Along with other increasingly mainstreamed ethnic holidays such as Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick's Day has become an event that retailers do their best to capitalize on with a variety of themed products. More power to them, but in my own humble observation, most of them are not doing a very good job of it.
Let's start with a basic fact. While there is truth to the old adage "Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day," it is still a holiday most heavily celebrated in areas with a large Irish population. I hail from the Boston area, where St. Paddy's is colloquially referred to as "Irish New Year," and it's a big event. Other metro areas with a historically large population of people claiming Irish heritage include New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Why is this relevant? Because many of the country's Irish population centers (such as the ones named above) are in cold-weather climates. Yet walk into your local outlet of a major department or discount store chain anywhere in the country, and what do you see? Graphic T-shirts with a whole slew of St. Paddy's- and Irish-themed messages and logos.
Great idea in theory. Undoubtedly these retailers, who in recent years have done an excellent job in merchandising graphic T-shirts, plop St. Patrick's Day into their forecasting engines and schedule production runs of holiday-themed short-sleeved attire.
But there's one little problem. In far too many of the areas where St. Patrick's Day is most popular, March is not shirt-sleeve weather. I can assure you that barring abnormal conditions, Boston's St. Paddy's revelers are only wearing their "Kiss Me I'm Irish" T-shirts under layers of thick, warm green clothing.
That's where the money is in the northern part of the country, folks. Go to a St. Patrick's Day party in Boston and you will see green sweaters and sweatshirts everywhere you look, but nary a T-shirt will be found. All a retailer really needs to do in these parts is to stock up on extra green warm-weather clothing and promote it for St. Paddy's wear.
Also, anything with long sleeves and a Boston Celtics or Notre Dame leprechaun logo is popular with Irish-Americans most anywhere you go. (Disclaimer: Despite the author's French-Canadian surname, he is fully 50 percent Irish, so he's entitled to make these broad generalizations.)
So to all you Targets, Old Navys, etc., out there, start localizing your St. Patrick's Day 2009 forecasts now. Take the weather into account. Your merchandising software doesn't realize that a skimpy T-shirt offers little comfort to someone watching the Chicago River get dyed green in local March temperatures that on average top out at 45 degrees, but your merchants should. Add the human element to your automated holiday planning and watch your next St. Patrick's Day turn very green, indeed. Slainte!
Dan Berthiaume covers IT in the retail space for eWEEK. For more industry news, go to eWEEK.com's Retail Site.