This post was originally published on the Shopify Retail blog.
‘Tis the season for gifts — particularly for sweets and treats. And many of us are familiar with one seasonal gift that traditionally combines sweets and treats: advent calendars.
Yes, we mean those cardboard boxes with 24 numbered doors hiding little chocolates or sweet messages from your loved ones.
While advent calendars have been around for hundreds of years, this holiday gift is seeing a resurgence in popularity. And although advent calendars full of little chocolates are a perfectly tasty gift (who doesn’t love chocolate?), some crafty entrepreneurs are offering their own spin on these holiday stocking stuffers.
For those DIYers passionate about the holidays (or just creating a cool calendar), it’s possible to turn this tradition into a playful (and profitable) seasonal product.
Not sure how? Let’s take a deep dive into traditional advent calendars and examine some idea to help you get started.
What Are Advent Calendars?
A Short History of Advent Calendars
Advent calendars are a time-honored holiday tradition. “Advent” is the term used for the four weeks starting at the end of November leading up to Dec. 24, or Christmas Eve.
Some sources say the tradition of counting down the days during the “advent” period dates back to the mid-1800s in Germany, where eager merrymakers left chalk marks on doors or lit candles to mark the passing of each day. But the printed advent calendars we know today (like in the image above) weren’t first printed until the early 1900s.
Why Advent Calendars?
While advent calendars are particularly popular in Europe (especially in the U.K. and Germany), North America has also embraced this tradition and retailers have put their own spin on the traditional calendar over the last decade.
Rather than using a thin cardboard box with paper doors revealing cartoons or chocolates, retailers have created customized calendars that feature popular gifts like cosmetics, toys, and even wine and spirits.
And as the popularity of these unique advent calendars has spiked, so has the demand. As you can see from this Google Trends graph, the search queries and interest online has steadily increased over the last five years:
Interest in advent calendars as a topic begins climbing each year in September, peaking in late November and early December, and then drops right after Christmas. And while these sharp peaks indicate that there’s only seasonal interest in advent calendars as a product, the height of these sharp spikes shows that the number of queries has doubled over the last five years.
This exponential growth demonstrates a strong market for advent calendars. But that's not the only benefit when considering advent calendars as a product. Creating these seasonal gifts also boasts a variety of other benefits:
- Customization: Because you can create your advent calendars from scratch, DIYers can customize some aspects of each product based on customer specifications. You can add a monogram for the recipient, offer variations on the products you include in your calendar, or tailor it in other ways for customers. And while personalization can increase your costs, you can also charge more for these one-of-a-kind gifts.
- Creative flair: While you have the basic concept of an advent calendar as a foundation, you can create a version as unique as you are. Whether your calendar contains wine, toys, or beauty samples, you’re only limited by your imagination.
- From URL to IRL: You can sell your advent calendars both online and offline (don’t worry — we’ll talk more about that later).
Popular Examples of Advent Calendars
So, we've established that advent calendars are a pretty hot product. But what types are already popular with holiday shoppers?
While there are innumerable variations on the traditional advent calendar, there are a few options that are particularly in-demand. Use these examples to jumpstart your creative juices when building a calendar concept all your own.
Some of the most popular modern advent calendar types include:
Toy Advent Calendars
This variation is obviously a huge hit with kids. Parents and relatives are buying up toy advent calendars as stocking stuffers and as a way to build excitement in the days leading up to Christmas.
And because of the popularity of toy advent calendars as gifts, brands are taking note. For example, toymaker LEGO has created and sold several versions of special LEGO advent calendars every holiday season for the past few years.
For 2017, the brand has debuted three different LEGO advent calendars, where each set features the traditional 24 cardboard doors. And behind each door, kids will find a LEGO figure, a small building set, or another LEGO surprise.
Other major toy brands like Mattel’s Barbie and Disney also offer their versions of an advent calendar, again featuring small toys hiding behind tiny doors in a larger box.
For those parents who prefer a straightforward Christmas countdown calendar, toy brand Melissa & Doug offers a popular magnetic wooden tree. As parents tick down the days to Dec. 25, kids stick a decorative magnet on the corresponding spot on the tree and read a special holiday poem on the back of each ornament.
Beauty and Makeup Advent Calendars
Advent calendars aren’t just for kids. If you have a passion for cosmetics, consider launching a makeup advent calendar.
