Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday—the shopping Trifecta that kicks off the holiday season. In order to capitalize on every opportunity that the holiday season offers, you need advance planning. Some actions, such as sprucing up your website or creating an email campaign, need only a few weeks to ramp-up, others require significant lead time.
Long-range planning is particularly important in these three keys areas:
Forecast Your Inventory Needs
Pull out last year's sales statistics, pour yourself a cup of coffee and dig into the details. It's important to make as accurate forecast of sales as possible. This forecast will determine how much you can spend on marketing, extended hours or additional employees while growing your business.
However, your pre-holiday planning needs to go beyond the bottom line. Take a long, hard look at what worked and what didn't. Which products were winners? Which products were losers? To the extent that you can, try and figure out what made some products hot (or cold), so that you can take advantage of those factors by stocking (or avoiding) similar items this year.
Talk to your wholesalers and distributors to get their read on what products are going to be successful this year. Consider adding seasonal products or products that tap into current trends. And, pay attention to trends in your community—from the demographics of your customers to the overall financial health of your region. If your target market is just squeaking by economically, look for reasonably priced products that are practical or long-lasting and steer away from trendy high priced luxury products.
As part of your fact-finding process, make sure to network with other business owners in your area and touch base with your local Chamber of Commerce to get additional insights into what the upcoming season will bring. You may also discover opportunities for co-operative promotions.
Once you have identified your “must have” products, work with your supplies to guarantee that you have ample inventory. Rain checks may be fine day-to-day, but for the holidays, your customers will want to have the products in hand for holiday giving. (This is especially true if the gift is for a child!)
Implement New Technology Now
Although some gifts, such as perfume and sweaters, are considered perennial bestsellers, the technology used to purchase those gifts is constantly changing. More and more customers are turning to e-commerce in order to minimize holiday hassles. And, a growing number are interested in paying via their mobile phone, as our recent article "Is Your Business Accepting Electronic and Mobile Payments?" suggests.
If you plan to venture into e-commerce or mobile payments, now is the time to get those systems up and running. In fact, if you are planning any technology upgrade—whether to your point-of-sales system or to your website—you should have those changes in place by early November. This will give you plenty of time to get any bugs resolved and to train your employees on the new system.
Train Employees to Deliver World-Class Service
Customers expect top-notch service from a small business throughout the year. Let’s face it, it is hard for a small business to compete with a big box store on price alone. But, it is just as hard for a big-box store to compete with a well-run small business for responsiveness and friendly service.
This is especially true at the holiday season where nearly every shopper is rushed, frazzled and stressed. Providing excellent, friendly and efficient customer service can go a long way both in making the holiday sale and in building good-will that will pay off in repeat visits throughout the year.
Good service doesn't just happen. You have to set the tone and the expectations for your employees. In addition, you should schedule employee training sessions where you reinforce the basics. For example, it’s impossible to reiterate too often: "when you greet a customer, you are smiling, regardless of the type of day you are having.”
During the hectic holiday season, it is more important than ever that each employee knows your product line inside and out. Visitors to your business are often are at their wits, end trying to find that perfect gift. Coach your employees on how to provide helpful suggestions for gift ideas based on the age, gender, preferences and interests of the intended recipient. By suggesting an appropriate gift, an employee can turn a frantic visitor into a satisfied customer.
Now is also the time to determine whether you will need additional staff during the holiday season. Your review of your sales from last year, combined with your projections for this year, should give you a good idea of whether you will be adequately staffed.
Remember, if you plan on staying open additional hours, you need to factor this into account in making staffing projections, to avoid running afoul of state wage and hour laws or incurring overtime costs that will eat into your bottom line. If you are going to hire additional staff, you need to get the job openings posted so that you have time to find the right people and to train them on your business systems, rules and product line. Ideally, new employees should have a few shifts under their belts before the real holiday rush starts.
By examining your inventory, technology needs and staffing needs now, you have time to put plans in place to have your most successful holiday session to date.