“Make hay when the sun shines” is an old adage usually applied to farming, but our banker once remarked that our gift shop’s business was more seasonal than agriculture.  That may not be true (we are at least not as dependent on good weather), but it is important that we make the most of the holiday season that for many of us is our busiest time.

In retail terms, making hay means making a profit, and it’s often this seasonal profit that carries us through the slower months that follow.  Profitability is based on many things, of course, but one of the most important is markup. If you are not taking at least keystone markup (50% above wholesale) on most of your merchandise, it is unlikely that your business will be profitable.

Heavy items with high freight costs should have some additional markup added to their retail price. And don’t forget to look for hidden opportunities to earn a little extra, for example by buying merchandise at closeout or negotiating discounts on your purchases.

Some items will need to be marked down because they are are slow sellers, however discounting everything in order to compete with big box stores and online retailers is a game you are likely to lose.  Providing good service and extra value is a better way to set your store apart.

Add-on sales become particularly important during this time, because there are people out shopping that you won’t see the other 11 months of the year. Make sure that your displays are inviting and that products that go together are shown together.  In addition to having an enticing array of gifts, you want to tempt shoppers with items they’ll want to buy for themselves.

Staff training is also key to maximizing sales.  Your sales staff should not just be cashiers — they should also have good product knowledge, and know when to suggest an additional item.  I’m not suggesting the “do you want fries with that” kind of programmed customer interaction, but helping shoppers with suggestions is a valuable service that specialty shops can offer.

Another old saying (and one that does apply to retailing) is that you can’t sell from an empty cart. Keeping your shelves well stocked takes advance planning, of course, but it’s usually hard to sell the last few of anything.  If you have goods on order for January, you might consider having them arrive the week before Christmas in order to keep your shelves full.

Extended hours during the holiday may also help maximize your sales during this period. Although this requires extra staffing, it is only for a few weeks. You’ve been building up to this season all year. Now make the most of it!

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

                                                                                                   Photo by Ken Ritchie