For small retailers, the holiday season often makes or breaks your year. It's a time when regulars shop more, and new customers check out places they've never been.
That's a blessing as well as -- sometimes -- a bit terrifying. If a few weeks make up an outsized portion of your annual sales, then there's a huge pressure to get things right.
Mistakes are magnified during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Make one of these, and you may not need a Grinch to steal your Christmas -- you may ruin the holiday season for yourself.
1. Don't forget to get the word out
Nearly every retailer pulls out all the stops during the holiday season. Don't make the mistake of assuming that customers will show up. Invite your regulars in early (maybe hold a holiday preview sale) and often. Encourage them, and maybe incentivize them to bring in new faces.
This is also a time of year to smartly spend some advertising dollars. Yes, you should also leverage free opportunities like social media, but radio, television, and direct mail work if used properly.
Consumers only have so much discretionary income, and you don't want most of that to be gone before they pay you a visit. Make a holiday plan, and then do everything you can to make customers aware of it.
2. Don't overlook staffing and hours
When I ran a large, independent toy and hobby store, we lined up part-timers, trained kids who were home from college, and added an army of extra people to handle holiday crowds. We also increased our operating hours every week until Christmas.
It's important to remember that you won't only need extra people for your operating hours. You may need after-hours help for cleaning, restocking, and even going to pick up merchandise from suppliers.
3. Don't ignore the customer's needs
I used to joke that by Dec. 22, we could sell bags of leaves as a hot new toy, and we probably could have. The problem with that is if you sell someone the wrong thing to give as a gift, you create a bad experience. When that happens, you don't turn a new shopper into a regular, and you lose an opportunity for positive word of mouth.
Sell customers the right item for them or their gift-giving scenario. If you honestly don't have the right thing for that customer, send him or her to another small business that may.
Be ready for anything
During the holiday season, you should put the needs of the customer above all else. That may mean being flexible with closing time so shoppers can have the time they need. You should also be prepared to lose a day or two to bad weather, or if you run into problems with a supplier.
Be the best possible place to shop for your customers. Work to support their needs, and try very hard to help people make the right shopping decisions. That should bring you not only a strong holiday shopping season, but it should also help you grow your customer base for the long term.