Father's Unspectacular Day

Why do moms rate jewelry while dads get a collect call? It's part history and part socioeconomics, and may be starting to change

Ryan Abood knows a thing or two about gift giving. His parents own Chalifour's Flowers, New Hampshire's largest retail florist, which netted $3 million in sales last year, and Abood runs Gourmetgiftbaskets.com, one of the store's Web sites. When it comes to special days, he says, Father's Day doesn't hold a candle to its maternal counterpart.

"People shop more intensely for their mothers than for their fathers," says Abood, who adds that he has sold 100 of his Father's Day specially packed golf-and-fishing baskets so far, half the number of gift baskets he moved for Mother's Day. Historically, his family's store and affiliated Web sites spend two more weeks ramping up for the Mother's Day crush than they do for Father's Day, which tends to bring in last-minute business.


  Dear old dad, it seems, is a little starved for attention, even on his big day. Consumers spent an estimated $11.25 billion for Mother's Day this year, while Father's Day (June 19 -- reminder!) will bring in just $8.23 billion, according to BIGresearch, a market intelligence firm in Worthington, Ohio. "Dad tends to be more low-maintenance than mom," says Tracy Mullin, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, a Washington (D.C.) trade association for retailers. "While moms love to receive luxury items such as jewelry or a trip to the spa, dads are happy with an afternoon barbecue or watching the ball game without distraction."

It gets better. Children often call dad to send their love but do so on his dime: Father's Day traditionally marks the year's busiest collect-call day for AT&T. And those who remember to send greeting cards do so in significantly smaller numbers. Hallmark sold 152 million Mother's Day cards this year but expects to unload only 95 million for Father's Day. According to BIGresearch, women -- who make the most purchases for either dads or husbands -- tend to head to discount stores to find that perfect gift for dad. Ouch!

Why the short shrift? For one, there are simply more households with moms (82.5 million) than with dads (66.3 million), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The some 10 million single moms living with children under 18 years old, compared to 2.3 million single dads, partly account for the skewed statistics.


  Then there's the historical advantage -- more than a century's head start for mom. Mother's Day made its debut in Boston in 1870 and became a Presidential proclamation in 1914 under Woodrow Wilson. Father's Day, on the other hand, didn't get its official status until 1972.

Some experts also point to socioeconomic issues. On average, women earn only 70% of what men make in similar jobs. "A full-time working woman still does 75% of the housework in households where both spouses work," says Michael Silverstein, principal at Boston Consulting Group. So, perhaps some children feel their mothers deserve a bit more of a reward on their special day.

But times are changing. Today, the U.S. has 98,000 stay-at-home dads -- a 54% increase since 1986, says the Census Bureau. At the same time, younger workers, especially those under 35, put a higher value on time outside the office with families than their baby-boomer colleagues did, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va.


  A survey of more than 20,000 parents by the National Center of Education Statistics found that, when fathers involve themselves in their children's education, including attending school meetings and volunteering at school, their children were more likely to get high grades, enjoy school, and participate in extracurricular activities -- and less likely to have repeated a grade.

And what's good for society may also spell more opportunity for savvy retailers, both big and small. As holidays like Valentine's Day continue to turn into economic events all of their own, more and more stores are increasingly pushing Father's Day gift ideas -- online and in storefronts.

Wal-Mart (WMT) is offering a personalized photo tie for $16.99 and a personalized leather toiletry bag for $24.88. Others, like Home Depot (HD), are hawking everything from hammocks and wine chillers to the usual toolboxes and gas grills. And gift retailer Red Envelope has neatly categorized its Father's Day ideas -- "what's new" and "personalized gifts," among others.


  When it comes to types of gifts, however, don't expect much similarity between the sexes. For now, most moms still get a lot of jewelry and flowers, while dads receive the requisite ties and gadgets -- and that will likely continue. "When it comes to shopping for their fathers, people buy more practical gifts," says Phil Rist, BIGresearch's vice-president for strategy.

Like millions, ironically enough, Abood is skipping the gift giving altogether. Though he would love to sell as many of his Father's Day baskets as possible, he himself has no intention of buying anything for his dad this year. "I plan to spend the day fishing with him and my brother," he says. As they say, it's the thought that counts.