Small Business Lifeskills: Christmas is coming (all year round)

It is near impossible to overstate the importance of Christmas. I once joked in a meeting with several top retailers that sometimes my shop felt like 11 months marketing and 1-month sales. The then head of Fortnums food said: “Join the Club mate.”

There are years when Christmas has provided my only profit, and I’ve seen worse years when it has made a bad year a bit less harmful. Christmas can be your triumphant end of year chariot of gold or your annual lifeboat.

Christmas is serious, it’s the moment when you bank all that hard work of building your customer base, your customer loyalty, the social capital of enjoying shopping with you. For many of your customers, shopping with you at Christmas is part of their tradition, like putting up the Christmas tree.

For three weeks in December put away your social media, clear your desk admin for the month, create a clipboard called Jobs to Leave till January, and get up to the shop floor and sell sell sell.

That means planning. Here is how you do it.

1: Prior year wrap meeting (January)

While you are still full of the positive energy of a full bank account, review your Christmas just gone. The temptation to leave it for later is very, very strong, but don’t. You need that new memory to correct and improve on your prior year decisions.

Christmas Stock count – Count your stock, you need to know

  • Review epos: check which sales worked
  • Check your diary – Judging by numbers is the science of retail, deciding by instinct is the art.
  • As it Happens, log your instinct’s best tool.
  • Trendspotting: You are a Futurist! Predicting trends is a mug’s game, but being on top of your business evolving is critical. You will quickly be able to say things like Five years ago we sold more panettone, or we sell a lot more cheese at Christmas now.

2: Scheduling the Christmas season

When does Christmas begin? There are three critical “start” triggers for Christmas in retail.

  • The end of Halloween – 31st October or 5th November
  • Half term. For most of us that is the last week of October.
  • October payday – give or take October 28th.

3: Setting budgets

Align your budgets to your buying periods. Go back to your epos figures and split your sales by product into your chosen buying periods. Use your sales to predict what you need next year:

4: Setting target performance

For every square inch in your shop, you need to have a performance target. That is an easy thing to say and a difficult thing to achieve.

5: Spending most of your ambient budgets (June to July (August latest) )

Yes, do it now. The process alone will inform your logistics planning (where to place it, where to store it) and your marketing (which to merchandise or promote, what to post about). Mostly, however, it is planning how to get an awful lot of products to arrive in the right place at the right time for the right price and in the right quantity.

6: Short life (chilled) goods

Fresh or chilled products are on short buying periods, mostly week to week. With some suppliers, you can order daily. Plus, you will have less “Christmas” goods there (although Wallace & Gromit waxed Wensleydale doesn’t sell so well on January 15th). For the most part, they will also be your regular sellers, fewer new or seasonal items, and thus less ordering ahead necessary.

7: Customer orders Number 1: create the system

Customer orders are not just an assured source of income. They are very much more potent than that.

8: September: Filling the gaps

If you can, go to Speciality and Fine Food Fair, Olympia, usually the first Sunday Monday Tuesday in September. Dull for some of you. If you live in the Isle of Mull or somewhere a long way from London is an expensive commitment. I have family in Scotland and South Africa, and the South Africans figure it is quicker to get to London from Cape Town than Oban. Delishops does its best to offer the range of new products, but meeting people every now and again is very valuable.

9: Marketing plan

I really believe for eth most part marketing for Christmas is a 365 thing. Building customer loyalty in your town or borough is something that is your bread and butter, the reputation your counter is building every single day. However sitting back and waiting for the rains to come is not enough, you can always get an extra drop or two from the bottle with good marketing.

10: Make yourself Christmas ready

OK – you are prepared to go – all the stock is ordered, you’ve got your marketing planned, its time to start prepping the premises and your team.

11: Launch (October)

From 1st October Santa begins sneaking in the back door. Lots of shops will go earlier to reduce the intensity of the flow start drifting the pickled walnuts and Christmas cake ingredients onto the shops’ floor in early September. Supermarkets will do big beer and wine promotions fooling customers into thinking they will get savings by shopping ahead (they don’t, the customer drink them and come back for more).

12: First performance review (30th October to 5th November)

You’ve had a couple of weeks to see your customers’ responses to your range, and you have two deliveries to go before Christmas. Look for positives and negatives to amend those orders to narrow the focus away from bad choices and towards good ones. Don’t go too far, just the stars and howlers.

13: Making profits from Christmas (30th November to 4th December)

December is the time to hold your nerve and stick to your budgets. More damage can be done by having to much stock left over than squeezing one more box of crackers into your most frequent customer bag, so don’t start reordering lines you’ve sold out of.

14: Your “As it Happens” diary

Call it what you like, but you need a journal to note the things you will forget. Too much is going on and for much of it, you will working at high speed just to stand still. General notes are right, but for each week from the first moment you say the word Christmas in front of a customer, keep a diary.

15: Christmas to 26th December to 4th January

The Post-Christmas period is of a completely different character to Christmas itself. It lasts approximately to the time the schools go back, around the 4th. AT the flick of a new year switch, the customer goes from everything is affordable to nothing is affordable.

16: Back where we started

Christmas is a 12-month slog for good outcomes. Make it work for you, and January is the best time to make the most significant difference. Do an excellent review, debrief your team, have a staff party, set your budgets, note your winning lines and write up your diary and notes.

Then go on holiday!
Congratulations and well done.

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