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A woman shops at a store in a mall in Washington on Dec. 27, 2010.
A woman shops at a store in a mall in Washington on Dec. 27, 2010.

Guest Column

Sales strategies for the holiday retail season Add to ...

Independent retailers struggle to keep a customer’s attention throughout the year, but even more so during the holiday season.

It’s a time when big-box stores make it or break it for shareholders, and they will be out with guns blazing in print, on television and radio, and increasingly online.

Whether you sell products that compete in this retail category or not, you are fighting for time and “mind share.”

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What you don’t want to do is to try to beat big retailers at their own game. Your postcard-sized flyer will get lost in the Saturday paper, your TV advertising budget won’t likely allow your commercial to be aired until after midnight, you can probably only afford to be on one radio station, and your current web traffic might be converted into little besides verifying hours of operation. For many, the reality is that we can only do a fraction of the above – in a good year.

Since complacency is not an option, here are some other strategies:

  • Make it personal. Offer a customer appreciation sale to your best clients – let’s hope you have a database of this most valuable asset – with a “bring a friend” ticket and exclusive pricing. Do it early in the season, say the first week of December, and during hours when you are not normally open or that are generally very slow. Offer an exclusive discount for the remainder of the season, which people can offer any time to customers they refer to you. It’s a cheap customer acquisition strategy. Imagine the delight when clients can say to their personal and professional networks: “Mention my name at Barbed Wires ‘R’ Us and they’ll give you my VIP discount.” Give them a simple, generic referral card with your key business co-ordinates and offerings.
  • Rent a temporary sign with a call to action, hot product, and price, close to your location to add low cost, temporary, extra exposure.
  • Extend your hours so they, as best as possible, meet the convenience of the big retailers – customers won’t cut you any slack in this regard just because you’re a specialty shop. Remember to add the temporary change to your voice mail, website and any other place you post your hours.
  • Remerchandise.The same layout makes people assume you’ve got all the same stuff. Move it around. Make new displays. It works and it is affordable.
  • Brainstorm with staff about room in your margins you can use to incentivize people to shop early in the season and at slow times during the day. How about free gift wrapping, extra discounts, “while you wait” value adds? The goal is to free up capacity when you normally have staffing constraints. You will also be top of mind. “I got Johnny the new extra-large band-aid pack from Barbed Wires ‘R’ Us for his steel-wool stocking. Have you been there lately? The place is all changed around. It looks great.”
  • Use downtime to cold-call customers to let them know about your programs this season. Even if you just get their voice mail, you are adding a touch point at no cost by using labour trapped in down time.
  • Calculate your average sale during the season, double it, and offer free local delivery for web or telephone sales that meet or exceed that amount – the margin of the plus business should finance the courier charges.
  • Make a new product by bundling complementary items from various brands into a kit. Now you have an exclusive stock-keeping unit (SKU).
  • Keep thinking. Keep it simple. Make sure it is profitable. Above all, make it personal. Coming up with a new plan is easy, communicating it to existing and potential customers is key. Be old-fashioned and honest. While you are ringing them in, humbly ask them to spread the word. Thank them for spending their money close to home.

It’s your face. Your team’s commitment. It’s your honesty, specialties and humility that the big boxes will never master because they don’t have it. You do.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the director of Fine Tune Consulting.

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