Makeup advent calendars have exploded in popularity in the last five years, as evidenced by the Google Trends query:
Beauty brands both big and small have caught onto this trend, and now sell a multitude of options for those customers on the prowl for unique gifts. With all the beauty subcategories out there, you’ll find advent calendars filled with everything from nail polish to bath products to skincare samples.
Some makeup advent calendar examples include NYX’s Wanderlust Advent Calendar, filled with lipstick hues inspired by different regions around the globe.
Ciate London has its own take on a beauty advent calendar with its Mini Mani Month box. The set includes 25 nail polish colors — definitely enough to keep manicure enthusiasts happy for much of 2018.
Other major beauty brands like L’Occitane, ASOS, and The Body Shop have also jumped on the advent calendar bandwagon with their own spin on a seasonal beauty set.
You can tell from all these examples that there’s plenty of space to play around with the advent calendar concept when it comes to beauty products.
Beverage Advent Calendars
Whether you love tea, coffee, wine or spirits, there’s a niche advent calendar idea out there to suit your tastes.
For example, grocery store chain Aldi is peddling a wine advent calendar to quench your thirst (seriously, there’s six bottles’ worth of wine in there).
If red and white vintages don’t tempt your taste buds, there’s always this sparkling wine advent calendar from The Pip Stop.
For lovers of spirits, Master of Malt has created a Ginvent Calendar (for the perfect holiday gin and tonics) and the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar.
Beer fans should note the simplicity of Boozebud’s Beer and Cider Advent Calendar — they simply pack their brews in a plain cardboard box and ship them out to customers.
And for those of us who prefer to warm up with caffeinated drinks versus boozy beverages, there’s Kaffebox’s specialty coffee advent calendar featuring blends from a smorgasbord of Scandinavian roasters.
Or simply sip on the 24 teas beautifully packaged in David’s Tea 24 Days of Tea calendar.
Chocolate Advent Calendars
Last, but certainly not least, we have the chocolate advent calendars. While advent calendars traditionally contained sweets like chocolate and candy, more retailers and brands have created high-end and novelty versions of the classic calendar.
Take Soul Chocolate, a purveyor of single-origin chocolates, for example. Each calendar is a work of art, and their version of the advent calendar is filled with delicious dark chocolate.
How to Create an Advent Calendar
While our list above isn’t exhaustive, this handful of examples might inspire you to create your own advent calendar concept.
If you’re ready to start prepping your own product, here are a few steps to help you put together an advent calendar and get it ready to take it to market.
Nail Down Your Calendar Concept
Before you can start any further planning, you’ll need to firm up what kind of advent calendar you want to sell.
As we’ve demonstrated, there are opportunities to create a version of an advent calendar in almost any product category. But that wealth of opportunity might feel a little daunting to a DIYer who's just getting started.
To help you sort through the best calendar concept for you, here are a few steps to help you brainstorm and narrow down ideas:
- Look at trending products to see what products are in demand.
- Analyze organic search traffic with some keyword research to find what people are searching for.
- Find a passionate audience and create a calendar that speaks to their passion.
- Create a product based on your own passion (whether it’s wine, whisky, or old-fashioned chocolate).
- Do some market research to determine if there are any gaps in the market.
Working through these processes will hopefully help you understand what opportunities are available and spark an idea that will lead you to an advent calendar all your own.
Gather Your Materials
Once you’ve nailed down your concept, it’s time to start sourcing all the materials you’ll need to put together your advent calendar.
Depending on the type of advent calendar you’ll be selling, you can gather the things you need from a few different places:
- AliExpress: This marketplace is a solid source for basic materials like wooden boxes for packaging, some products to use in your calendar, and even ready-made wall advent calendars that are ready for your creative touch.
- Local craft store: For craft supplies for DIY advent calendars, check your nearest craft store.
- ULine: For product packaging materials of all shapes and sizes, try ULine.
For more info on sourcing products for your advent calendar, read our in-depth guide.
Create a Sales Strategy
Once you’ve sourced your products and materials, it’s time to figure out how and where you plan to sell your advent calendars.
While a sales plan doesn’t need to be overly detailed, it should at least cover the following:
- Pricing, including shipping costs (if you sell online, what are the shipping prices and logistics?)
