Hard to believe, but it’s already time to begin gearing up for the holidays—time to start thinking about placing inventory orders, planning special in-store events, hiring extra help, and assigning the countless other tasks that accompany the arrival of the Almighty 4th Quarter. To help make this your store’s best 4th quarter ever, we asked our Shop Talk contributors to tell us what they have learned over their many combined years of retailing that keeps their 4th quarter on track and prosperous. Here’s the one question we posed for all to answer:
Q: Through the years, what’s the #1 one thing you have done that has contributed most to supporting a strong holiday 4th quarter in your store?
A: To answer the above question took lots of pondering since I learned so many things by trial and error that contribute to a successful 4th quarter. Of course, there’s the usual: Have plenty of inventory on hand spanning all price points; make your shop sparkle with holiday magic; be ready with extra employees to provide stellar customer service; and, something that worked like a charm for us? Send out a heartfelt personal letter only to your best customers.
One thing proved better than anything else, however. Participating in and helping plan our annual “Village Holiday Stroll.” Although my shop fringed a fairly large city, the beachside location has a small-town, tightly knit community attitude. A walk through this six-block suburban village invariably resulted in bumping into several people I knew, shopkeepers sweeping their sidewalks ready to chat, friendly smiles from anonymous passersby. Although a bit sleepy at times, the feeling of belonging, along with phenomenal customer loyalty to the area, made up for it.
Our annual village-wide, early evening, family-friendly Holiday Stroll event was a way to acknowledge our customers and give back to the locals who were, literally, keeping us in business. However, our true intent was to give a kick-in-the pants reminder that the holidays were upon us!
It took months to plan, produce, advertise, and decorate this over-the-top, ring in the season event. To foot the bill, businesses chipped in if they wanted to participate, which they invariably did! Shops stayed open late, luring customers by offering free libations and holiday-themed snacks. There were roaming carolers and an orchestra-led parade with a waving Santa Claus chauffeured on a fire truck. We had a horse-drawn carriage hayride, local school choruses singing holiday songs (hordes of parents with credit cards!), a tree-lighting ceremony, and even a stilt-walking balloon artist! Shops competed for the best holiday window, judged by our Mayor and council members (a great way to get them to attend!).
Some stores provided their own entertainment, such as face-painting and ballet dancers performing the Nutcracker in their window. Traditionally, we invited a local a cappella quartet dressed in authentic Dickensonian costumes to stand outside our front door singing holiday songs. Needless to say, they attracted a large audience of potential customers!
From the minute the event commenced, our shop was packed. It was delightful to see our repeat customers, as well as some who only showed up for the stroll. As a shop owner, the best part was the somewhat frenzied, holiday-spirit-induced purchases. Since we were a small shop specializing in hand created, one-of-a-kind items, people knew if they didn’t buy something right then, that treasure would be gone forever. Admittedly, we subtly reminded them of that fact!
Although 4th quarter is filled with stress and incredible challenges for any business, the festive energy, joy, and feeling of camaraderie was something I looked forward to every year.
Without a doubt, especially with online shopping competing for every dollar, events bring people out and encourage supporting indie shops. If you can get your Chamber of Commerce, mall management, or business district to sponsor an event, do so! – Royce A. Morales
To jump start the holidays, in early November we begin a promotion encouraging our customers to fill out a Wish List of five items from our store. Each customer who fills out a personal Wish List is entered to win the big prize of everything on their list, up to $500. Each day from December 1 through December 14 we draw one name, and that lucky person gets to come in and pick one item from their list. We announce our daily winners on Facebook only, and the winner has until midnight to contact us to claim their prize. To avoid customers choosing the most expensive item on their Wish List, we ask them to pick a number, one through 5, from a small bag, and they win the item number from their list. On December 15, the last day of the promotion, we draw the name of the big winner and make every effort to contact them to let them know they have won the jackpot—everything on their Wish List!
The Wish List is especially useful at Christmas time, but also comes in handy for birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, and more. Children especially like to fill out their Wish Lists, and after being in business for nearly 17 years, I have found capturing their interest at an early age is one of the best ways to gain new future customers!
Our second promotion begins in December. Several years ago, we started a twist on the “12 Days of Christmas” promotion by Bob Negen of WhizBang Training. Rather than running the promotion December 13–24, the 12 days closest to Christmas, we start on December 1 and run through December 12. Each day we have a special Buy One Get One free offer on an item or product line in our store. Sometimes the free item can be of equal or lesser value and other times the free item must be of lesser value, determined by what our mark-up on the items happens to be.
