Now that the last trick-or-treaters have long since headed home, with visions of candy corn dancing through their heads, it’s time for visions of sugarplums to start taking their place.  For many specialty retailers, the start of November means the start of the holiday season. 

You need to be thinking of the holidays now even if you are not going to put your Christmas merchandise on display yet (and customer do complain that it comes out earlier every year, even though the timing for most stores hasn’t changed much over the past decade or so).   Here is a check-list you may find helpful:

Is everything you need on order? You won’t have time to do reorders during the busy weeks after Thanksgiving, and most suppliers will be out of the best merchandise by then anyway.  You might want to place future-ship orders for items that you expect will be hot for the season, with a cancellation date stating that you will only accept the order if it arrives in good time to sell before Christmas.

Do you have your seasonal employees hired?  It’s no fun to try to train someone when the store is full of customers. Remember, an efficient and enjoyable sales transaction ranks as one of the top reasons that customers shop in independent stores. Don’t turn away your best shoppers because your newest employee doesn’t know how to sell a gift card or change the register tape.

What about boxes and bags? As one box vendor used to say in their ads, if it’s a gift you’d better have a box for it.  In-store gift wrapping is a service you can used to help distinguish your store from its big box competitors.  Even if you charge a small fee for this service, customers will be grateful to have one less task on their to do list.

If you sell ornaments, have you planned eye-catching yet practical displays for them?  In our store we tend to display most our ornaments on slatwall.  But another way to do this is to decorate “theme” trees, like this stunning example in the gift shop at Biltmore House in Ashevillle, North Carolina, and to have customers select from the back stock located in baskets nearby.  Note that this requires quite a bit of vigilance, since you must have additional stock of everything on the tree or customers will start to take it apart.

Have you added holiday hours and special events? Be sure to list these on your web site, and in bag stuffers.  Consider hosting a Christmas event with your neighboring merchants in order to stretch your advertising dollars.

Have you planned your after-Christmas sale? Do it soon so that you can be certain you’ll have some attractive display ideas, good signage and adequate staff to handle the customers.  Don’t forget to allow time to take notes on your fastest and slowest seasonal items so that you’re prepared for next Christmas.

Because whether we are ready or not, the holidays do roll from one to the other. In fact I’m already ordering for Easter….

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder