Author: Cindy Hanauer
While everyone else is thinking of warm sun, sandy shores, tropical drinks, and a cabana hut, we in the floral industry, are thinking about decking those retail halls for the Christmas holiday with poinsettias, zygo cactus, evergreens, wreaths, hard goods, gift baskets, fresh-cuts, and more!
Doesn’t it feel like we’re on a continuous racetrack, speeding around the asphalt past one holiday and rounding the curve towards another? Round and round we go…hoping we don’t run into any yellow flags on the journey!
Racing legend, Bobby Unser, describes his winning formula as this: “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” No doubt…..without all the preparations that go into building the perfect car, there is no win, regardless of how good the driver is. So, as we all pull up to the starting line, here are a few ways to fuel- inject your holiday preparations and successfully cruise past the checkered flag on December 25th!
The Pole Position
The pole position is the foremost starting point of the track and is awarded to the fastest qualifying car before the race begins. How do we qualify for that most-advantageous pole position and accelerate out of the gate with the “pedal to the metal”?
- Delve into History: How did each category and product perform last year? Which products were in greatest demand, which products did not inspire the customer to buy, which products did not weather the shipping process and which products were depleted early, leaving you with “phantom sales”? Very simply, expand on the good, replace the bad, and use about 10% of your total budget toward brand new products.
Tip: In the category management world, this pre-planning process is called, “Assortment Optimization” and it provides a perfect foundation for selecting the right products and mastering any mistakes from the past
- Synchronize your Financial Calendar: Matching up prior and current year financial calendars may seem easy, but an unsynchronized calendar can cause out-of-sync store inventory, and undue panic on sales performance.
We all know that some holidays are “date-specific” (such as Christmas is always on December 25th), but many holidays are not “date-specific”, such as Easter, Mother’s Day, and Thanksgiving. Such holidays are called “moveable feasts” in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars which follow only the cycle of the sun. Rather, their dates are determined on a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar. And then, when a company’s fiscal calendar is added to the mix, managing shipments and sales tracking can become very confusing.
Tip: One strategy that I’ve found most successful in keeping track of sales and shipment comparisons is building a spreadsheet with the comparison years across the top: 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022. Then, down the left column: Christmas –minus 14 (meaning 14 days out from Christmas, Christmas –minus 13, Christmas –minus 12, etc., ending with Christmas –minus 1 and finally, Christmas Day -minus 0) at the bottom. Fill in sales and shipment data for each year, leaving the current year (in this case, 2023) blank for data population as the 2023 results occur. You may also want to bold the dates where weekends occurred, since weekend placement causes surges in sales that are not necessarily holiday-related.
- Assess Back-Stock: This is a time when we roll up the sleeves and dig through every nook and cranny of non-perishable back-stock, well before the holiday ordering process begins. Back-stock is a financial enigma. When left in the back room, back-stock is a detriment. When utilized on the sales floor, back-stock is the best aerodynamic toward achieving additional sales and profits.
Tip: In advance of the holiday ordering process, ask your store associates to recap all applicable holiday back-stock items and reference it during the ordering process. This will prevent the spending of unnecessary dollars on new product, where back-stock product can be utilized, instead.
- Motivate Your Pit Crew: Whether it’s the executive team, field staff, store associates, suppliers or distribution team, your pit crew is the single most valuable component in winning the race. Suppliers and Distribution Teams thrive on advanced planning, and with it, they can supply the best products and the best service. The executive team and store associates provide the best support when they understand the plan and when they are also involved in supporting that plan. Potential head-on collisions related to weather issues, late shipments, mis-budgeting and over/under inventories can be averted at store-level when your pit crew knows the 360-degree plan and all contingencies.
Tip: Many technology applications today provide an efficient way to hold virtual meetings and education forums with your store associates or field teams. Of course, we got very familiar with these during the pandemic. Try them…they’re easy to use, and they’re FREE!
The Holiday In Gear
A gear is a circular, wheel shaped part of the engine with teeth along the edges, interlocking the two mechanisms to enable one to turn the other. Sounds like the perfect teamwork needed to execute a successful holiday!
