Who picks the wrapping paper, the music and the decorations in our top stores? Vicki Notaro meets the people who make your festive shopping special – including the woman at Boots who works on Christmas all year round
Boots - Lou Petersen
Lou Petersen is the Global Brand Director for Gifts, and has worked for Walgreens Boots Alliance – aka Boots – for 11 years. She’s been in charge of Christmas for nearly a decade – and works on it all year around.
“Being in charge of Christmas is a responsibility. Gifts speak to the strength of a relationship and allow people to create small moments of connection, so I’m proud of the role we play in being a part of so many of these bonding moments. Our mission is to make these moments special, and to do this, the role entails a lot of travel to understand gifting cultures across the world, to identify trends and to seek out new sources of inspiration. My role is to translate this insight into compelling gift design which our consumers will love.
“Gift buying all starts some 20 months before the season kicks off. We have a huge programme of gifts in Boots and we design everything from scratch.
“To ensure our offer is exclusive, differentiated and exceptional value, we have to start early. We’ll be trading one Christmas while signing off on the next.
“At Christmas our brands put on their party dresses. Expectations are high and when a person gives a gift it says as much about them as it does the recipient. We have grown to be real experts in understanding this dynamic, so we create gifts which make you smile. My favourite part of the whole season is on Christmas day when I contemplate how many of our gifts are being exchanged and how much joy all our hard work creates. I also love the press show where we show our wares to journalists. It’s the first time we see of our gifts together showcased in all its glory.”
M&S - Ciara O’Kelly
Ciara O’Kelly, regional visual manager, Ireland, at Marks & Spencers in the store in Henry Street, Dublin. Picture: Moya Nolan
Ciara O’Kelly is the regional visual manager at Marks and Spencer, and has been with the company for seven years.
“For us, Christmas kicks off in July or August in terms of planning store layouts, but the UK marketing team would have been talking about next Christmas since last month!
“This is my first year in the regional role, which involves working with the teams in the UK and the stores here to ensure they locate and launch their gift shops correctly. I’m also in charge of in-store Christmas decoration schemes. They’re normally all tied into the Christmas advert, which is top secret until the last minute.
“Christmas windows are another huge element; they’re so intricate that they take lots of planning and implementation but it’s such an exciting time. Tradition always seems important to our customers, and they prefer when schemes are set around this.
“Of course, it is hard to get motivated about Christmas so early and it does become a paper exercise until we launch our gift shop in October. But once Halloween is over and the decorations go up, you can’t but get into mood. All of the amazing food is hard to resist — it’s hard to pass displays every day without buying some mice pies!
“I spend Christmas with my family in Cork, I normally go home on Christmas Eve after work. I’m always thankful that everyone is there to celebrate and we are all healthy and wish the same for the next year. I love the food and drink element and our Christmas dinner is very much an M&S dinner.
“I love when it’s all over and we start looking forward to launching spring. It’s full cycle in retail, so you look forward to next season every year. But autumn and winter are definitely my favourite.
“My favourite part of work is interaction with the customers. The festive buzz on the last few days before Christmas is fabulous. People are in such good form and it is lovely to see family enjoying themselves.”
Tesco - Suzanne Quinn
Suzanne Quinn, head of customer marketing, Tesco Ireland. Picture: Nick Bradshaw
Suzanne Quinn is the head of customer marketing at Tesco Ireland. She’s worked on several multiple retail Christmas campaigns over the past decade.
“All of the festive decorations in store are designed and produced in Ireland, and this year we’re also hosting 45 customer evenings to give a flavour of our festive range.
“Our whole Christmas campaign is specific to Ireland and we’re really proud of our range of Irish products, from our 100% Irish turkeys to our finest Safari chocolates and our innovative chocolate truffle Brussel sprouts that are produced by Lir Chocolates in Navan.
Suzanne Quinn: hosting 45 customer evenings to give a flavour of the festive range. Picture: Nick Bradshaw
“One of my favourite new products this year is our finest sloe gin which is delicious served with prosecco and a fresh strawberry.
“The response to our ad campaign has been phenomenal so far. We’re releasing three new videos every week featuring people from all over the country. My current favourite is the Carlow Men’s Sheds. They’re such a genuine group of men thanking their Shed Host Tommy.”
