Prepare to make sure the season is merry

FRED OHLSSON
Last updated 15:03 10/12/2013

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OPINION: The festive season is the busiest time of the year for many kiwi firms, but it also comes with challenges. Some preparation now can go a long way to ensure it's a season to be merry for your business.

It's not just retail and tourism businesses that are set to ring to the tune of jingling tills. This is a busy time for a wide range of businesses. For example, builders and painters will be doing last minute renovations and mechanics will be rushing to service or repair family cars in time for holiday trips.

The influx of customers may have already started for some and, with only a few weeks until Christmas, it's important that business owners hit the ground running to make the most of the sales opportunity. But it's also important to manage some seasonal risks that lurk Grinch-like amid the Christmas cheer. These include the challenge of managing stock and staff, and managing cashflow through big peaks and troughs in demand, while making provision for holiday pay and the provisional tax bill due for many on 15th January.

Here are some top tips to come through the holiday season in great shape:

Plan ahead

Regardless of how the festive season affects your business, planning is the key to maximising sales. Here are some important considerations to keep top-of-mind:

1. Make sure you have enough stock
This might seem obvious, but you'll need to make sure you have plenty of stock to sustain your business over the festive period and into the New Year. With many suppliers shutting down over Christmas, now is the time to double-check your stock will be delivered when you need it.

2. Brush up your customer service skills
Everyone gets stressed from time to time, particularly when it's really busy. You can support your staff by offering refresher customer service training, and revisiting your disputes resolution and customer credit policies.

3. Maximise staff resources
When customers start flocking you need to have enough staff to deal with the spike in demand. Take a look at your existing resources and write a Christmas roster. If you know from previous years that resources will be stretched, consider hiring temporary staff to cover the Christmas period. You could offer extra hours over the New Year period to cover staff leave and holidays.

Increase your sales opportunities

If your turnover increases over the festive season, you'll want to maximise sales while managing demand and supply. Here are some proven ways to increase sales:

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1. Identify new products or services
Think about your product range - do you mainly sell big ticket items, or do you stock a range of products to suit a variety of budgets? You could boost sales by bundling higher-ticket items with lower-cost accessories or similar products at a discounted rate. For example, a store selling smart phones might offer a screen protector, case and car charger at a discounted rate for every phone sold.

2. Be more accessible
How easy are you to do business with?  This is a time when customers want speed, ease and convenience, so you need to be accessible and organised .

Consider expanding your working or opening hours over the festive season, offering flexible payment options such as layby or credit, and updating your website to include special offers.

Even the most basic business website needs to include up-to-date contact details, opening hours, and a comprehensive description of your business offering.

3. Attract new customers
It's great to have regular customers, but attracting new ones keeps your business fresh and gives you an opportunity to turn new faces into regulars.

Good ways to get new customers through your door or onto your website include: improving your business signage, designs, and brand logo; offering free or competitively-priced shipping rates on products sold online; or offering after-sales support or service, such as three free services with every bicycle sold.

Maintain cash flow

The holiday season can be a cash flow rollercoaster for many businesses. Sales often build to a peak with the festivities, but in the New Year there's typically less money flowing in to pay the bills.

It's important to be aware of the seasonal effect on your turnover and costs, and manage your cash flow carefully.

Take a look at last year's figures to get an idea of your likely cash flow and take the time to put together a cashflow forecast to help manage your expenditure.

Manage the quiet periods

If you find you do hit a New Year slowdown, consider investing any down time in your business. Shutdowns or quiet periods are also a great time to plan for any repairs, renovations, and makeovers.

While your customers are on holiday you can start thinking about strategic planning, product development, or goals for future development.

Just make sure you also allow time to put your feet up and rest - you deserve it and it will help you to recharge your batteries for another busy year.

Fred Ohlsson, ANZ's managing director retail and business banking.

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