Regardless of the economic outlook, you can rest assured that many people will be in your stores this holiday season. They may be working with a tighter budget, or they may not. They may be more discerning, or they may not. Whatever happens you still need to be prepared. There are things you need to do to have your store, your staff, your management team and your merchandise ready.
Here is a handy checklist to help you make sure you’re doing everything you can to make the most of the holiday traffic that comes into your store:
Study History – Get out last year’s sales records, promotional calendar and staff schedules. Study them to see if there is anything you might do differently this year. If you were the Manager last year, try to remember the things that really caused things to breakdown. Learn from those things and safeguard against those same things happening again this year. Hint: If you do not already do this, make a point of noting all of the things that work really well and the things that don’t so you you’ll have the benefit of that information next holiday season.
Schedules – The Backbone of your Store – Make schedules for the next 10 weeks (from 3rd week in November to end of January). Based on your sales targets, you need to figure out what kind of floor coverage you will need for each of the 10 weeks. These can be mock schedules but they should fairly represent what your actual schedule should look like. It is during the making of these mock schedules that you will come up with your plan for the holiday season with regard to floor coverage, stock replenishment, shipping/receiving, cashiers, greeters, fitting room coverage, recovery of the store throughout the day and at night, etc. You’ll get a very good idea of how many temporary employees you should hire. Hint: Once you know how many temporary employees you will need, hire 4 more.
The reason you will want to schedule well into January is because of the trend toward the purchase of gift cards. After the main holiday event, many customers will come into your store to spend their gift card. You need to be as ready for them as you were for the pre-holiday gift buyers. So, whatever you do, don’t become complacent in January.
Employee Illness – Try to recall from last year: Did a lot of employees call in sick? Were there certain days where you were left without proper coverage? How did that affect your business? Were the temporary employees trained well enough to really add value to your business? What can you do to avoid the pitfalls of last year? Hints: 1) hire more temporary workers and train them better 2)make sure your regular staff are considered when making the schedule – the needs of the business comes first, of course, but your regular employees will have some particular dates that they really need to have off for family gatherings and holiday preparation 3) send sick workers home so as not to spread illness to customers and other staff members 4) make sure you are not working certain employees so hard that they become exhausted or disillusioned.
Staff Meetings – Don’t forget to schedule time for management team meetings and staff meetings. Some of the meetings will be short touch base meetings and others may be educational. Still others should be for fun and celebration. Remember, everyone is stressed during the holidays and anything you can do to make your employees’ lives a little better during this busy time will probably pay dividends. Hint: Appoint someone to organize a pot luck luncheon for some of your busiest days. This accomplishes two things. 1) it promotes a sense of camaraderie among regular and temporary employees and 2) it saves them from having to fight the line ups at the food courts; giving them more time off of their feet.
Inventory – Did you have enough last year? Did you have a foolproof replenishment system in place so that the on floor selection was never compromised? The Rule is: If it’s in the backroom and not on the floor – you’re doing something wrong. No excuses like “we were too busy” or “it’s such a mess in the backroom we didn’t know we had more”. It is a Manager’s job to manage the replenishment function. Delegate this to certain individuals and then hold them firmly accountable for ensuring the sales floor is well stocked at all times. If you think this is no big deal – and many people do think that way – then picture this scenario: We’ll use ladies apparel in this example. A woman is busy shopping and comes across a style of blouse that she likes enough to touch and see if her size is there. If it is, she may further explore the idea of trying it on or just purchasing it outright. If her size is not there, she will move on in the store, or even leave to move on to another store. She was not shopping for clothes for herself so she did not want to bother to ask an associate to check the back room for her size. And even if there was an associate close by and willing to go and check the back room, this customer will decline the offer because it wasn’t that important. So, there is one lost sale. This happens many, many times a day. If you have merchandise on your premises (in your back room) that is not represented on your floor you are losing sales – to think otherwise is plain foolish. Hint: Make sure no one comes out of the backroom empty handed. At this time of year, there is always a need for more of something on the sales floor.