Brown Thomas - John Redmond
John Redmond, Creative Director, Brown Thomas Group. Picture: Nick Bradshaw
Having worked with Brown Thomas for over 30 years, creative director John Redmond is the leading authority on the store’s year-long commitment to Christmas. He’s been in charge of the festive season for 21 years.
“Here at Brown Thomas, the creative team start planning and brainstorming for Christmas the previous December. We’re responsible for all store windows, exterior and interior displays, merchandising product, styling mannequins, festive packaging, and bespoke hampers designs and wrapping and much, much more.
“First comes the sketching, researching, and sourcing phase. Then once summer arrives, the team works full-time to ensure the displays will be built and handcrafted decorations will be finished in time for the festive season.
“In October we go into complete lock down for two weeks, which is when the magic truly begins. The actual Christmas window installation takes two weeks to complete and the team works right through the day and night and this is when we truly bring Christmas to life.
“Christmas is the one time of the year, when Brown Thomas dedicates all of the stores windows to pageantry. The windows are not focused around product; instead it’s all about fantasy and the magic of Christmas. The worlds of fantasy, fashion, art, and make-believe are encapsulated across each of our stores’ dazzling window displays. The windows contain more than 10,000 decorations, 7,000 baubles, and over a mile of green foliage throughout. Furthermore, accentuating the height and impact windows, the store exterior is also beautifully illuminated by more than 1m pin lights.
“As a child I always remember my family’s annual visit to Dublin to see the Christmas windows at Brown Thomas. At home in Carlow, there’s a picture my Dad took of the family looking into the window and perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m the most interested of all! Now when I’m planning, I think of that magic of being a child looking in. My favourite part is when the windows have opened and I can quietly observe the smiling faces of customers, families and passers-by as they visit. Thankfully, I love Christmas and it’s truly my favourite time of the year. Once it’s been launched in store, it’s almost time to start decorating my own home! I spend Christmas Day with my wife and our nearest and dearest, and as soon as it’s passed, the team at Brown Thomas is busy preparing and opening our stores for the annual St Stephen’s Day sale — a very important day for our business.”
Avoca - Ros Walshe
Ros Walshe, creative director, at the launch of Christmas at Avoca in their Suffolk Street shop. Picture: Kieran Harnett
Creative director of Avoca, Ros Walshe, has been with the company for over eight years. Her team make Christmas special across the Irish brand.
“At Avoca, there isn’t one person solely responsible for Christmas. Its genuinely a team effort. Christmas is so important to us that everyone really gets involved in making it special.
“As an Irish brand, our food offering is totally Irish with local and seasonal produce used as much as possible, and it’s quite a treat at Christmas. All our woven goods are 100% Irish and come from the mill in Avoca village. We don’t bring out festive lines in blankets, we stick to our tried and tested but we do have new scarf lines at Christmas.
“This year we’ve gone in to a partnership with the Irish jeweller Chupi. She will be in three of our stores, making alphabet necklaces and products for people to order. She’s Irish and she’s fantastic.
“We’re also working with a really nice Irish chocolatier, Sheena Ryan, who will be in the Kilmacanogue branch decorating chocolate baubles and personalising, which is a huge trend this year. I pick the wrapping paper and this year we have new launch of gift wrap, designed by the Avoca team. The essence of that is “in pursuit of magic” with gorgeous 3D glitter.
“As far as the Christmas music goes, there’s no one brand spec as to what plays in store at a certain time. All our shops are a bit different which we encourage and enjoy. We have different visual merchandisers who interpret our Christmas theme and message in different ways, expressing themselves and their customer base.
“It’s important to always keep Christmas in mind as it is the busiest period in retail, we’re constantly looking for new ideas to make each year better than the last. From January we plan our stock, work on new product lines and plan new food innovations.
“For us, it is important to not roll out Christmas too early, otherwise our customers have a tendency to get turned off. I think naturally people want to spend at Christmas, and we have a great offering which is unique and can’t be found at other stores.
“When the mince pies hit the stores then I know it’s Christmas. I work through the year to get that point. We tend to wait until Halloween has passed to roll out Christmas stock in store and our decorations usually go up the following week.
“Afterwards, I’m usually happy to get back to normality. We usually got to the west for New Year’s, which is a great way to relax after the festive period but this year we will go to Cork on a new adventure! I still do stockings for our two boys, the same as when they were little. The four of us at home in front of the fire is a great part of Christmas.”
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