Getting More Out of Dad’s Day (A Postmortem)

Jun 21, 2010

By Tom Ryan

Father’s Day, described by one newspaper columnist as the "Rodney Dangerfield
of Holidays," yesterday turned 100. Having just endured another, retailers
and marketers may be wondering this morning what they did wrong. But perhaps
it’s the fault of the holiday itself.

After Mother’s Day became an official holiday in 1908, Sonora Smart Dodd of
Spokane, WA, led to her state to hold the first Father’s Day on June 19, 1910.
But it wasn’t until 1972 that it became an official holiday. The holiday for
much of the 20th century had met with much satire and derision with legislators
particularly concerned that its passage as an official holiday was only designed
to fill in a gap in the promotional retail calendar. While citizens of Spokane
last week held parties to celebrate the anniversary, a number of other articles
lamented on the sorry state of the holiday, particularly compared to Mother’s

According to the National Retail Federation, total spending around Father’s
Day was expected to reach $9.8 billion this year, or about 60 percent of the
$14.6 million spent around Mother’s Day. Those figures are somewhat skewed
since Mother’s Day is a particularly big restaurant holiday while Father’s
Day is about backyard barbecues. But the average spend at retail was said to
be noticeable lower with a focus on items such as work shirts and ties, electronics,
greeting cards, gardening and home improvement tools, and automotive accessories.

"Dad is a little more laid-back and easier to shop for," NRF spokesperson
Kathy Grannis told National Geographic Daily News.

Other reasons given for the disparity between shopping for mom vs. dad were
that most children just spend more time with their moms, as well as nearly
half of all marriages now ending in divorce.

But others felt merchandise was the issue. John Ryan, owner of Jerry Ryan
Clothing & Sportswear in Omaha, told Omaha World-Herald that he
believes Father’s Day was a bigger retail event twenty years ago because many
of the items men want now — such as electronics, golf items or car accessories
— are purchased throughout the year with the bigger-ticket items purchased
around the Christmas holiday.

In his column in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Aaron London, believes
product is largely uninspiring.

"Realistically, how many ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ coffee mugs,
T-shirts and boxer shorts can one father need?" asked Mr. London. "And
is it really still necessary to support the garish tie industry with the purchase
of neckties no man will ever wear in public just to get a good chuckle on Father’s

Still, there’s also a feeling that dads are partly to largely to blame for
any gift shortfalls. Mr. Ryan believes men don’t know what they want, making
shopping for them a chore for wives.

Discussion Questions: What was your Father’s Day experience like this year?
Why do you think Father’s Day spending lags so far behind Mother’s Day? Is
there anything else retailers could be doing to change that?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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13 Comments on "Getting More Out of Dad’s Day (A Postmortem)"

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Bob Phibbs
11 years 10 months ago

The message in most Father’s day promotions and messages is the idea of other people doing for dad. Guys are basically self-centered so why not speak to that in a new way?

“Who cares what they give you – today is your day to shop!” Host a Father’s Day event the Saturday before at a furniture store, “How to create your own mancave,” with a full setup partnered with the local electronics store and serving beer or for a local hardware store, “Six companies that will get her nagging off your back” featuring local fix-it guys,”

There’s a reason beer commercials are funny, they appeal to the lighter side and selfish nature of guys. Speak to that and you’ll grow sales with dad’s wallet, not just the kids or wife’s.

Gregory Belkin
Gregory Belkin
11 years 10 months ago

Interestingly enough, the article doesn’t mention much about the challenging economic recovery we are going through right now which I believe partially attributable to the slow Father’s Day.

I think more and more dads are less interested in the gift aspect, and more interested in the “breakfast in bed” and “golfing with friends” aspect. This was my second Father’s Day and I did not ask for a gift. Instead, I see it as a relaxing, special-favors day. Father’s Day is not attributable to physical gifts in the way Mother’s Day is.

Anne Howe
11 years 10 months ago
“Dads don’t know what they want” is partly true. The other side of that story is that many American Dads don’t culturally want, need or expect the accolades and gifts that women are much more attuned to on holidays. Plus, most of the Michigan Dads I know are worried about long-term finances and are putting themselves at the bottom of the list, asking their kids and wives to avoid the splurge around “Hallmark Holidays” and to concentrate on paying the bills and saving money to fund investments for the future. For our family, money was spent on cards only, with care taken to pick the card with the most appropriate message, adding personal notes of love and understanding of what Dad’s real value to the family really is. After dinner, a special treat of Pepperidge Farm apple turnovers and Breyer’s Butter Pecan ice cream let my husband know we really know what he enjoys, despite a commitment to avoiding dessert foods on every shopping trip in 2010! If my husband was given a cash card… Read more »
Dick Seesel
11 years 10 months ago

I agree that much more men’s merchandise (apparel, furnishings, electronics, sporting goods) is self-purchased as needed throughout the year, rather than bought for Father’s Day. I also believe that dads are less interested in “stuff” and more interested in time spent with their families…at least it’s nice to think so.