SWAT – Sell What’s Available Today – Don’t accept any excuses or complaints. Whatever your store does not have available to sell on any given day…it simply cannot sell and it serves no purpose whatsoever to complain about this. This cannot be used as a reason or excuse for lack of productivity. Your Sales Associates should be knowledgeable enough to interest customers in what you do have. Whenever you and/or your associates go down that road it helps to remember one important thing – you have inventory in your store, probably many thousands of dollars worth of inventory, and it must be sold at some point. The fact that you may not have enough of the merchandise that is easy to sell is too bad but, again, you do have inventory to sell. It’s your job to sell it. Hint: Offer some type of incentive to staff members who sell a certain number of your slow moving items. It’s a great way to move inventory.
Maintenance – Always important but now is the time to make certain that all of your light fixtures are working; your exit signs are lit, your fire extinguishers have been checked, your flooring and carpets have no turned up edges that can trip people, your POS and printers are working properly, your doors or door grills are in good repair, ceiling ducts are clean and dust free, fitting rooms are clean and welcoming, shelves are firmly in place to avoid accidents, no chipped glass anywhere, no rough edges on sign holders, the back room is well organized, the plumbing (if any) and any illuminated store signage is working properly. You won’t want to be spending valuable on floor and customer time taking care of pesky maintenance issues that could be taken care of in advance. Emergencies aside, your concentration needs to be elsewhere so…get it done now.
Communication – Although you should have excellent communication practices in place all year round it is never more critical than it is at holiday time. Customers are moving through stores faster, wanting more attention paid to their issues; they want things resolved on the spot. Staff members have issues they need resolved. Management team members must act as one throughout the holiday season, in particular. Clear off the back room staff communication board and use it only for current holiday communications. Hint: Buy a new holiday inspired notebook for management communication and insist that every management team member makes notes in that book at the end of every one of their shifts and signs off. Sometimes they will have important notes to pass on to the next management person taking over and sometimes they may just make comments about how the shift went – all of these comments are important. Every Manager coming on shift needs to check that communication notebook first thing in the morning…right after the sales report.
Supplies – Many Head Offices send their stores the supplies they predict they will need over the holidays. Don’t assume these quantities are correct. Always go through your supplies list to ensure you have enough to take you through the holiday season without running out.
Check out this list: printer paper, POS supplies, ink and cartridges, paper rolls, bags, tissue paper, tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, soap, boxes, pens, pencils, gift cards, loyalty cards, gift envelopes, cleaning supplies, hangers, packing tape, staples, elastic bands, a first aid kit, scissors, paper clips, push pins, signage, sign holders, promotional coupons, current product catalogs, vacuum cleaner bags, mop heads, cleaning cloths, garbage bags, tools, and anything else that may be specific to your particular retail operation. Hint: Using a blank supplies list, walk around the entire store and check each supply item to determine if you have enough to get you through the season.
Make a list and check it twice – Every single day, a new ‘to do’ list needs to be written. Tasks must be delegated and followed up. Hint: In advance, prepare a standing list of things that would be on the ‘to do’ list every day and add spaces for new things. Make photo copies of these to avoid lots of duplication of effort.
Notes and supplies at the cash desk – It is important to have everything a cashier or sales associate needs to know posted close by the POS. You want to make sure it is neat and out of the customers line of sight. A small, sturdy notebook works best. Make sure all codes, authorizations, important telephone numbers such as tech support, Store Manager and Regional Manager numbers, certain banking info. , new SKU’s that aren’t uploaded into the POS yet, generic sku’s, special promo codes, etc. are in that book. Also, make sure hand bills and old fashioned credit card swipe machines and gift cards/certificates are easily accessible. Make sure every cashier and any associate who may be operating a POS terminal knows exactly where to go to get the information and supplies they may need. Everything should be conveniently located for their use. It is the Manager’s job to ensure they have absolutely everything they need at their fingertips to avoid confusion and to avoid delays for the paying customer. Hint: Choose your cashiers wisely and train them well. Well trained and efficient cashiers are a delight to the customer and provide a great last, and lasting, impression of your store.