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American Express Open Forum: 10 Ways to Get Your Small Business Ready for the Holidays

October 9, 2012

With the holiday shopping and traveling season just around the corner, you need to be working now on your small business’ plans for the end of the year.

So far, this year looks like it could shape up to be lucrative for merchants if the International Council of Shopping Centers forecast of a 3 percent sales increase during the November-December shopping period holds true.

The group predicted an upswing in sales and who wouldn’t want to cash in on that?

To give your business a leg up, it should be doing the following things now to be able to compete this holiday season, so take this list and check it twice.

1. Know the trends. What’s hot in your industry? Consumers will be looking for the must-have items and you want to make sure your business is carrying them. A way to track down what’s hot is to talk to your vendors and current customers.

For business owner Nancy Neal of Florida, knowing the trends means offering something consumers can’t get in the grocery store, but can get at Nancy’s Pantry Corner where she sells homemade jams and jellies.

“None of my jams are typical. Those are available at the grocery,” she says. “Your product must stand out.”

2. Review your inventory. To appeal to more consumers, your business should have good representation at various price points, said Bob Epstein, CEO of Silverman Consultants LLC, which has provided advice and market strategies to the jewelry industry since 1945.

3. Examine past years’ performance. The benefits of doing this are twofold. First, your business can identify who your customers really are and how to plan a marketing strategy to reach them. Secondly, by assessing the previous years, you can see if you’ll need extra help and how many seasonal workers to hire.

4. Start the hiring process for seasonal help. You want to hire people who are enthusiastic about your product and have good customer service skills. Not everyone who applies for the job will have these qualities, so it’s critical to start the hiring process early enough to be able to find those people.

Good customer service skills are crucial in the hospitality industry, said Elizabeth L. Boineau, who runs a strategic marketing communications and public relations firm in Charleston, S.C.

“Even if the market is flooded with job seekers, it takes a certain person to thrive in the hospitality service industry,” she says. “Look for these attributes in your new hires, even if [they are] temps. They must communicate well, exude the utmost confidence, balance empathy with efficiency, be cool in temperament, swift to serve and a perfect negotiator. Look around your organization to be sure that only the highest caliber of individual flanks you. If not, start looking for replacements amongst that pile of fresh resumes, too.”

5. Update your social media presence. Take a look at your current social media accounts. Do they need a revamping?  Does your business need to start using new platforms like Instagram and Pinterest?

Social media is a marketing tool that needs to be utilized in the competitive retail world.

“Are you currently using social media to market your store?” asked Epstein. “If not, you’re missing a significant resource for reaching your audience through word of mouth, endorsements, networking and referrals.”

6. Get customers excited by offering pre-holiday promotions. Your business will get a jump on the competition.

Epstein suggested offering a wish list and then inviting spouses or significant others to shop on a special night over refreshments in a festive atmosphere.

7. Test the holiday promotions and offer different ones. Look at the promotions you have planned to work the kinks out of them before they go live.

Epstein suggested planning promotions that don’t just involve giving a discount.

“Offer free gift wrapping, easy return or exchange policies for the holidays, layaways or get creative and have several fun events at your location,” he says.

Boineau suggested using your loyal customers to test holiday promotions.

“What do you want to test with your loyal audience and best referral sources before you plan the promotion, package, event or dinner you hope will be a hit?” she asks.  “What’s the new price point for your customer? Ask them, or you’ll see empty seats, tables and/or beds at a critical time of the year.”

8. Give customers a reason to visit. Determine what set you apart from the competition and look for ways to get that message out to the community.

“Clearly define why they should choose you, and use that message consistently across all channels,” Boineau says.

Neal does this by offering suggested uses for her products and produces lists of products that can be combined into recipes or ready-made party appetizers.

9. Check those displays. Before your business needs them, go through the decorations and special store displays to see if anything needs replacing or repairing.

10. Get ready for the holiday rush. Make sure your store has enough packaging, boxes and gift wrapping. Plan for extended hours, both in supplies and workers needed to cover those times, Epstein says.

Linda is an award-winning journalist with more than more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, editor and blogger. Linda blogs via Contently.com.

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