When you’re watching your favorite holiday movie – say, “A Christmas Story” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” – do you ever wonder how in the world the actors could summon convincing yuletide emotions in July, or whenever they actually filmed that flick?
Well, as the owner of a small business, whether you're a retailer or wholesaler, you need to do something like that. To make it through the holiday sales rush period – which can be as important for many small businesses as it is for the national economy — you’ve got to think ahead. Sometimes way ahead.
If you do, not only can you stay ahead of the wave of holiday business that is building now day by day, you can actually use it to your advantage. We offer six ways to meet the holiday sales rush head on:
Here are Six Ways to Take Advantage of the Holiday Business Wave:
- Prepare to maximize the moment. The best way to grow your business is to capitalize on the peaks in activity and customer interest, and for many small businesses there's no bigger peak than the holidays. Make absolutely sure you're prepared months in advance for the holiday sales rush so that you can strike at the opportunity rather than spar with it.
Mandy Lane learned this the hard way. In her first year in business as owner of Chicago-based TopMassageTables.com, her company got slammed right after Thanksgiving by more orders, in a single day, than the start-up had ever gotten in a month. Completely unprepared, she and her husband scrambled to handle orders, the customer service line and shipping. Desperate, they resorted to measures such as drop shipping, last-minute inventory deliveries, retyping order information and complimentary rush deliveries. "I can't imagine how much money we lost," says Lane.
But she vowed "never to let that happen again." And the following year, her startup business automated as many processes as possible, hired and trained extra staff to handle phone calls, and ordered inventory for the holidays beginning in September.
- Stress operational excellence. You may never get a better time to impress more customers and potential customers than the holidays, so you must be at the top of your game. That includes having a focus on excellent execution in every phase of the business and keeping your staff informed, responsive and motivated. Stick to this principle, and you can not only get the most results out of this year but also set up your small business for huge success next year.
"We're offering free gift wrap for the holidays, guaranteed shipment dates by the holidays if they order by a certain date, and we have a satisfaction-guaranteed return policy – and free shipping on orders over $100," says Lauri Harrison, co-founder of PeakUniques.com, an online apparel boutique based in Denver.
- Leave no trick untried. Because they're generally in a purchasing mode, consumers are more likely during this shopping season to try something new. So – whether you're trying to hold onto existing customers or attract new ones – now is the ideal time to try every promotional and merchandising gimmick you can think of. If you're online, for example, create holiday-category pages, update your product descriptions, publish gift lists, promote gift certificates and add snowflakes or some other seasonal elements to your website design.
YogaFit Training Systems, a supplier of yoga-instruction services and supplies, tries to "be very proactive this time of year rather than just waiting for customers to come to us," says Cari Buck, merchandise sales manager for the Redondo Beach, California startup business. "There's a lot of personal attention given, and this really pays big."
- In a crunch, fill the newest orders first. If you have fallen behind and then add resources to catch up during this period, your natural instinct might be to fulfill the oldest orders you have yet to complete. But actually, once you know you can keep up with new orders, you should draw a line at that point, service your newest orders first, and gradually reach back to satisfy the older backlog. "With the newest customers, give them the kind of excellent service that you had intended to give everyone all along, then begin working the backlog," says Paul Kowal, a customer-service expert in Cambridge, Mass. "Otherwise you're going to have twice the number of dissatisfied people and problems on your hands."
- Don't let down your customers. More customers will need and expect favors in December than any other month, and you must put on that jolly Santa mask and accommodate them.
"I make sure I confirm to my customers that I'm there for them," says Roberta Poirer, owner of Roberta's Chocolates, a five-employee chocolatier in Denver that provides molded and other specialty chocolates to companies that package gift baskets for corporate customers. "I tell them not to say 'no' to any order because I'll come through for them. I may have to give them chocolate peanuts instead of chocolate pretzels, but I'll be there for my customers."
- Perform heroics if necessary. The holidays can present opportunities to win customers for life and an atmosphere of bonhomie that can soothe your soul while you're gritting your teeth at some outlandish request. "Ask your customers what their challenges are as the clock ticks down to the end of the year, and be a problem solver," advises Steve Hockett, president of FranChoice Inc., a Minneapolis-based franchising consultant. "It gives you some leverage that you don't have any other time of the year."
© 2005 BizBest Media Corp.