Both of these issues converge on Father’s Day and lead to a shopping period where much more women’s and kids’ apparel is sold than men’s. Whether there is a merchandising “magic bullet” to reverse this trend is hard to picture in the short run.

Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
11 years 10 months ago

If retailing were focused on the men vs. the women, me thinks retailing would die. Retailing is a many splendored female thing, created and captured by ardent female shopping warriors that are devoted to preserve that preserve. Unless the nation’s genes are somehow modified, Father’s Day will be relegated to the domain of baseball, football, basketball, golf balls and breweries. But take heart mighty marketers, bow ties are making a comeback.

Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
11 years 10 months ago

Personally, I think we’re looking at this all wrong. If Father’s Day sales are 60% of Mother’s Day, this is a much larger percentage than the relative annual retail sales to men vs. women, where sales to men was about 40-50% of sales to women in all but a very few categories.

To be scientific, women like stuff more than men do. What do we expect?

Ed Rosenbaum
11 years 10 months ago

For some reason Father’s Day seems more important to the wives than the husbands. My wife gets more upset if the children don’t call or send a card that arrives on time. I just want them to call and say hello. The gift is a distant second. The shirt and jeans I received were the wrong size; so I spent “MY DAY” returning gifts I did not want or need. We even had to pass the golf course (sigh) to get to the mall.

Yes, Father’s Day is an after thought to Mother’s Day for many reasons such as, today’s high divorce rate, mothers spending more time with the children, and outdoor barbecues vs. dining out at a quality restaurant.

I can see a small bump in sales for Father’s Day; but it will never reach the pinnacle of Mother’s Day. Hallmark & American Greetings, look at what you started now.

Bob Samples
Bob Samples
11 years 10 months ago

Belkin has it right in his comments; men are less prone to gifts and more about family. Dads are the providers and feel conspicuous when getting gifts. Just look at your Facebook posts on Dad’s Day, they are all about the steak dinner with family or golf with the kids.

Nielsen just reported that on a global scale, women spend $12b of the $18 billion at retail. So double the spending of men. As retailers go, Target nailed it with a hot ad on T-Bone steaks for Father’s Day. Then play off that consumer draw with cards and the small recognition gift that dads want.

Man caves? Yeah maybe for some…or just permission to build it.

Roger Saunders
11 years 10 months ago

Men are still getting the heels on their shoes repaired. In my over-indulged household, my wife’s closet is twice as large as mine, and I’m OK with it. The best gifts I received (and I did get some tchotchke) was a telephone call from each of my children, and a chance to play golf in the morning, and watch the U.S. Open with my wife in the afternoon.

Men don’t view this as a gift-receiving time for themselves. If retailers want to move merchandise on this occasion, they have to get the message across about what dad “wants and needs”…then help the family deliver on it.

Charles P. Walsh
Charles P. Walsh
11 years 10 months ago

Retail spending of $9.8 billion for Father’s Day didn’t seem all that anemic to me, so I went to the National Retail Federation (NRF) site to gain some perspective.

I selected a few recent holidays and following are the retail spending that was reported by the NRF for 2009/2010 in addition to the figures provided in this article for Mothers and Fathers Day;

Halloween: $21.0 Billion
Valentines Day: $14.7 Billion
Mothers Day: $14.6 Billion
Easter: $13.6 Billion
Father’s Day: $9.8 Billion
St Patrick’s: $ 3.6 Billion

Things often look quite different with some perspective.

Mark Burr
11 years 10 months ago
The typical gifts for Father’s Day seem so cliche’–don’t they? Why is it that the same gifts over and over again for mom on Mother’s Day don’t? I won’t even venture an intelligent answer to that question. Yet, I tend to think it’s true. The plain simple fact is that men and women are different. Oh no! Can I really say that? Moms and dads are different too! I probably can’t say that either…. They like and want different things. From my own point of view, I think Ms. Howe has it right at least from a Michigan point of view. But her point is maybe more on target than just the economic point of view. I think the whole scenario she describes has less to do with the economic position (partly so) but more to do with ‘respect’ for dad. Dads might like ‘experiential’ things more than a ‘neck tie’ thing. Respect for the day, time with family–and there is no better way to spend that time than a spending it with family over… Read more »
Lee Peterson
11 years 10 months ago

There was a great article in the NYTimes yesterday about the new “stressed-out father.” According to that piece, dads are now being asked to do just as much as moms: have a job, do household chores, take care of kids, call the repair guy, etc, and be excellent at it all to boot.

Given that (which I personally know to be true), I think Father’s Day is going to go a long way in the next decade. It might even be an answer to the June Gloom that seeps in at retail this time of year due to vacations, camps, and the like.

Craig Sundstrom
11 years 10 months ago

After reading the responses–all but one of which came from men!–I think we can all agree the answer (to the question of how much more retailers can wring out of this “official” holiday) is “none.”


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