Happy Valentine's Day written on a chocolate pizza with candy M&Ms

The Business of…Valentine’s Day gifts

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Business principles are prevalent throughout almost all industries that impact your life. We decided to take a look at how business leaders implement these principles in their companies and how academic experts explain the impact business principles have on the decisions business leaders make.

From real-world practice to years of study, our experts break down the business of everything you’ve wanted to know about. Love is in the air this month, and with it comes gift giving. Read on to see how a chocolatier prepares for the labor of love that is Valentine’s Day, plus insights to make sure no love is lost among employees as they prepare gifts from our academic expert.

The business leader

When we ask someone to be our Valentine, most of us do so with a sweet treat. In fact, in 2017, 44 percent of people said they planned to purchase a gift of candy or sweets, making it the most popular present for Valentine’s Day.

Christie Novak

Chocolate Pizza Company CFO Christie Novak (DBA ’19)

Christie Novak (DBA ’19), CFO of the Chocolate Pizza Company, sees this reflected in the business she and her husband Ryan run, with Valentine’s Day being the second biggest holiday for the gourmet chocolatier and sales more than tripling in the lead up to February 14.

“People really don’t start thinking of Valentine’s until the calendar turns February, which means this sales surge is compressed into a short two-week window,” she said. “In fact, our single busiest sales day of the year in our Marcellus [New York] store is February 13!”

Most of the early Valentine’s Day shoppers will order online between February 5-7 or come to the Chocolate Pizza Company’s store the first weekend in February, Novak said.

“The second weekend [in February] is when they come out in full force,” she said. “Unlike the Christmas season, which stretches over November and December, the sales window for Valentine’s is very short but intense.”

Novak notes that most of the customers they see in store on February 13 are men, with women coming in earlier in the month.

“We notice that women tend to shop earlier for gifts than men, so the closer to a holiday you get, the more male customers we see,” she said.

Of the sweet gift options early and late shoppers can choose from, the Chocolate Pizza Company offers gift baskets with caramel and nut drumsticks, chocolate covered cookies and graham crackers, Chocolate Pizza slices and Peanut Butter Wings, both of which helped put the company on the radar of customers looking for unique gifts.

The most popular item on the menu for Valentine’s Day is a heart-shaped Chocolate Pizza made from milk or dark chocolate with homemade English toffee and topped with red, pink and white chocolate candies and sugar hearts, as well as “Happy Valentine’s Day” or “Love You” scripted in white chocolate, Novak said.

Chocolate pizza and peanut butter wings from the Chocolate Pizza Company

A Chocolate Pizza and Peanut Butter Wings combo from the Chocolate Pizza Company.

“It’s served in a custom pizza box, and to make it a combo, we add Peanut Butter Wings – crisp, rippled potato chips covered in creamy peanut butter and dripped in milk or dark chocolate,” she said. “They are amazing!”

Giving the gift of a Chocolate Pizza wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of the eight people Christie and Ryan employ. In order to manage the seasonal demand, Novak said they hire more employees during certain times of the year.

“We hire more people from September-December as production rises dramatically for the holiday season,” she said. “We also run longer hours for production and have extended store hours. In the summer, we run reduced hours and lower our staffing levels.”

With a busier season and higher demand, increased stress isn’t far behind. Keeping employees happy and motivated is another important aspect of the Novaks’ business. While employees expect and understand the seasonal fluctuations, Novak still finds ways to make their time at work a little less stressful.

“We look for ways to boost morale every chance we get,” she said. “It might mean letting employees take home chocolate at the end of a long shift or making a custom chocolate item just for them. Catering a surprise lunch for everyone during that busy stretch is a nice way to break up the constant work.

“The employees choose the music selection in the production area, and we rotate tasks as much as possible to change things up during the day.”

One of the best ways Novak has found to boost morale is allowing employee creativity to flourish by being open to new product ideas from staff.

“They like thinking up new treats!” she said. “We often do short runs on those ideas and put them in the store to see how customers react. Employees love seeing their ideas on the store shelves!”

The academic expert

Seasons of extreme demand are a way of life for certain industries – the holidays for retailers, tax season for accountants and, of course, Valentine’s Day for chocolatiers. With seasons like these happening year after year, managers should be sure to plan how they will handle the expected demand, suggests Assistant Professor of Management Brian Swider.

Brian Swider

Assistant Professor of Management Brian Swider

“When a business is in a high-demand season, managers should first try to minimize the demands on their employees as much as possible,” Swider said. “If workload demands are high, managers should look at what other stressors they could reduce, like job insecurity, physical demands and even things like bullying and relationship conflicts. This allows managers to keep the focus on the inflexible demands of production rather than the flexible demands.”

For the demands that managers can’t minimize, Swider recommends providing special support that balances with the higher effort employees are putting into their work.

“You can think about it like debits and credits,” Swider said. “If you have high demands that can’t be mitigated, it’s important to provide employees with special support, like sharing positive feedback and giving employees autonomy in their work. It doesn’t remove all demands, but it provides employees with the means to meet those demands.”

For managers who oversee employees with repetitive jobs, perhaps those making multiple chocolate pizzas during a shift, Swider suggests that managers look to the Job Characteristics Model, a theory based on the idea that a task in itself if the key to the employee’s motivation.

According to the Job Characteristics Model, skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback all lead to favorable employee and work results.

“For example, when you increase task significance, you’re increasing the meaning of what employees are doing,” Swider said. “In the case of our chocolatier, employees aren’t just making chocolate pizza, but instead they are helping customers do something special for the people they love.”

Supporting employees even after they leave work is just as important as doing so during their shift, Swider added.

“If the work is stressful, managers should be sure employees don’t have lingering demands after work,” he said. “Give them the opportunity to recover, detach, relax and actively encourage them to replenish.”

In fact, Swider’s research shows that recovery from work, or the unwinding process of reducing or eliminating strain caused by the stressors of work, is not only important for employees’ psychological and physical well-being, but it also plays a significant role in job performance.

Overall, Swider suggests that managing in a high-demand season isn’t just about overseeing the day-to-day work of employees to make sure tasks are completed.

“Managers should make sure to understand how to manage demands and not just employees –often that takes planning well in advance,” he said.