The benefits of running the promotion earlier in December are: 1) The items customers choose can help identify what will be bestsellers, and I can stock more of them before Christmas; 2) We can promote really popular items on normally slower days in the store; for example, we’ll offer a BOGO on earrings on a Monday or Tuesday versus a Saturday; and 3) we have time to ship items to our customers who live out of the area. This last one allows us to maximize our email marketing for the 12 Days promotion to ALL of our customers, whether local or not, because the items will arrive for either group in time for Christmas.
These two promotions get both staff and customers in the holiday spirit and create the excitement we all like to see in our stores! – Leslie Neilson
The #1 thing I do to insure a strong 4th quarter is Preparation, with a capital P. I start with sourcing: That means trade shows, online wholesale sites, and meeting with local representatives starting in January. I do a high percentage of my 4th quarter holiday-specific buying before March. Many major holiday companies put out their holiday releases at the beginning of the year. By ordering early I not only have a better picture of my last quarter and can adjust my orders accordingly, I also get early-buy incentives from most companies. These incentives often save me on shipping costs and improve my margins. Ordering early also eliminates the concern of best-selling items selling out before I can order them. Trade shows scheduled early in the year will have many 4th quarter products available, as well as show specials to take advantage of.
Throughout the spring and summer smaller companies release their offerings, and I order from them to fill in any gaps. The 4th quarter is obviously as much (if not more so) about gift options, so throughout the year I bring in small orders from new companies and new products to test for customer response. I need to know how well these test items sell ahead of time to ensure I get the quantities and products I feel most confident about.
In the fall I start designing ads and booking advertising in local coupon books and gift guides, to ensure people will be seeing my business and product offerings early and often. In my ads I promote items that are more exclusive to me or are big trend items people will be looking for. I also begin working on seasonal hires and the holiday schedule to be sure I will have enough help to cover our holiday business. I write out the November and December schedule in October and figure out how many shifts I’ll need to be covered by seasonal employees. I base my forecast on my current staff and their availability.
At the beginning of the season, I have a holiday open house, which serves as our deadline to transition my store’s product selection, windows, and interior displays. I also set my gift product ship dates so there will be fresh deliveries throughout November and December. All this preparation ensures a smooth 4th quarter with nothing more to do than sell, sell, sell! – Season Koll
It is hard to answer this question with one single thing that has made a difference in all 20 of our holiday seasons! Here’s what we do know to be true: You must build an authentic experience in your store and stay steadfast in that. The key techniques we have utilized for the 20 successful holiday seasons we have enjoyed are:
- A rich and curated mix of products for customers to choose from at every price point. Our youngest shoppers with pennies to spend have choices here, as do our more mature customers who are looking for fine art and jewelry.
- You must maintain inventory numbers, and therefore cash reserves, that will stand the test of an eight-to-ten-week season. You don’t want to sell out too quickly and not have the budget to replace your hot-selling items. This is a good time to make bold choices and leave nothing behind!
- Creation of outstanding displays inside and outside the store. Unique and visually inspiring has been a must for us. Where we believe true talent comes in is making sure stimulating but not predictable displays are also easily “shoppable” and easily maintained by staff.
- You must have something unexpected in your mix. Something people ooh and aah over and can’t imagine how you got your hands on them to sell in the first place! And, possibly, even something that isn’t exactly how your customers “see” you. Go for the wow factor.
- Outstanding customer service is imperative. This means well trained staff members who are able to answer questions thrown at them and are comfortable asking others when they don’t! The right number of staff per shift is imperative but making sure they have the right attitudes and are not easily thrown off their game by difficult customers is elemental to successful totals at the end of the longer days.
- Pretty and unique gift wrap that pushes your brand out into the world is smart. If you can offer wrapping for free, even better. Perks and treats for your customers are nice touches that resonate deeply with shoppers.
- Set the stage every day for success. Have a well-lit store that smells good and is habituated by happy people who are shopping AND working. Have boxes made, and tissue and ribbon at the ready. Put systems in place for easily back-stocking items and supplies. The pressure of not running around like your hair’s on fire will result in higher returns.
Finally, don’t let anything get you down. The human mind is a powerful tool. If you have a bad weather day and sales stink, bounce back from it quickly. Never complain at work. It undermines your staff’s energy and sours a customer’s experience. The “season” is short and owners and co-owners must continue to produce positive energy, because that is what turns a bad situation into magic. Some of our greatest sales totals have been on days when our city is experiencing its first snowstorm!
Good luck and stay true to who you are and the brand you have built for your business. This is your season to shine! – Sloane and Casey Simmons
Published in Vol31/Issue 4/2017