This is a busy time of year for most retailers, but running four retail websites, a wholesale business, and stalls at Christmas markets means that we’re stretched more than most in November and December. Every year we face the same challenges, although many are magnified as our business has grown, so I thought it might be a good idea to share some of our Christmas top tips.
You know you’re going to be busy for eight weeks, so look ahead during the summer, and decide early what you need to do to ensure your business can cope with the higher level of business. Plan stock purchases to avoid cash flow issues, ensure you have enough space and manpower to cope with orders, and keep a dialogue open with your key suppliers to ensure speedy deliveries.
Your main aim during Christmas is to maximise sales and profit. Place long term projects on hold for this period, and clear your in-tray in October. Focus entirely on speed and efficiency of service – responding to customers promptly during this time will pay dividends in terms of sales and reputation. Tasks which can be left until January should be left – the window of opportunity for retailers at Christmas is getting shorter every year, so every day counts.
Invest in systems
Anything which can speed up your work process should be considered. As an example, when we were starting out we hand wrote our address labels which was time consuming and error-prone. We invested in add-on software for our website which prints a picking list with peel off address label which has saved us an hour or more a day and is error-free.
Buy a large whiteboard!
When things get busy, it’s great to jot down ideas, notes, etc down on as they spring to mind. At the end of every day, review and act on those which require the most urgent attention.
Where possible, bulk buy to save money: We know we’re going to use many more cartons at this time of year, so rather than buying our usual orders we commit to an order 5 times the size. This makes us extra margin on every order packed using these cartons. This can be extended to key stock lines if you’re confident you’ll sell them- it’s a delicate balancing act not to go into January overstocked.
Be prepared to run out
Stock planning can be a nightmare. Resist the temptation to restock products if you know they’ll sell slowly in the next few months. It’s sometimes better to run out of something than order a large quantity to supply one customer, and end up selling the rest at cost to clear them.
These (and other) techniques have worked well for us for 8 years. The usual routines go out the window when Christmas starts and we view it as a marathon- a lot of effort, some pain, but the achievement makes it worthwhile!