With festive adverts on the television, and decorations on display, it’s clear Christmas is around the corner. There’s more than a month until the big day, but businesses that experience a rush at this time of year will have thought about staff levels, stock, and their marketing efforts to prepare for the hectic weeks ahead. But even for those who’ve been disorganised, it’s never too late to put festive plans in place.
- Many smaller online retailers started their Christmas promotions last week, seven days earlier than the year before, in an attempt to get ahead of the competition, according to the Royal Mail. November 30 is expected to be the biggest shopping day online this year.
- Pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels typically decide their Christmas offering in August or September. About a quarter of people start thinking about booking for Christmas events in October, according to HospitalityGEM, so the industry must be ready early with its festive pitch.
- Property SMEs and those working in finance are the least likely to have a strategy for Christmas, research from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking says.
Calculating, ordering, and storing extra stock
Its origins may be religious, but December 25th is all about consumerism these days, with present-giving at the heart of the celebration. For those in retail and wholesale, it’s a challenge to get stock levels right so that customers are never left empty-handed, while the business isn’t lumbered with unwanted merchandise.
- It’s wise to track sales during the year to get an idea of which items are the most popular with customers. This could give some sense of where to stock up in advance of the Christmas shopping frenzy.
- Holding stock has a big impact on cashflow. As much as possible avoid having too much stock in product lines that you’re not sure will sell. If you see that a particular product is unpopular, don’t be afraid to sell it off cheaply and quickly in a pre-Christmas sale to free up valuable cash.
- You might negotiate a sale-or-return arrangement with suppliers so that stock is only paid for if a customer buys it. This often doesn’t give the best deal in terms of unit costs, but it does mean you won’t be left with items that you can’t sell come January.
- Think how your business will accommodate extra inventory. Have you got capacity in your current premises, or might you need to hire extra space? Also, make sure that your contents insurance covers anywhere you store further stock in case items are stolen or damaged.
- Consider whether you have the cashflow necessary to finance extra stock purchases. If your business will struggle to cover costs, think about extending your overdraft or getting a short-term loan to see you through the holiday season.
If you’re likely to experience a spike in sales this December, then you’ll need extra hands on deck to process orders, handle customers, and generally ensure the business makes it through December smoothly. About 15 per cent of SMEs hire extra staff during the Christmas season, according to insurer Axa, but there are important things to consider when taking on short-term workers.
- You may hire extra employees on a part-time, casual basis or on a fixed term contract. Always issue your helpers with a contract of employment, laying out their responsibilities, status, and duration of employment.
- If you’re recruiting through an agency, be aware that Agency Worker Regulations say that agency staff are entitled to the same employment and working conditions as permanent staff after 12 weeks’ service. The Government has more information on how these rules work in practice.
- To get the most from staff, keep them motivated and productive. This can be particularly important with employees who are with your firm for just a few weeks. Think about offering incentives such as bonuses, overtime payments, or employee discounts. Even throwing a small staff party or giving everyone a Christmas gift can show the workforce you appreciate their efforts.
- Give workers adequate staff training. It’s a hectic time, but ensuring everyone knows what they’re doing is essential. New employees might shadow existing staff members, or set aside a whole day for orientation. Part-timers will be vital to your company over the coming weeks, so make sure they have the right skills.
Getting your marketing message right
Businesses want to trumpet what they’re offering at Christmas at the right moment. Not too early, so that you provoke a Scrooge-like ‘Bah, humbug’ from customers, and not so late that you’ve missed the boat. Again, the industry that you work in is likely to have some bearing on when you start your marketing push.
- Hospitality businesses will have been quietly marketing their festive packages for some time, particularly since many companies want to book early for office parties in the first weeks of December. With Christmas Day falling on a Thursday this year, pubs, bars and restaurants should see two very busy weekends ahead of the holiday, with a lot of passing trade, as well as those who’ve booked. Now’s the time to start advertising festive menus, drinks offers, and opening times more aggressively via chalk boards and table flyers, as well as outside the venue if possible. Don’t neglect digital channels, such as social media and your website, to attract the festive crowd. And, not everyone wants a day at home on December 25, so if you’ve chosen to open on the day itself, make sure that people know about it.
- Retailers are feeling quite positive about Christmas this year, with seven out of ten optimistic about festive sales, according to Barclays. And, if they’re sensible, they’ll make good use of the internet in the weeks ahead – SagePay predicts that UK SMEs without an internet presence will lose out on £88 billion worth of Christmas sales. With more customers shopping online, even bricks and mortar firms should have a transactional internet platform. Make sure all information is up-to-date, with offers prominently on display. Price promotion is the most common marketing ploy for smaller online retailers this year, according to the Royal Mail. Might you also offer free delivery above a certain spend to set you apart from the competition? Giving free returns is another option in case someone isn’t happy with what Santa delivers.
- Other sectors should broadcast their Christmas opening hours well in advance of the holiday, even if they don’t anticipate being busy in the coming weeks. Life carries on, even if the world is on holiday. Think about whether you should offer – and advertise – a skeleton service during the seasonal break. It could win you unexpected custom, and put you ahead of your competitors.
The weeks ahead will be busy ones for many SMEs, but they can also be very jolly. Act now to give your business the best possible present this Christmas – a boost to sales, and a happy start to 2015.
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