Have you ever seen a pig wearing a tartan plaid cape and top hat? I have, and it was the highlight of my day at the Carolinas Renaissance Festival last weekend. I swear he smiled at me.
I hadn’t been to one of these things in a few decades, and I had forgotten the spectacle it was from a people-watching perspective. People love getting into costume and slipping into characters that allow them to escape reality and the daily grind. Halloween for adults with plenty of alcohol and the occasional turkey leg instead of candy; I can see the appeal.
The festival takes place at the same fairgrounds every year. They set it up like a village, with a meandering U-shaped “main street.” Billed on the website as “fun for the whole family,” I looked at this experience as a case study comparison to that of visiting a mall, or something a kin to The Grove lifestyle destination in L.A.
The shops garnered most of my attention, although the Vegetable Justice game was a close second. The shops offered a variety of goods and services tangentially related to the medieval vibe: hair braiding and costume rental along with handmade wares like blown glass, leather work, knitwear, jewelry, candles, ceramics and even a blacksmith. While the quality, and practicality, of the products ran the gamut, I did find the experience was more appealing than the typical shopping excursion by virtue of the product being unique, handmade and relevant to the overall atmosphere.
Given the time of year, and the daily Black Friday-related spam I’m getting in my inbox, my thoughts have turned to the obligatory Christmas shopping and the associated dilemma of what to get for relatives that have everything they need. I feel so oversaturated by the ubiquity of chain stores and products I see everywhere, and on everyone, that I’m purposefully focusing on hand-crafted items this year. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
I think all of us are mentally exhausted by bizarre weather patterns, disturbing national tragedies and the mid-term elections. I think we all are yearning for the return of kinder, gentler times – certainly for less strife and discord. The hand-crafted speaks to this emotional need.
The holidays are a time for retailers to put on their A game when it comes to product curation. The unfortunate truth is that this product planning probably takes place in July, which means it’s out of touch with events that occur later, and it also means that it’s not curated with the emotional connection of time, in proximity to the holidays. That aside, it’s an opportunity for retailers to deviate from their normal offering, and it’s a chance to appeal to a new customer base as a result. I would also offer it should be a time of outreach: tapping into the local talent to bring forth the new, the unknown, the artisanal, and most important of all, the local.