OK, when presidential candidates start appearing on Chia pet kits, you know the moment is ripe for a business feature about political merchandise.
I was about to drop a local hardware store’s Sunday ad into the recycle bin when the “Freedom of Choice Chia Heads” caught my eye. Flag-bedecked boxes actually bear the terra-cotta visages of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, sprouting curly green herbal hair. No price listed, but Amazon is touting them at $17.99 — and President Obama is available in both a happy and serious pose, presumably prepared for any outcome on Nov. 6.
That certainly takes political and election merchandise to a new level, but the field itself is worth looking at from a retail and small business standpoint. From antique collectibles to T-shirts hot off CafePress, the election cycle provides a boost not only for vendors to campaigns but for companies and individuals that sell memorabilia to the general public.
As mentioned, CafePress — the online marketplace for custom-printed products, and its competitors like Zazzle — are offering myriad products, from stickers and decals to shirts, pillows and even iPhone cases — imprinted with campaign slogans or candidate images. CafePress is running an election meter on its website, showing sales of pro- and anti-candidate T-shirts to date and by the week. If you have local T-shirt printeries, that might be an interesting question for them.
Nose around retail outlets, weekend craft and hobby fairs, swap meets and other venues that deal in pop culture and kitsch to see what oddball items are showing up; are they impulse purchases or does fervor among voters actually drive traffic to retailers and online sellers? Here’s a 2008 piece from Matador..com on bizarre election products you could use as a template; good lucking finding items like presidential lip balm and a light-up Obama umbrella.
If you want to add a more substantive angle, you might offer a sidebar on the legality of using politicians’ images on commercial goods; this paper from the Boston College Intellectual Property Forum is edifying (and references the “Obama Yes We Can Opener” among other eye-brow raisers).
With Halloween looming between now and Election Day, I imagine that costumes related to politics and the presidency may be popular this year; check in with pop-up Halloween-gear stores about what’s selling.
Don’t forget about antiques and collectibles, too. Political memorabilia and ephemera is highly sought after — there’s even a society of American Political Items Collectors — check out the list of regional shows on its home page and find the organizers near you; they’ll be good leads to dealers and collectors. Online sellers like LegacyAmerica.com may be sources of information about sales trends — and don’t forget to do a ZIP code search on eBay to find sellers near you. It might be instructive for readers tempted to go all in on Chia heads or Election 2012 coffee mugs to speak with museum curators, dealers and enthusiasts about which items tend to stand the test of time and which become garage sale fodder on Nov. 7.