Tis the season to plan for the season

As people say Christmas comes but once a year and I know to make the most of the retail opportunity we need to have a plan that delivers this. The steps in my Christmas plan give me a route that starts at the beginning of the previous December and has brought success every year since my wife and I bought our store nearly ten years ago.

At the centre of the preparations for each years’ successful Christmas trading campaign are the records that I keep. I make notes in the shop diary of successes and challenges as they happen. For instance if we sell out of Christmas Puddings in early December or if we have a large sale of a line they will noted down. Our EPoS system allows us see our sales for any line with weekly totals going back over the past two years. It holds the daily figures for one week so for short dated products like milk and bread we print off these reports at the end of each week for the six weeks covering December to early January.

To allow an understanding of how our key seasonal product supplier lines perform such as Lindt we have set up supplementary identities on our store system to allow for ease of specific report printing. Early in January I meet with all our key staff to get their views about how we did over the Christmas period, what went well and where we could have done better. After this meeting I decide how much space we should allocate to the Christmas range next time.

All this information is placed in our ‘Christmas this year’ box file so that it can be easily found when I come to considering what to do for the next one. I also file the manufacturers and suppliers catalogues in this file as they arrive during the spring and summer. I also have a ‘Christmas last year’ box file as a home for all the information regarding that campaign.

Late June and in to July when I have all the information about the range for the next Christmas season I can consider what to order. I look at new lines manufacturers have added, what advertising support there will be and what will be promoted as offers to our customers. We look to build a range that is special to us and will not be bulk sold by the supermarkets.

I certainly don’t look to buy our entire Christmas stock need on our initial order, but buy sufficient to provide a full display when we launch our Christmas range in early November. Part of my order process is to get firm delivery dates from the manufacturers and wholesalers. I record these on my year planner, I also use this as a holiday chart and is available for all the staff to see so that everyone knows what is happening and when.

Orders done the next task will be receiving and processing the stock. This mostly happens in October with each item of Christmas stock being price labelled and stored safely until early November. The other task is to enter the details onto our EPoS system.

We price label the seasonal product to enable us to merchandise the range as we start to sell through and then don’t have to worry about moving shelf edge price labels. To simplify the price labelling operation I adopt a four price point strategy, all products end with either 25p, 49p, 75p or 99p. This makes for much less time being used in changing the price gun and reduces the time that the stock preparation takes.

Our Christmas trading period starts around 10th November and lasts for six weeks. The first task is to set up the main Christmas display and this takes up our normal promotional space. We then also include appropriate products within the everyday space, to ensure that we do not damage these valuable sales. We also build a feature window display to attract attention to the variety of different products we have on offer. To further promote our Christmas range and trading arrangement I produce a four page A4 leaflet to distribute in-store. Adverts are also placed in the local newspaper that covers our catchment area.

As we start to sell through the stock I start to consider replenishment orders. Although there are some specifically Christmas seasonal lines most of the products we order do have potential to sell beyond the 25th December. My aim is to have sold through the majority of our stock so any remaining lines can be accommodated in our confectionery category when we return our store to everyday mode.

I start to look at our short dated product orders from late November and take a close interest in these categories right up to Christmas to ensure that we have enough stock, but a minimal wastage.

And then the process starts again!

One other part of my business that gains an uplift at Christmas is our Castle Cary Hampers range, in July we undertake a review of the products in each of the hampers we offer and the price. If we decide to change any content or pricing we will then take new photographs and amend our advertising material.


Terry’s Guide to a successful Christmas

Make records of successes and failures.
Set up a simple file for all Christmas information both for last year and this year.
Keep a record of Christmas period sales, including daily sales for short dated product, milk, bread etc.
Involve your staff in the Christmas performance review and make a note of key points to put in your Christmas file. These will be invaluable when the next Christmas season starts.
Don’t be bullied into placing your orders for Christmas stock until you know what all your suppliers are offering.
Don’t buy your entire stock need at the first order, there will always be more stock available in November and December.
Negotiate a Christmas stock delivery schedule that suits your business.
Allow yourself enough time to prepare the stock before you need to display it.
Train your selling team about the new products and how you plan to display the new range.


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