It's hard to think about the holiday shopping season while it's still summer. Large retailers, however, have already locked in most, if not all, of their holiday plans, and as a small business owner or manager, you can't afford to wait any longer.
Succeeding during the holiday season involves three things of equal importance: inventory, staff, and customers. If you don't have the right plan for any of the three, then you're going to struggle or fail miserably.
1. Set your inventory
Chances are, you have meetings already on the books with your key vendors and, in some cases, you may even have some holiday orders that were placed months ago. Evaluate what you have already ordered, what you have in stock now, and what you are going to need.
The holidays may be a time where you feature different items. Back when I ran a large, independent toy store, we used to stock up on items that were under $10 for the holidays where people added them to their orders as stocking stuffers. During the rest of the year, we largely avoided cheaper price points because it gave parents a way to leave the store cheaply if their kids were agitating to buy something.
Talk to your customers about their plans and try to forecast what they need. You should also talk with your vendors about their stock and understand your ability to get resupplied if the season goes better than expected.
2. Line up staff
The holiday season can often require more than your usual staff. You may open for more hours or need extra help early or late to stock shelves and keep the store clean.
Talk with your existing staff and set realistic expectations. Managers may work longer hours but they can't work a month of 12-hour days without time off and still provide top-notch service. Work with any salaried employees to set realistic expectations.
Ask your hourly workers if they want expanded schedules. Some might but others may have family obligations that prevent that.
Once you know what you have to work with, be creative when it comes to bringing new people on board. Speak with past seasonal help and ask your staff for recommendations.
3. Bring in the customers
The holiday season offers an enormous amount of choice for shoppers. You want to make sure you reach your regulars and people who might shop your store only for the season.
Create a marketing plan designed to get the word out. This probably includes buying ads, doing mailings, using social media, and maybe even hosting some special events for "insiders." Be clever and don't assume that customers will come just because it's the holiday season.
Do it now
You probably should have started planning -- at least when it comes to inventory -- well before this (and maybe you have). But no matter where you are in the process of planning for the holidays, it's important to get a full plan in place as soon as possible.
As it gets closer to the season, it will be harder, if not impossible, to bring in inventory, line up staff, and even book ad space. Do your homework, make your forecasts, and try to put as much into place now as you possibly can.