This is an enjoyable time of year to be a business writer, with the all-important fourth quarter of the fiscal year accentuated by the sometimes surreal mania surrounding consumer spending.
Yes, some of the perennial stories may grate, but I think part of the fun is in finding a new twist on old favorites, or writing from a slightly different point of view than your reader may expect. And like the fruitcake or green bean casserole that bear the brunt of holiday scorn, there’d be something missing about November and December without the latest take on old favorites. So here’s a shopping basket of old and not-so-old Festive Friday ideas to take you into November:
Corn mazes. It’s hard to imagine what more one could ask from a business feature when reading this week’s New York Times piece “Corn mazes help farmers make ends meet.” I think I literally licked my chops when I spotted the headline — and simultaneously kicked myself for not thinking of the same idea. The story takes a season occurrence — growers carving their fields into destination amusement venues — and manages to be both an entertaining, accessible feature as well as a substantive glance at farming economics, with a little anthropological analysis of pop culture thrown in for good measure. With corn mazes outlasting Halloween these days and in many locales running into Thanksgiving, you still have time to do a local take on this interesting phenomenon.
Holiday kiosks and temporary stores. Pop-up stores and holiday kiosks are getting under way now, as Halloween-only stores close up shop for another 10 months. Here’s a good take on this line of business from VegasInc.com; note the nice mix of business-model narrative and national overview; especially interesting is the notion that year-round party supply stores are losing their appeal as consumers perceive pop-ups a better bargain.
Santa concessions. Saint Nick and his elves should be settling in at malls near you. A look at the business model for mall Santas, photography concessions (now that everyone has a phone camera) and whether the tradition is less lucrative or even falling out of favor would be an interesting nostalgic business piece. Check out this Nov. 1 BusinessWeek piece about “Making of Santa is big business as schools teach reindeer skills.” And here’s a CNN story from last year in which “Seven men share tales from the red suit,” which also ought to help with ideas. Talk with managers at malls, department stores, pet shops, even swap meets and flea markets that offer Santa visits about how the jolly elf adds value from a financial perspective.
Mall decor. Despite this recent survey which finds that nearly 80 percent of Americans resent pre-Thanksgiving holiday decor and music, you know the glistening bulbs, fake snow, lush ribbons and towering artificial trees are going up this weekend at shopping centers nationwide — if they aren’t there already. Decorating shopping centers and other commercial venues is a bigger business than you might think – and what an interesting niche ripe for a profile. And believe it or not, there is a national American Holiday Decorators Association that represents the industry; you can use their site to find businesses in your state. I would approach it from a “quirky indicators” stance — even if they’ve already embellished your area’s malls, you can ask about budgets, quality and quantity of materials used, scope of decorating and other metrics that might reflect the local shopping-center (or business complex or church or other venue) economy. A little sidebar on insider tips, or a career-path infobox, wouldn’t hurt either.