In a week that saw a giant balloon in the form of a baby President Donald Trump fly over London, there was another unusual sight to be seen in the U.K. capital: Christmas trees.
In a turbulent few days for the U.K., with Trump blasting Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for Brexit and the English soccer team crashing out of the World Cup, British retailers were quietly planning for the holiday season this week, in a basement showroom on an ordinary London street.
Sparkling silver trees marked the entrance to the two-day Christmas in July Festival, where 70 retailers and brands each paid between £2,500 ($3,280) and £10,000 for an exhibition stand to show off the products that they hope will fly off the shelves this holiday season. In 2017, Brits spent an average of £475.21 per household on Christmas gifts.
For British pottery company Emma Bridgewater, personalization will be hugely popular, but not just for holiday gifts. The company now offers mini mugs with people’s names on them that can be used as place settings for the Christmas table. “We designed them as a decoration and in the second year we saw (via social media) people were using them as place names so we expanded our photo shoots, (to reflect that),” PR manager Sarah Davis told CNBC.
The countryside is the inspiration for the range of plates, bowls and mugs that are designed by Emma and husband Matthew Rice at their Oxfordshire home, and the company had revenues of £17.5 million in 2017, up 14 percent on the previous year. For Christmas, a poppy-printed mug designed in collaboration with charity the Royal British Legion to mark 100 years since the end of World War I is set to be popular, as is a “black toast” design, ceramic bowls with black lettering that will be available in Christmas colors.
British favorite “The Snowman” was also represented at the festival, where visitors could have their picture taken with the famous character, complete with snowy background. Author Raymond Briggs created and illustrated the story of a little boy whose snowman came to life in a 1978 book, which has since sold 5.5 million copies and been translated into 21 languages.
A TV adaptation made for Channel 4 in 1982 is shown on Christmas Eve every year in the U.K. and in 2018 the franchise will run an art exhibition, concerts and immersive cinema experience for the season to celebrate The Snowman’s 40th anniversary. Gifts will include Snowman-themed baking and craft sets. “The idea really for us is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to come together as a family and do something that is perhaps away from the iPads, away from technology,” Brand PR Manager Jen Cooper told CNBC.
Another company that favors “real-life” experiences is Flying Tiger, a Danish homewares and gift company that exhibited sequined eye masks, illuminated unicorns and pineapple-shaped baubles on a large stand at the Christmas show. It only sells via brick-and-mortar stores, laid out in a maze to tempt shoppers, and turned over 5.03 billion Danish krone ($785.2 million) in 2017.
Newcomers also hoped to get shoppers’ interest. Fifteen Fifteen, a cushion and interior design company that focuses on British-made products in velvet and silk, launched at the show. Former Morgan Stanley executive Natalia Petrov quit her job as a wealth manager to train as an interior designer before setting up her business. Saving as much as she could as a freelance designer, she bootstrapped the company herself and spent £3,000 on a stand at the festival.
Her aim is to get press coverage that will pique the interest of wholesalers. “If you are a small person with a website with no media coverage, it’s really hard to stand your ground to say ‘can I at least have an appointment?’” she told CNBC. Products are made at New Planet Fashions, an east London-based manufacturer that has worked for the likes of top designers Roland Mouret and Victoria Beckham.
Larger British businesses also held their own holiday events this week, with retailer John Lewis previewing its Christmas decorations to the press on Thursday. It will be hoping for a boost over the festive season after announcing a 77 percent fall in group pre-tax profits in the year to January 27, after taking staff bonuses into account.
Supermarkets Iceland and Waitrose also launched festive food ranges in July, as did Lidl, the German grocer that opened 48 stores in the U.S. in 2017 but has since slowed its construction program, according to property company JLL. British shoppers can expect to find Argentinian red prawns and beef and bone marrow pie in its stores for this year’s holiday season.
Christmas in July Festival co-founder Courtney Rogers told CNBC that retailers were feeling positive about the holiday season, in spite of economic turbulence. “Christmas is always going to be the time that people spend, it’s always going to be a time for retailers that is their absolute flagship time,” she said. Rogers and co-founder Rupa Ganatra ran their first event in 2017 and have seen a 60 percent increase in revenue year-over-year.