How To Make The Most Of
A Short Christmas Season

by Tom Egelhoff

By now most MERA retailers have made some preparation for the upcoming Christmas season. That season is usually defined as beginning the day after Thanksgiving and ending Christmas Eve. As I was comparing this year with last year I discovered that last year was the longest possible Christmas season and this year is the smallest possible season. Christmas 2002 will be a full seven days shorter than last year. So, with the shorter season here are a few things that will make your Christmas more profitable and enjoyable.

Begin with the condition of your shop. The Christmas season is a time when everyone buys something. There are more potential customers roaming around than any other time of the year. You are going to see a lot of people that you've never seen before. These are "new customers" and you have an excellent opportunity to turn them into future long-term customers. Make sure your shop is neater and cleaner than normal during this period. These shoppers are going to be rushed and will make quicker assessments about doing business with you. Put on the best face you can for them.

Next, let's talk about your employees. Customer service is going to be critical this time of year. Once again, customers are going to be rushed, short tempered, belligerent and just plan cranky. You and your employees are going to have to be much more tolerant than at other times of year. Have a meeting and go over the "ground rules" of handling difficult customers. Remember, these people may be the best customers in the world during any other season but they are going to be pulled from all sides trying to get there Christmas planning and shopping done in a shorter time.

I believe every employee should have business cards. Encourage your employees to pass them out to friends, neighbors and relatives. Perhaps they get some kind of after Christmas bonus customers bringing in the cards. Additional days off is often a good incentive.

Make the shopping experience easier for your customer. One suggestion is to pre-print some gift ideas that you carry that fall into various price categories. You might have "add-on" items in the $10.00, $20.00 or $30.00 class. You might also list product packages in the $150.00, $250.00 or $350.00 range. These shoppers are looking for quick decisions. If you can help them find the prince range and the perfect products in those price ranges they will be grateful that you took the time to make their shopping easier. And they are more likely to return and be a long time buyer.

Christmas advertising is always a risky procedure. Remember my rule when it comes to advertising. Never advertise anywhere unless you have a 75% expectation that that media will produce more in sales than the ads cost. Don't blow your Christmas profit by advertising in the wrong places. Make strong attention getting ads that bring customers in your doors. Make sure you use proven methods and media that has performed strongly for you in the past. If you are a regular advertiser in the newspaper, radio or TV, this is the time to "politely demand" bigger or more ads for less or deferred payments.

Last but not least, Christmas is a joyful season not just a commercial windfall. Try to do more than just hanging some lights and decorations. Encourage employees to bring a real Christmas spirit to customers. You can accomplish that by bringing it to them. This will be a tough time on you too as an owner or manager. More problems are going to arise. Your temper is probably going to be shorter too. Resist coming down on employees too hard during this time.

Make sure you compliment them when the situation warrants. They are dealing with a more stressful situation too. The level of treatment you give them will be passed on to customers. The better they feel about their work environment the easier it will be to weather those few inconsiderate customers and keep the level of service high. Remember you are not only trying to get through the season profitably but are building a stronger base of new future customers. Every transaction is important.

If your season is successful I would suggest sending a personal handwritten note to all employees at their homes thanking them for their hard work. Not only do you acknowledge your appreciation of their hard work but you also share it with their families and make them look good at home. Remember it's a season of giving not taking. Prepare now and you will truly have a Merry Christmas.

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