perennial best-sellers, such as textile spools, bobbins and milk crates, remain so, along with a number of newer entries. “Things from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s have become the antiques of today’s world,” she reports.
Diversity in price as well as product is another marketing tool. Castro notes that retailers have done well with Shackman’s paper products because they fit into a balanced range of offerings. “People bring in our products to supplement higher-end products they have. A lot of our products are used in stores that also have furniture, for example, to offer a lower price point item,” she observes.
Across the spectrum, merchandisers often emphasize a nostalgic piece’s functionality. A reproduction or retro sign evokes emotion and attachment, but also makes a nice wall decor piece. A mug with a certain image or design harkens to an earlier time, yet it ultimately is perfectly functional for drinking coffee in the morning.
That is especially true for higher priced merchandise. “There may be a special desire to go back in time with something, but customers may not know what to do with it, so it needs a use,” explains Mollard. An antique desk may be merchandised as a charming but useful computer stand, she notes.
To that end, giving shoppers ideas on how to use or enjoy nostalgic products is an effective selling tactic. A milk crate can be used as a display for other home decor piece, for instance, while Colonial-style candles can be incorporated into a tablescape vignette.
Adding information on a product’s history can also garner shopper interest. Jan Austin, marketing director for Vintage Editions says that sharing the story about the company’s distinctive wood accessories, such as old beverage cases and antique ammunition boxes, has worked well at the point of sale. “I will often write up a history for a storeowner, and some of them choose to do it for themselves,” she relates.
Other tried-and-true marketing tactics support sales of vintage and reproduction products, from seasonal open houses to special sales and coupons. One key to marketing nostalgic items is sticking to the theme. Sheets, for example, cites “A Christmas Homecoming” promotion that his store did last year, which tugged customers’ all-important heartstrings.
Vendors carry through their respective themes in their marketing materials as well. Take one look at the website for Retro-A-Go-Go, for instance, and you’ll note that the company specializes in a definite era, evident in everything from the graphics to the font type to the large and colorful product images. The same can be said for manufacturers that offer Victorian pieces or focus on early Americana.
Meanwhile, vendors and merchants alike have generated shopper interest by touting not only the fact that nostalgic or reproduction merchandise is authentically re-created (or is indeed authentic), but that it was crafted in the United States. “Authentic American is becoming more important to people and they don’t seem to mind the pricing. You have to have something the chain stores don’t have and this fits that,” says Mollard.
Finally, vintage items might celebrate the 19th or early 20th century, but that doesn’t mean that vendors and storeowners don’t embrace technology in marketing them. A retailer’s Facebook page can include postings on a vintage item’s special attributes or even incorporate pithy “Did you know?” details on its history.
Ogle says that online connections can be potent. “We do a lot of social media, and it is doing really well. It’s a great way to post anything new,” she says. She believes sites such as Facebook and Twitter likely will continue to grow as shoppers seek out information on local stores and as manufacturers and retailers communicate with one another.
For now, at least, using various marketing strategies helps ensure the continued clamor for vintage-style merchandise.”We are with our feet in both canoes,” says Mollard of her use of traditional and emerging marketing channels. “It is still a mixed bag of marketing, and I think it will be for another 20 years.”
Lynn Petrak is a freelance writer based in La Grange, Illinois.
B. Shackman Company, Inc.
The MaryJean Collection By Artifacts, Inc.