- The Anti-Roll Bar: The best protection for a driver during the race is the anti-roll bar, and the best protection for your holiday efforts is a pre-holiday order versus budget analysis. The only way to achieve an anticipated sales budget is to ensure that enough product has been ordered to achieve those dollars. This should be done well before the holiday ensues, so there is plenty of time for order adjustments before the holiday weeks occur.
Tip: Once holiday orders are transmitted, run a total retail dollar comparison versus target sales budget to make sure that there will be enough inventory on hand to achieve your total budget. Then, break those dollars down by individual store to make sure each and every store’s orders are sufficient in dollars to achieve their individual sales budgets. Stores who are heavy in inventory should be encouraged to report it to the corporate office for solutions. For every store that is heavy…. there is usually another store who needs more product.
- Prepare the Track: Regardless of the preparations that take place behind-the-scenes, the actual customer purchase is driven by in-store visual impact. Christmas is a time where every other gift retailer is turbo-charging their merchandising prowess, so each of our stores must be visually running on all cylinders, as well.
Tip: For communication ease, display vignettes can be numbered Display #1, Display #2, etc. Display #1 is the most forward of the store, display #2 is behind it, and so on. Usually Display #1 holds the weekly featured items, Display #2 holds secondary features and the remaining products are displayed behind them based on importance.
Don’t forget that non-holiday products are also very important to the success of the holiday, itself! There are still birthdays, anniversaries, and hospital visits, even though we’re promoting the holiday season! If not specifically planned on the stores’ merchandising guides, these non-holiday items can easily disappear, and the customer will go elsewhere for these products.
- Plan for Fender-Benders: Regardless of how well we drive, there’s always a likelihood for mini collisions during the holidays due to inclement weather, frozen product and shipping delays. The speed at which these occurrences are solved can mean the difference between winning the race and blowing the motor.
Tip: Solicit help from your IT Department to create a set of convenient e-forms, which store associates can easily access to report quality issues, shipment shortages/overage and product add/cut forms. E-forms can be developed with point-and-click dropdown buttons and a convenient instant messaging button to create two-way messaging to the appropriate leadership group who will help solve the problem and formulate an instant remedy.
- Delight Your Fans: There’s nothing more important than your dedicated fans, the customers who have become your repeat customers from one year to the next. Your fans want exciting displays, quality goods, personable service and a genuine “thank-you” for being a solid supporter. Remember, the easiest money comes from those fans who have purchased from you before. At a time when everyone else is advertising poinsettias, what is special about your poinsettias? What can the customer see in your store that they won’t find anywhere else?
Tip: With the current technology of scan bars, it’s easy to create multiple-purchase or combo promotions. Since fresh-cuts are more difficult to sell during the Christmas holiday, try a promotion such as, “Buy a 10-inch poinsettia and receive 20% off of a fresh bouquet”. Also, remember that during Christmas, many gifts are purchased in multiples for teachers, neighbors, hostesses, friends and even home and church décor. Try running a case-pack promotion such as, “Buy one Poinsettias for $_.__ OR Buy SIX poinsettias and receive 20% off! These promotional methods will delight your single-purchase fans, as well as add additional horsepower to your fans who are looking to buy in volume.
- The Winning Lap: Each year, stores and shopping malls around us are promoting the Christmas season earlier and earlier every year. In many instances, our most hard-core customers are deciding where they will make their holiday gift and décor purchases after Halloween. As a result, current consumer data tells us that by December 10th, almost 53% of all holiday shopping is complete.
Tip: Early on, start promoting a small “Christmas preview” display in each store, promoting your most important features of the upcoming holiday season. This “Christmas Preview” may also be carried over into your circular and online ads. Subsequently, your customers will be able to see all of your exciting products to come, without the business risking an excessive amount of perishable inventory too early in the season. Today, “Gift Guides” are a popular marketing tool, offering a one-page store or online brochure of gifting suggestions for every recipient on the shopper’s list: Gifts for Mom, Dad, Husband, Wife, Kids, Friends, Teachers, etc. Work with your marketing team to develop a creative “Gift Guide” to use in your circular ads, online ads and social media.
With early and detailed planning, the 2023 Christams season can be planned with eager anticipation of repeated success. we can plan to win. legendary Hall of Fame NASCAR driver, the late Dale Earnhardt, put it best when he said, “The winner ain’t the one with the fastest car – it’s the one who refuses to lose.”