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Using creativity to problem solve – whatever your industry, business or profession – is always in season. In honor of the recent holidays, here are a few examples of how employing a little ingenuity to wrapping paper, not only better met customer needs but turned several small business owners into retail legends.

How to create new sales by wrapping up old ones.

Since the Middle Ages merchants around the world have wrapped sold goods in plain heavy brown paper to protect them from being soiled and targeted by potential thieves once a customer left the stop. Then, at the beginning of the twentieth century, American retailers started using manila wrapping paper imprinted with store names and logos. The motivation behind this change was, as a 1911 issue of Hardware Dealer’s Magazine put it, “to make friends for your store.” For not only did this wrapping paper represent a service to the buyer, but it also advertised the store wherever customers carried their packages. R.H. Macys, Buster Brown Shoes and hundreds of other merchants all across the nation used this creative way to encourage future sales by “wrapping up” the last one.

The creative use of bags led to higher sales.

Another creative leap forward in merchandise packaging occurred in 1911, when Walter Deubener, an enterprising grocer in St. Paul, Minnesota, created the first shopping bag with handles. His motive was simple. He wanted to make it easier for customers to carry their purchases home so they would buy more during their visits to his store.  It wasn’t long before other retailers adopted his innovation and started printing designs as well as their names and logos on the bags. Since the bags were convenient to reuse for other purchases, they functioned as portable billboards for issuing merchants for months – perhaps even years – after they left the store.

An accidental innovation created a new industry.

A few years later another evolution in the way retailers and consumers celebrate the holidays occurred in the Kansas City stationary store of Joyce and Rollie Hall. During the Christmas season of 1917, the Hall brothers enjoyed an unusually high volume of customers and, as a result, ran completely out of their tissue paper inventory.  Customers bought this tissue paper, sometimes called “freak paper,” to rewrap the gifts they bought as an alternative to the plain brown or branded paper they came in from the stores.  Not wanting to lose a sale, the brothers suggested that customers buy decorated French paper, usually used for lining envelopes, in place of the sold-out tissue paper.  The customers loved the idea – and the paper.  When the brothers repeated this strategy the following year, they enjoyed even better results and bigger profits.

In 1919, the Hall Brothers decided to manufacture their own line of fancy holiday gift paper so they could take full advantage of customer demand. In expanding the product line for their shop – the Hallmark Store – they also gave birth to an entirely new industry.

Today, we spend $2.6 billion annually in gift wrapping items from Hallmark and other manufacturers including fancy gift bags, paper rolls and sheets, ribbons and a myriad of decorations for all types of occasions. It just goes to show you what using a little imagination to meet customer needs can do.

We hope the examples above will inspire you to expand, extend or enlarge your customer offerings by applying a little creativity to your own business.  You may find, as others have, that going beyond the expected can lead to higher levels of success you’ll be celebrating all year long.

Michele Allen

With over 30 years of design and marketing experience, I founded Crux in 2005, a 360° Creative and Marketing Agency, catering to Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and non-profits. Specializing in experiential spaces, museums, brand development, and digital marketing, I excel in crafting memorable experiences while emphasizing the significance of authentic brand communication. I offer expertise in Brand Development, Trade Show Exhibits, Museums, Corporate Spaces, Interactives & VR/AR, and Digital Marketing, committed to tailored support and guidance.