This week’s blog features guest poster Savannah Brown of LSMGuide.com.
By now you already know that late summer/early fall is the best time to get a jump start on your holiday marketing planning, but what about your operational planning? While it may seem like drafting holiday job descriptions, ordering supplies or other equipment are tasks you can worry about later – taking care of them in advance will free you up to execute on all of your seasonal plans (and maybe even have a little fun)!
Let’s get started!
Just like with holiday shopping, the early bird usually gets the worm – so start advertising your staffing needs early! This way, you can take your time screening applicants to find the best fit. Additionally, make a plan for how many additional employees you need, what roles you need them to fill, and how you will go about finding them (local colleges or university job boards, online search engines, etc.). A great starting point is to contact your seasonal hires from last year to see if they are interested and or available. Even if they aren’t, they might know someone who is!
Once you find the right folks for the job, you’ll need to make sure they’ll seamlessly blend into your existing culture and work environment. You don’t want to inconvenience your customers (or miss an opportunity for a sale) because your employee misunderstands your expectations for success! Here are a few tips to make sure you and your new employees are on the same page:
Be Formal About Training
It is often the case in small businesses that there isn’t a firm or formal training procedure in place for on-boarding new employees. And while this may work out just fine sometimes, seasonal employees need to be trained on all the daily/operational stuff PLUS whatever is new or different for the holidays (i.e. buy one get one promotion, special shopping event). So, we think it’s best to make training a priority.
Bring Everyone Together
Get your entire team together for a team building event. Organize some ice breakers, review holiday promotions and goals and what’s new so everyone is getting the same information at the same time. When employees have a connection outside of the job, they’ll be more likely to ask one another for help and support each other – helping you in the long run!
Remark On Good Behavior
For better or for worse, a new employee is likely to take on the habits (and possibly, work ethic) of the “regulars.” One of the best ways to take control of what behavior is being learned is to use everyday moments as teaching moments. Point out positive behavior and, if appropriate, reward positive behavior. Don’t assume a new(er) employee will pick up on the unspoken expectations you have with your regulars – make it obvious what behaviors are appreciated and necessary.
Point of Sale
Your point of sale (POS) and/or register is likely a hub of activity at your small business. Maybe it’s where you interface with paying customers the most, or maybe it serves as a mini office at the front of the house. Either way, there’s likely lots going on there: transactions, gift-wrapping, returns, and discussions with an employee about an issue or concern. Here are a few ways you can increase the likelihood that your customers will have a positive experience at your POS.
What supplies do you need for the holidays? Gift bags, tissue, wrapping paper, ribbons, gift card or certificate holders, decorations, salt for the sidewalk outside… the list goes on and on. Make sure to order these items early so you don’t run out until after the New Year! Nothing slows down efficiency on a busy day like having to run to the stock room (or to a supply store) to re-stock. It’s also important to make sure that all employees know where back stock is located, so they can refill and get back to work with minimal interruption.
Additionally, take a look at last year’s sales figures to help you plan product flow for the holiday season. As for new products, are there any “must-have” items in your industry? Check out industry publications to see what’s being predicted as sales-drivers in order to be as prepared as possible for the most hectic time of time of the year.
Long lines at the register can be a bummer – especially if the customer has already had a great time shopping at your retail or grocery store. Even with only one register, there are a few things that you and your employees can do to expedite the lines and keep customers happy:
- Always make the customer that is live and in front of you (in the store) your priority. If the phone rings, pass it off to an employee not working at the register, or let it go to voicemail.
- Train all (or, at least most) employees to work the register(s). That way, you always have back up when you need it.
- If a transaction requires a phone call or paperwork (like a return or special order), ask if you can help the customer to the side and then return to the register when/if you need to.
- If there’s room behind your register, offer to hold the next customer’s item or heavy shopping basket there, so they don’t have to stand there holding it or resort to setting it on the floor.
- Thank customers for their patience once they arrive at the register, and again once they are leaving the register.
These days, many shoppers prefer to give gift cards as gifts – as opposed to picking out something that the recipient may or may not like. Often, gift cards spur significant additional store purchases at redemption above the face value of the gift card itself. Consumers often see a gift card as “free money” and may take the opportunity to “treat themselves” to a high-priced item, since they’re “only” paying the balance above the gift card value.
Another bonus: gift cards are very low-risk. Having them on hand doesn’t “cost” you anything. If they are unsold, no harm done. But if they are sold, that’s a new customer that will be walking through your doors to spend the value of the gift card, if not more!
If you don’t already have a gift card provider in place (or maybe even if you do), we suggest checking out PlasticResource.com, a custom gift card company. We recently spoke with a lovely woman named Gretchen there, and she filled us in on all the options they have for making your gift card dreams a reality!
Hours of Operation
What are the right hours of operation that will best serve your customers who are trying to buy what you offer? During the season, you might find that it’s worth it to open up earlier and/or stay open later so that your customers can get what they need. It’s also important to set deadlines for special orders (i.e. gift baskets, certain catered items, personalized or custom-made goods, etc.) so that the expectations for service are clear. Additionally, outline what days you will be closed and make a plan for how you will communicate all of the above to your customer (special holiday newsletter, perhaps?).
Black Friday has traditionally been the biggest holiday shopping day for the the better part of 90 years, and you can and should entice your customers to come shop/dine/spend time with you. Even if you can’t compete with the big box retailers, you might consider opening earlier than usual to catch customers that want to shop at both types of locations. Bring in carafes of hot coffee and offer sweet treats to welcome your customers to your shop!
A smart way to approach your Black Friday operations is to look back at last year’s numbers (by the hour) to see what times were most successful, and why. What promotions were you running, and how did they pay off? Additionally, this information will give you an idea of how to appropriately staff (and stock!) your location. During the anticipated “slower” hours, you could plan for fun in-store promotions, giveaways or demonstrations to draw traffic!