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How many weeks left to Christmas? If this figure isn’t at your fingertips, your plan for this prime trading time is probably nowhere near the drawing board either. Marilyn Stephens looks at the crucial planning steps for maximising festive trade.

Christmas is the busiest and potentially the most profitable trading period in the retailer’s calendar. To ensure your store is ready for the rush, be prepared to think laterally and plan thoroughly.

But don’t try to do it all by yourself; involve your staff. A team effort will ensure you get the best ideas and input from everyone and it helps to motivate staff for the busy time ahead. After you have talked it through with staff, and you know what your theme is, make sure you let them know what their role will be.

Set sales targets for the trading period November to December. Look at last year’s figures and work out:

• what you want your total sales to be by month

• what you want your average sale to be

• how many items per transaction

• the sales targets by department or staff member.

Once again, communicate this to your staff. Coloured graphs are a great visual way to show them the targets, compare with last year and set realistic goals.

Staffing Solutions

You’ll need to give special thought to the rosters. Christmas Day is a Sunday this year with Boxing Day a holiday, or closed trading day in some states. You need to check what will be set down by your state government as a public holiday.

With the big day being a Sunday, it is likely that Friday night (December 23) and Saturday (December 24) will be very busy days as families will have time off to shop. So you and your best staff need to be working those days. Staff learn from your example, so this is the time for management to be on the floor helping regular sales staff. You might even want to get your accountants, clerical staff, and buyers on the floor to help out.

Consider how many extra casual staff will be needed and recruit early to get the ‘good ones’. The art of successful rostering is balancing enough staff for busy periods against costs, which diminish your gross profit. Spend time planning options until you find the one that suits your business and resources.

The first planning step involves working out how many hours your store will be open. Divide those hours by the number of full-time staff (working 37.5 hours each). Then factor for casuals (working in three-hour shifts, minimum). Factor in the extra money you may have to pay for public holidays or loadings paid for extended shopping hours. (Check the relevant industrial relations department in your state or territory.)

Then, make sure staff sign-off on the roster as much in advance as possible.

The roster combined with your sales targets will allow you to think about offering Christmas incentives to staff as recognition if they exceed sales targets. Any bonuses or incentives should start after they have covered wages—with all loadings and on-costs—but that little something extra in their Christmas stocking is always well received.

If you’re having trouble finding staff, most universities have an employment office where students register looking for casual work. This is a great resource for finding staff.

Perfect Timing

So when do you ‘start’ Christmas? It may sound strange, but if you start the Christmas marketing to your customers too early, they may become jaded and cynical. In general, in Australia, nothing starts until after Melbourne Cup Day (first Tuesday in November) and the larger stores usually start setting up from the end of that week.

Do you have a customer base of clients who send presents overseas at Christmas? If so, you need to find out when Christmas mail for parcels overseas closes at the post office. They usually have a list of closing dates for various countries, and you can pick the countries relevant to your customers. It’s a good way to acknowledge the local community who are your customers. If you do have this type of customer base, select presents that are easy to pack and send overseas.

Is your shop based near a significant business community? If so, you may have a customer base looking for corporate gifts or gifts for the office. A good way to attract the attention of this market is to produce a small flyer listing some gift ideas with price points, such as under $15, under $25, and $50-plus for the larger companies. Offer free gift-wrapping and delivery to their offices with free gift tags, but cost this into the price of the goods. Maybe offer discounts for bulk purchase (10 or more of the same product). This is particularly effective with chocolates, gift baskets, and so on.

What do you do when you have enticed them into the store? You need to consider lots of sampling and product demonstrations:colour and movement, as Dame Edna would say. Have different weekly in-store attractions. Is there a local community group who can sing Christmas carols outside your store? Free gift-wrapping for purchases over a certain amount is always popular.

Create a display with gifts pre-packed and ready to go for your time-poor customers. Group them, as on your flyer, by price point so customers are not embarrassed about asking the price. Another tool is to have one product displayed with the price and the brightly gift-wrapped presents nearby, ready to go.

If your store is large enough, you may also wish to consider whether you could interest a local charity to take on gift-wrapping for a gold coin donation. This is a great way for your store to contribute to the spirit of Christmas, and it looks good for your PR.

Finally, think of a way to acknowledge your customers at Christmas and give them a small memento so they come back after December. After all, there are the January sales, then Valentine’s Day, Easter … and so it starts again.

* Marilyn Stephens is co-partner of The Facilitators consultancy, specialising in retail planning and presentation. Visit their website at www.thefacilitators.net.au or contact Marilyn direct on
(02) 9252 3015.

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