Anne M. Obarski

Article Summary:

Six decisions to address when preparng your retail store for the holiday season.

Preparing For The Holiday Season

Before the holiday season is upon us, let's take a look at the 6 business decisions I believe each and every business owner should address before the first fall leaf drops!

1.  Focus on who your customer really is.

  • Do you know the current demographics of your customer? 
  • Have they changed buying habits or product requests? 
  • Has your community seen a drop or a rise in population? 
  • If you have a website, have you watched your statistics to see where and when and how your customer buys? 
  • Did you keep good records on last holiday season and the items that you sold well and the ones that your customer "told you" buy not buying, were a waste of inventory dollars?

Knowing who you customer really is and knowing how to buy, merchandise, advertise and sell to that customer is what will make it a cheerful holiday season.

2. Focus on your planned sales.
  We have all heard the old saying, "failing to plan is planning to fail".  Don't roll your eyes: When it comes to holiday sales, I believe that good planning for this year started on January 1st. 

As we are already into third quarter, do you know what your last year sales, planned sales and goal sales are for fourth quarter? Did I surprise you with planned sales AND goal sales?  Your planned sales should be based on the percentage of increase you believe is attainable based on last years' results or results you feel comfortable aiming for.  Goal sales are those that you can "stretch" to achieve.  Either way, these sales "plans" all must be written an addressed daily in order to have a successful season.

As we are talking about sales, if you offer "gift cards", do you have records of last years sales as well as when you saw them redeemed?  I believe smart retailers will need to readjust their sales forecasts to shift more sales into the first quarter of each year based on the percentage of gift cards that they sell at holiday time.  

3.  Focus on your buying strategies.
Have you placed your fourth quarter orders, or have they been placed for you?  Review your orders as well as the time needed to place re-orders.  If you have more than one store, has your inventory needs by classification changed?  Now is the time to re-visit those orders to make sure you will have the right quantity in the right stores to match your customer demand.  Nothing sends a customer out of the door faster than not having what they came in for.

In order to make buying easier, there is nothing better than having a great relationship with your vendors.  Vendors have the inside track to what is selling around the country and around the world at their fingertips.  Use their expertise and don't assume that their knowledge is just a way to get you to buy more.  Their willingness to share important information about their products and services will make this holiday season a win-win for everyone if you make them an important part of your "team".

4.  Focus on your marketing strategies.
What are your "touch points" going to be in the fourth quarter with your customers? How developed is your database and how good are you at using it in a variety of ways?  What are your plans for print, website, media and even email advertising?  Do you have a "blog" for your business?  Is your customer aware of it?  Just as you plan your sales and your purchases, it is even more important to plan how you are going to get the word out to your customer that you are the merchant of choice when they think about your product!

Marketing and merchandising go hand in hand.  If this is your first year in business or your fortieth year, holiday season means increased inventory levels for most businesses.
Do you have plans in place for not only storing but for merchandising that additional inventory?  How will the customer recognize that new "have-to-have" item when they walk into your store?

Re-evaluating your floor plan now, can avoid the panic sentence that manager has been heard to scream, "Just put it wherever you can find room"!

5.  Focus on training your employees. 
Holidays usually mean an increase in staffing.  Holidays and winter also mean call-offs and people quitting on the spur of the moment.  Now is the time to start weekly meetings to inform your employees of expectations for the holidays.  This is prime time to discuss what new products will be coming in and how they will be merchandised and sold.  This new information can even be passed on to the customer such as, "Mrs. Jones, I just learned in our store meeting that we will be getting that pant in three new colors for the holidays, may I call you when they come in?"

With the constant rise in the price of gasoline, your employees are going to be spending more to drive to work at a time when everyone feels a money crunch.  You might want to try to help off set their increased expenses by offering cash or gas cards when their sales are met or exceeded.   Any small token of appreciation during the holidays instead of at the end of the holidays will help to motivate them when the pressure of the season mounts.

What is your training program for new hires?  How do you plan to make them feel part of the team and not just an extra pair of hands through the holidays?  This might be the time to start a mentor program with your long time employees.  Not only will it make the seasoned employees feel special, your new hires will have someone within the company that they have a bond with. 

Take a close look at your calendar and see when you can run one or more short training classes for your employees.  Within the classes cover the topics that have lead not only to great sales in the past but those areas that have caused challenges as well.  Understanding how to handle difficult customers, or what to do when you think someone has stolen something or even how to explain how your gift cards work, would be time very well spent.   Training your staff is a huge part of making the holiday season a pleasant one for everyone.

6. Focus on your customer feedback.
If you could ask the top 10% of your customers what makes them a loyal customer of yours, what would they say?  What would they say you could do better to keep them coming back?  What would they say you could do differently this holiday season to make their shopping more efficient?   Why not make a plan of calling some of that top 10% and asking them?  Plan a special event early in the holiday season for your best customers.  Send out thank you cards in advance of the holiday for all of their support throughout the year.  Your customers are the reason you are in business.  Ask for their feedback, learn from it and make the changes that will improve your business not only at the holiday but year round.

Anne M. Obarski is "The Eye on Performance!" As a professional speaker and trainer, Anne helps companies focus on the profit building service strategies that will keep their customers coming back. Anne presents nationwide keynotes, break-out sessions and customized training in the area of customer service. She has written "Surprising Secrets of Mystery Shoppers" and "Real World Customer Service Strategies That Work". For more information visit her website at www.merchandise concepts.com.

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