Getting Your Small Business
Ready For Christmas


by Tom Egelhoff

By the time you read this article it will be less than 90 days until dare it say it Christmas. I know you don't want to think about it and your customers don't want to think about it but that time is here. Believe it or not you actually have a great deal of control whether this Christmas is a boon or a bust to your business. By starting now there are some things you can do to help you get a jump on your competition and bring in the shoppers.

The reason you need to start now is that it takes time for a marketing plan to work and you need to create a plan and work it to have a successful holiday season.

Forty to sixty per cent of your customer base is either in the process of increasing the business they do with your or terminating the business they do with you. A recent survey shows that 54% of businesses get most of their customers by word-of-mouth. Your average customer will recruit three other customers during the time they do business with you. Someone telling someone else about your business is very powerful. And what makes customers talk about a business? Usually the way they were treated in that business. Here are some ideas that can get you off on the right foot.

Begin internally with you and your employees. I know you think you give good or even great customer service over the course of the year but this is the time to step it up a notch. Call customers by name as soon as you know it (it's on their checks and credit cards) better yet train your sales people to introduce themselves and meet people. Point out new items to customers. Ask when they last shopped with you if you don't recognize them.

Don't have employees point them toward products; physically take them over to the area they are looking for and give them information about the products and related products they might want to consider down the road. I'm not talking about high pressure or "hovering" over customers,

I'm talking about giving them a little extra help and a feeling that you took your time to give them personal attention so they will remember their shopping experience positively. Have your very best "people" person answering your phone. This is where sales and relationships begin for a company. Remember, they took the time to find your number and call you they want something.

Invite your best customers in for an after hours party. Pick their brains about what they bought last year. What items make good gifts? Are there products they wish you carried that you don't? What price ranges are they looking for? What is their average Christmas budget? These people shop too and they are the start of your word-of-mouth campaign.

Start subtle in-store displays of gift ideas. Don't bring out the ornaments and trees just yet but give your high margin gift ideas a prominent place where they will be noticed. Traditionally the Christmas buying season starts the day after Thanksgiving but there are also many people who are done by then. If they see a good gift idea that would be perfect for someone it goes in their subconscious memory to be retrieved at shopping time.

The next part of your success is advertising in the right place, with the right products to the right people. You need to know how to reach your best customers. Rather than wasting money by throwing your advertising all over the place and hoping some of it sticks, define your best customer and seek out the appropriate medium to reach them. During October and the first weeks of November these will not be Christmas related ads. You are planting shopping ideas and hints that will be harvested down the road. Of course some will buy immediately, some will clip the ad and shop later, still others will be me ... the 3:00 PM December 24th shopper.

The final word point I want to touch on is gift certificates. In my seminars I always ask what the store gives the person buying the gift certificate and the room is always strangely silent. Most give nothing. Think about this. Someone comes in your business, gives you money that has no immediate effect on your inventory, gives a personal recommendation of your business to a new customer and you send them away with nothing.

This person should get a coupon, a small gift, or some expression of appreciation for being in the 54% word-of-mouth that will bring you a successful shopping season. Confirm in their mind that you are the type of business they want to send friends to. Happy Holidays.


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