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Cracker Barrel dresses up for the holidays

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Cracker Barrel very carefully markets its gift shop to the holidays interests of shoppers of all ages and tastes.

By Lisa King

If you’ve ever seen Cracker Barrel’s television commercials building up the “old country store” image, once you walk into a store during the holidays, you might be more inclined to think you’d been magically transported to the North Pole via Santa’s sleigh.

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The old country store aura with its rocking chairs and checkerboards on the front porch now includes a wonderland of toys and gift items, with something to delight kids from 1 to 92 from both the country and the big city.

That’s part of the Cracker Barrel marketing strategy, said Julie Knecht, retail manager for the Shelbyville Cracker Barrel.

“Our goal is, no matter where you turn, you can see something eye-catching, no matter where you look throughout the store; we work very hard at that,” she said.

Knecht said the inventory includes items that are targeted to appeal to people of all ages and tastes.

“Whether you have a house with a country theme, or a super-modern house, you can find something in our shop that you like, and we try especially hard to have merchandise to reflect those wide variety of preferences,” she said.

Some country store items that sell very well are kitchen accessories. Cracker Barrel is noted for its themed displays, and has numerous ones throughout the store, such as the rooster and cardinal themes for kitchen items, from platters to dishtowels to place settings to salt and pepper shakers, to tea bags with a scripture verse printed on each one.

“Aren’t these just adorable,” Knecht said, holding up salt and pepper shakers shaped like brilliant red cardinals.

Shoppers can also pick out items for a “grab and go” gift, and by the time they are finished with their meal, or their shopping, employees will have it all wrapped up and ready to go.

“You can make your own bundles, you can pick out any items you want, and we will bundle it for you, and you can go as low [priced] or as high as you want,” she said.

“We are all about pleasing people. That’s why we have free gift-wrap. Everybody has been to Cracker Barrel at one time or another, and everyone appreciates getting a gift from our shop, beautifully wrapped.”

Brad Stone Padgett III, general manager, said his parents couldn’t wait for Christmas because they eagerly await their gifts from the store.

“My parents love our coffee, and my dad’s a big jelly fan, so I make them a big basket every year with coffee and jelly and that kind of thing,” he said.

Padgett’s parents aren’t the only ones that have grown fond of Cracker Barrel gifts over the years, he said.

“My son is a freshman in college, and I’ve been with the company for seventeen years, so he has every toy that Cracker Barrel has ever had,” he said with a chuckle.

Toys are big at Cracker Barrel, as the store carries its own line of specialty dolls, Knecht said.

“We have many different types of dolls, to match every little girl’s personality,” she said. “And we have all the accessories that come with them, like matching dresses and outfits. Here’s a doll’s dress, and here’s the matching one for the little girl,” she said, holding them up. “Aren’t they adorable?”

Knecht said the company does not take marketing the holiday season lightly.

“We have teams that work all year round on planning for the holidays,” she said. “We do a recap at the end of the season, and discuss what the customers have said they wanted and what they like, and then put that together with all our stores to see if there’s a trend.”

Knecht said the merchandise in all Cracker Barrel’s 621 stores in 42 states is virtually the same.

Cracker Barrel, headquartered in Lebanon, Tenn., was established in 1969 and employs 67,000

people. The company averages 6,700 guests per week and had net sales of $2.58 billion for the fiscal year ending Aug. 3, 2012, according to corporate officials.

What’s hot at the Shelbyville Cracker Barrel?

“People in Shelbyville just love our quilts, and our sock monkey line is just as popular here as it is across the country,” she said. “Of course, our rocking chairs are popular here, too. Everybody loves them, and they are very popular gifts during the holidays.”

Knecht said the community has really embraced Cracker Barrel over the past few decades the store has been in Shelbyville, and even though it’s located right next to the interstate, there are regularly even more local customers than travelers.

“We have a very strong relationship with the community,” she said.

Padgett agreed.

“We have a Wounded Warrior project, we have military hats and shirts, and they donate a portion of that to veterans and their families.”