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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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Pre-Holiday Homework

Want to maximize holiday sales and Profits? Get started now.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (October 17, 2011)

Welcome to the Golden Quarter, the time of year with the power to move your store from the red into the black. Have you done your pre-holiday homework? October is the perfect month to begin planning!

Things You Need to Do Before the Season Begins

1. Hire your temporary staff. Set up a training schedule, and partner each new hire with a seasoned associate -- a buddy -- who can mentor them throughout their holiday employment. New associates with lots of questions might feel uncomfortable about bugging the boss for help, but they'll feel right at home asking their buddy.

Your buddy system will help you set and maintain a positive store culture where both associates and customers will thrive. Don't forget to hold a meeting with your mentors before the new hires arrive. You will need to explain the program, your expectations, and why you chose them.

2. The holiday selling season kicks off with a bang on Black Friday, otherwise known as The Day after Thanksgiving, the one day you must have something BIG planned for your store. First, you want to capture first business by attracting customers to your store as early as possible before they head off to the malls. A coupon that entitles the customer to 50% off of any one regular priced item of their choice has worked for plenty of retailers. This coupon is all about choice: you choose which items are included in the sale; you may also chose to limit the dollar amount to 50% off of any one regular priced item of up to $50.00. The customers get to choose what's on sale.

In order to capture that first business, you will need to run your 50% Off Coupon event between the hours of 6:00 AM and 10:00 AM. Offering other good deals to attract additional customers throughout the day is also a good idea.

A Black Friday in-store event is not an option. If you don't have anything planned for the day after Thanksgiving, our e-book,  Jingle Bells … Christmas Sells: Events, Promotions and Tips for the Holiday Season, can help. Visit http://jinglebellschristmassells.com for event ideas, plus detailed instructions and fully customizable templates.

3. You need to have at least one major in-store event, and two minor in-store events planned for each week of November and December. If you're stuck for ideas, visit our "Retail Adventures" blog at  http://www.retailadventuresblog.com or check out "It's Not Too Late!" an article loaded with events to get your creative juices flowing: http://www.kizerandbender.com/pdf/NotTooLate.pdf And remember, you can always call us for an impromptu brainstorming session.

4. In addition to events, you must also prepare a list of items and/or categories of merchandise that you will promote during the holidays.  Some things to consider include: how you will advertise this merchandise, how it will be promoted in your store, how and where it will be displayed, and when the displays need to be set up. And you can't do this all by yourself, so assign each associate a promotion or two. Their close involvement will make it a better event.

5. Make time each Monday to rotate the displays and/or fixtures in the front of your store. To do this you will need to plan how your sales floor will look for each week of the holiday season. This is critical if your store sees many repeat customers each month. Once you begin your merchandise rotation, customers will begin to ask, "Is this new?" and "When did you get this?" about items that might have been in your store for months. 

You can give your store a fresh look by simply rotating product around your store. That small table of photo albums and photo frames that's in the front of your store on November 1, will look new to customers when they discover it toward the back of the store on November 8. This is a good job to assign to a store associate who enjoys visual merchandising.

6. Choose your holiday theme. Winter Wonderland? Santa’s Village? Whatever theme you choose must be designed to put customers in the holiday mood. In addition to store décor you must consider associates' attire, in-store music, holiday refreshments, even when Santa will pay a visit. Set a schedule of what needs to happen and when, then stick to it.

7. Create a "Top 10 List of Not to be Missed Holiday Gifts" that are available from your store. October is the perfect month to ask customers for their suggestions. Make sure that all of your store associates memorize it, and have plenty of copies on hand throughout the store. Feature your list on your website and in your newsletter, include it in store signing, and on bag stuffers. When you make shopping decisions easy for your customers, they will thank you in dollars and cents.

8. Stock up on your "never out" store supplies, the things that would be a disaster if you ran out on a busy Saturday. Bags and gift certificates top the list, but even toilet paper is important.

9. Create an exit strategy -- a clearance plan – for all of the merchandise you will need to close out after the holidays. Determine what will be marked down, how much it will be marked down, how it will be signed, and how and where it will be displayed in the store.

10. Determine how you will handle those inevitable customer returns. Post your customer-friendly return/exchange policy behind the check out counter(s), on your website, and include it on all holiday bag stuffers.Decide where holiday returns will be processed: at the checkout(s) or at a separate table?

We always spend the day after Christmas at a local mall, watching store associates handle returns. We're always amazed that the first words out of an associate's mouth are, "Would you like your money back?" This should not be the automatic response in your store -- you’ll save a lot of money if you train associates to offer an exchange or a gift card before offering a refund.

The question associates need to ask is, "Would you like to look around for another item or would you prefer a gift card?" Many customers will look for something else or take the card, but if a refund is what the customer wants, then give it with a smile. This is also a good time of offer a coupon that will bounce them back next week.

11. And finally, repair, repaint, and replace everything on your "To Do" list now. You don’t need the hassle of fixing the wheel on a shopping cart in December when the store is really busy.

The holiday selling season is one of the most important trading periods of the retail year. The impact it has on sales will vary with each retail sector, but whichever sector you belong to, it is critical that you maximize the sales potential of this peak festive season. The goal is to achieve high, profitable sales. The Christmas quarter usually accounts for 36% of a retailer’s annual sales and represents the highest level of profitability.

There’s not second chance if you get it wrong!

Jingle Bells… Christmas Sells: Events, Promotions and Tips for the Holiday Season

The e-book by Rich and Georganne will get you through the Christmas period intact, sane, and with more profitst.

The book covers: Visual Merchandising for Christmas … Store Layout & Decorations … Preparing Your Store for Christmas … Making Christmas Decorations Work For You … Decorations Do’s and Don'ts … Security Awareness … Managing Christmas and Your Staff … Gift Cards and E-tailing … Delighting Your Customers … Gift Suggestions … Attracting the Male Shopper … Make it Easy and Make it Fun … Gift Wrappers and Wrapping.

There's also specific events and & promotions: Guys Night Out … Dear Santa Letter … The 12 Days of Christmas … 50% Off Coupon Event … Cash Register Receipt Auction … Create Your Own Coupon Sale … Customer Appreciation Sale … Holiday Ideas Open House … Kids Store Tour … Ladies Night Open House … Trim a Tree

The e-book also includes numerous customizable templates. To order, visit



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