St. Patrick’s Day has retailers seeing green

Green bagels are sold for charity on St. Patrick’s Day. While the annual celebration of all things Irish is typically a windfall for bars and restaurants, other retailers are also expecting to see a decent chunk of green.Business Wire

When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, New York sports bar Mickey Mantle’s — named after the legendary New York Yankees switch-hitter — is in the sweet spot.

The bar is located one block from New York City’s famous Fifth Avenue, where the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, one of the world’s largest celebrations of all things Irish, flows uptown every March 17. Parade participants, tourists and other revelers regularly drop into the bar to raise a glass to celebrate Ireland’s national day, and this has an enormous impact on the bar’s business says manager Bart Alexander.

“St. Patrick’s Day is huge for us,” said Alexander. “In terms of business, we do about four times the trade we seen on a comparable, non-holiday weekday in March, and I’d say it’s one of the top ten days of the year.”

It’s the same story in countless other American cities.

Every March 17, millions of St. Patrick’s Day revelers across the United States don the green and pile into bars to drink Irish beer to celebrate Ireland’s patron saint. But while pubs and restaurants are the main beneficiaries of the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, in recent years conventional retailers have seen their cash registers filled with a decent chunk of green, according to Ellen Tolley, a spokesperson for the National Retail Federation, a trade association for retailers.

The association’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, which aims to track consumers’ shopping trends on the Irish patron saint’s day, found that 84.5 million U.S. consumers plan to spend a total of $1.94 billion on St. Patrick’s Day this year, with most of the money spent on food, beverages, and decorations.

“This is a very lighthearted, retail holiday, and it’s a big one for bars and restaurants. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not on a par with other retail holidays. It’s a second-tier holiday, like Halloween,” Tolley said.

Indeed, while spending on St. Patrick’s Day is significant, it doesn’t reach the same level as other retailing holidays, like Valentine’s Day, or Easter, notes Tolley. On those days, consumers tend to buy expensive gifts, or apparel. But on St. Patrick’s Day consumers spend money on less expensive goods, like Irish-themed decorations, food and alcohol, and so the overall retail impact is less significant.

Tolley notes that the average person celebrating St. Patrick’s Day plans to spend $27.65 on the festivities, while the average consumer will spend $97.27 on Valentine's Day and $96.51 at Easter. However, many consumers plan to head out on the town on St. Patrick’s Day, with 19.8 million people planning to go to a bar or restaurant. Another 12.7 million people will attend a private party Tolley said.

Tolley also notes that this year, the proximity of St. Patrick’s Day to Easter, which falls early on March 27, means that store shelves may be holding fewer green plastic bowler hats, shamrock-shaped fairy lights and leprechaun ornaments.

“Retailers only have certain amount of shelf space, and so they may need to scale back on St. Patrick’s Day merchandise so they have room for Easter stuff — that’s the challenge for retailers this year,” said Tolley, adding that although there might not be as much St. Patrick’s Day merchandise on store shelves as a year ago, more than 15 million Americans plan to decorate their home or office in celebration of St. Patrick's Day, and so decorations are expected to be hot sellers again this month.

Women embrace as they watch the annual St. Patrick's Day parade along New York City's Fifth Avenue , Monday, March 17, 2003. Despite evidence of heightened police security and the possible war with Iraq, thousands of revelers lined the parade route, taking advantage of the spring-like weather. (AP Photo/Ed Bailey)Ed Bailey / AP

At DollarDays International, an online wholesaler that supplies products to smaller-sized retailers, sales of green candles, flashing shot glasses, St. Patrick’s Day themed decorations and party supplies — paper cups and plates — have been strong this year notes Marc Joseph, president and chief operating officer.

“What sells on this holiday? Party supplies and novelties — that’s the key to St. Patrick’s Day,” Joseph said. “This is a holiday where retailers enjoy higher sales, but we only see a slight increase and it’s not as significant as Easter, or Halloween.”

One hot seller this Thursday is likely to be pints of Guinness, a dark stout that is arguably the most recognizable Irish beer worldwide.

Diageo, the multinational drink and food company that owns the Guinness beer brand, expects to sell up to five times more pints of Guinness on St Patrick's Day than on a typical day. Some 2 million pints of Guinness will be served in the United States on March 17, and more than 13 million pints of the beer will be served around the world on the day, the company estimates.

Star Brand Imports, which imports and markets Murphy’s Irish Stout, another popular Irish beer, into the United States expects to see St. Patrick’s Day boost sales volume in March by 25 percent in key Irish-American markets like Boston, New York and Los Angeles.

Of course, you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy a pint on St. Patrick’s Day. And although more than 30 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, a St. Patrick’s Day survey of 1,500 Washington, D.C., metro-area residents conducted by O’Keeffe & Company, a marketing consultancy shows few of them know much about their heritage.

According to the survey, 30 percent of the respondents who claimed Irish heritage could not accurately identify the colors in the Irish flag, 11 percent failed to identify Guinness as an Irish beer and 30 percent couldn’t spell potato. “What would St. Patrick think?” quipped company founder Stephen O'Keeffe.