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How Retailers Turn Pantone's Color of the Year into Green

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Orange is the new black and purple is the color of kings, but radiant orchid is the color of the year.

So says X-Rite  (UNKNOWN: XRIT.DL  )  subsidiary Pantone, the arbiter of color-related cool. While many figure out how to work the anointed shade into their wardrobe, makeup routine, and home décor, a particular color can really matter to businesses, not only to designers but to smart retailers of all kinds who are looking for fresh merchandising and marketing hooks.

Coffee of the day in the color of the year. Photo: Keurig

No matter what the year's chosen hue—radiant orchid takes over for emerald—there's usually a way for retailers to make some green with it. 

Pantone works with designers and advisors to choose its annual color, pulling from runway shows and the zeitgeist to make its decision. And while Pantone doesn't have hard numbers on color of the year-related sales, the company says that its choices do give retailers a boost.

"We have worked with many different brands and retailers who have confirmed that immediately after our color of the year announcement, consumer demand increases for products in that color, and colors that are inspired by the color of the year," said Laurie Pressman, VP of the Pantone Color Institute. That means that you can not only expect to see more of the muted fuchsia of radiant orchid this year, but also other shades of pink and purple, too, including a "more robust" magenta purple that's on the hot list for men's spring fashion.

New year, new hues

After the shopping saturation of Christmas, the color of the year is an easy way for retailers to put a fresh spin on household goods, clothing, accessories, and cosmetics to pique consumers' interest. Of course, not every retailer has an inventory of radiant orchid goods on standby. But there are several ways retailers can capitalize.

Five ways to use the color of the year

1. Roll out quick color hits

One simple way retailers can use the color of the year, Pressman says, is to "produce a product in this color that can be manufactured quickly so they can get it to the selling floor."

Pantone itself does this. Besides the standard color swatches and chips that it sells to designers and manufacturers, there are coffee mugs, watches, and other small goods in its online store. And Lowe's (NYSE: LOW  ) has its exclusive Pantone Universe Radiant Orchid paint ready for eager redecorators -- and is promoting it via Pinterest.

2. Feature limited-edition items

Consumer goods makers and their retailers can generate buzz with special editions in the hue of the year. "In 2012," Pressman said, "Kohl's (NYSE: KSS  ) requested that Keurig manufacture their coffee products in tangerine tango, and then emerald last year." Keurig, owned by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ: GMCR  ) announced in December that its Radiant Orchid MINI Plus brewer will arrive in stores next month.

3. Place bigger orders

Even if retailers don't have a special color of the year item to promote, they can boost orders for existing items in that hue and similar shades, Pressman said.

4. Promote existing stock

French cosmetics company Sephora gives customers plenty of options while they await the arrival of the annual Sephora + Pantone Universe collection. Like Lowe's, Sephora has a Pinterest board devoted to radiant orchid items, including Marc Jacobs nail lacquer and Urban Decay eyeshadow. Bridesmaid dress designer Liz Fields offers her creations in dozens of colors, but has been playing up her orchid options for trend-savvy brides. Even handcrafters get in on the game, adding "color of the year" search tags to their existing stock. An Etsy search for "radiant orchid" turns up more than 4,200 listings.

5. Make the most of lasting popularity

Even when the year ends, popular colors tend to have a long shelf life. Pressman said that past years' colors "live on, and continue their popularity into the following year," especially with some retailers getting into the color of the year game as late as October each year, depending on their manufacturers' timetable. Sephora cleverly makes a point of marketing a "farewell" to the past year's color, which you really should pick up as eye color, for old times' sake.

The takeaway

Retailers like Kohl's, Lowe's, and Sephora who do tap into the COTY trend are taking advantage of what's essentially a marketing freebie from Pantone. Those who don't may be leaving emerald green (or radiant orchid) money on the table.

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Casey Kelly-Barton

Casey is a writer and journalist who follows the consumer goods, travel, and tech industries for The Motley Fool.

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