Jennifer Rivlin Roberts' company, Modern Tribe, does 40 percent of its business in the last quarter of the year. Yet Roberts, founder and CEO of the online Judaica and Jewish merchandise retailer, says her company has a hard time marketing to Jewish customers. It's a problem a lot of specialty retailers face.
"We always have difficulties reaching Jewish customers because Jewish people make up 2.5 percent of the American population," Roberts said. "Any kind of secular advertising we do, we have to expect it is only reaching 2.5 percent of the market. Sometimes we are priced out of advertising."
The challenge faced by Roberts and any retailer trying to market to a small segment of the population is that, until the advent of social media, there were few affordable ways to target narrow customer bases.
"We haven't made any effort to reach out to the Jewish market at all because it is such a niche market and it would cost a lot of money and time to make it grow," said Tom Neuhaus, founder of Sweet Earth Chocolate, a specialty chocolate maker, who said Hanukkah accounts for only about 5 percent of his holiday sales. Social media, however, had helped spread the word less expensively, he added, and, as a result, the company has seen its Hanukkah business grow.
Other companies echo this sentiment, as the small and specialized market creates cost-prohibitive marketing challenges some companies are not willing to jump into. Besides dealing with a hyper-specialized market, those looking to enter the Hanukkah marketplace have to deal with kosher law requirements.
For some companies, though, it's worth the effort. Harney and Sons Fine Teas, for example, has been making kosher teas since 1983, but a simple change in packaging has helped drive Hanukkah sales.
"We do offer a gift that is wrapped in blue and silver and that is a product that we noticed does well at this time of year," said Mike Harney, vice president of Harney and Sons.
Similarly, specialty candy maker Hammond's built its reputation on candy canes, lollipops and other hard candies. In recent years, however, the 90-year-old candy company has introduced Hanukkah-themed products.
"We started making Hanukkah candies in the same types of candies we already made and that started to expand. Customers would see our Christmas candies and ask about making them in Hanukkah colors and flavors," said Andrew Schuman, president and CEO at Hammonds.
Responding to customer demand helped Hammond's gain footing in an unfamiliar market. The company's making of blueberry lollipops in traditional Hanukkah colors of blue and white as well as Star of David and menorah gift bags has been well-received by customers.
"It is probably about five percent of our overall holiday, fourth-quarter business," Schuman said. "We only launched it two years ago, though, so it is growing. A lot of major retailers purchased it this year, including Dean and Deluca and Dylan's Candy Shop. They have done well with it from day one since we introduced it. There are some major players out there that took on Hanukkah candies and did very well with it."
Schuman believes that this is just the start for Hanukkah, saying, "I think it will just continue to grow."