- List of product variations (will you sell one type of advent calendar or several options?)
- Where you’ll sell your products (online, at sales events, to wholesale buyers, etc.)
- How you plan to promote your product (i.e. a basic marketing strategy)
Putting the answers to these crucial questions down on paper can help you solidify your plan to get your advent calendar out to the public.
How to Market Your Advent Calendar
Selling Your Advent Calendar Online
When you’ve nailed down the concept and contents for your own advent calendar, it’s time to start selling! Many merchants begin selling through online channels. And while there are a variety of digital channels for sellers to explore, don’t get overwhelmed. Be strategic about which ones you choose for your products rather than using every channel only to spread yourself too thin.
You can start with a Shopify store, and then explore some of the following online channels to drive traffic to your ecommerce site and get more eyeballs on your custom advent calendars.
Without further ado, here are some options to help you build your online advent calendar business:
- Instagram: As one of the largest social media platforms today, it’s an ideal channel for brands to explore. For highly visual products (like advent calendars) and lifestyle brands, it’s a great place to build an audience and engage with them.
- Facebook Live: The largest social network in the world has made it simple to livestream video right to your fans and followers. Whether you’re chatting with a customer, offering a behind-the-scenes at how you make your products, or doing a live Q&A, it’s easy to share live video with everyone who follows your brand on Facebook.
- Pinterest: Again, lifestyle brands use Pinterest to their advantage. Not only is it a great platform to use to engage and share content with your audience, but also pin your products and related content for your fans to find.
- Snapchat: With a user base of over 200 million, more brands are jumping on the Snapchat bandwagon. While you create a sponsored post or branded filter, you can also offer great video content for your brand’s fans.
- Email Marketing: This is one of the online channels that offers the most versatility and the best bang for your marketing bucks. For every $1 you invest in email marketing, you get an average of $44 in ROI. That’s because you can deliver promotions, upsells, and news about your brand right to your audience’s inboxes.
- Giveaways and Contests: Giving away your goods as prizes isn’t just a way to expose more potential customers to your brand — it’s a strategic opportunity to grow your business. Because free is everyone’s favorite price, you can capture valuable customer info and build brand buzz with giveaways and contests.
Although these are just a handful of the options you have to promote your brand online, these are some of the most effective channels to get more eyeballs on your products.
Selling Your Advent Calendars Offline
Advent calendar creators can sell in real life (IRL) as well as online, particularly during the busy holiday shopping season.
Seasonal sales events like holiday markets, fairs, and festivals offer you the opportunity to connect with potential customers and sell them on your advent calendars on the spot. Set up a branded market booth at your community farmer’s market or the local craft fair to hawk your wares to customers looking for unique gifts and fellow crafters like yourself.
If you want your own retail space, even temporarily, you can set up a holiday pop-up shop. A seasonal storefront gives small businesses the chance to dip their toe into traditional retail without the commitment or financial burden of a long-term lease.
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Those aren’t the only reasons you should consider event sales as part of your strategy. Also, consider the following pros of selling in-person:
- Connecting with customers: With in-person sales, there’s no hiding behind a screen. You get the chance to engage face-to-face with your customers, offer product demonstrations, and answer questions on the spot.
- Discover wholesale opportunities: Selling IRL, particularly at markets, fairs, and festivals, also provides you with chances to meet potential wholesale clients. Other retailers, boutique owners, and buyers from various retail niches attend these sales events to keep their eye out for hot products. So, don’t miss your chance to connect with bulk buyers.
- Meet fellow makers: Yes, networking with other DIYers is also a perk of selling in-person. Not only is it a good idea to plug into the creator community, but other entrepreneurs can offer your ideas and inspiration for your own business.
- Add to your email list or social media following: Meeting your customers in person also offers you the chance to connect with them online. Encourage visitors to your booth to sign up for your email newsletters and/or follow your branded social channels.
Although selling offline may require a little additional planning, there are a wealth of advantages to taking your products on the road. And with a mobile point-of-sale system like Shopify POS, it’s simple to sell anywhere.
Ready to Start Your Own Advent Calendar Business?
So, you’ve got the building blocks to create your own seasonal business. We’ve outlined some ideas to build a unique advent calendar, as well as how and where to sell your product. Now, all that’s left is for you to get selling!