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chris griffiths

If you are like many small businesses that enjoy a significant increase in business activity around the holidays, you've been looking forward to this sales season all year

Ironically, you probably feel like it has snuck up on you while you were busy dealing with the day-to-day operations. Here are some simple, cheap and fast (my favourite kind) marketing, promotion and purchasing ideas to make sure you get your share of customers, and profits, this season.

1. Call suppliers

Ask if they are seeing any industry product trends that you may not have noticed yet but will likely apply to you. Get on board.

Also ask if they foresee running out of core or popular items that you are used to having them easily supply. If so, stock up now.

I'm not a fan of buying inventory in huge batches but I'm even less of a fan of running out.

If you are stocking up aggressively, ask for a temporary extension of payment terms. I found suppliers would often increase payment terms from 30 days to 60 days on holiday inventory purchases. That's great for cash flow and free financing for an extra 30 days.

2. Interrupt the consumer purchasing process

If you own a hair salon, as an example, partner with a nearby restaurant to hand out discount cards to all of their customers until Christmas.

What do eating out and getting and a haircut have in common? Nothing, and that's the point. You're soliciting customers where they least expect it; because the restaurant is nearby, there's a good chance customers probably live or work in the area.

It's a no-cost value add for the restaurant and potential new customers for you.

Another idea: Rent a temporary road sign for your business and place it near your competitor's location or on the other side of town (permits may be required but the sign company usually stickhandles that for you).

It's not as exotic as opening up a second location but is a very cost-effective way to create awareness of your brand outside of your normal trading area.

3. Consider a loss leader

I'm obsessed with controlling margins, but every grocery store can't be wrong.

They advertise and sell certain items every week at ridiculously low prices to drive traffic in hopes that customers being lured by blowout-priced items will also buy plenty of other things at regular prices.

Think about a commodity item that you can discount steeply that is attractive to a wide cross-section of your customer base and promote it at a low- or no-margin price, for a limited time, to drive traffic.

Call your supplier of this loss leader item and see if it will participate with promotional pricing of its own, for you, for this event.

4. Decorate, merchandise and give

Customer's aren't going to feel any more excited about making holiday-time purchases at your store than you are. Do the bare minimum in decorating and merchandising your store, and you can expect minimal results in return. Completely remerchandise your inventory, and regular customers will think you have all new stuff and new customers will browse the products you want to highlight to them.

Do up your store, inside and out, with classy, reusable decorations that accent your space and your products. But be careful not to overdo it.

Play Christmas music at low but audible levels and consider candy canes, or a healthier alternative, or holiday stickers to give to kids who come in to shop with their parents.

It's not all about receiving, even if you are a business. Choose a product whose sales you can use to make a small donation to a local charity. This is way better than asking for a donation from your customer at the time of payment and makes you, your clients and the charity feel good.

Think of how these cost-effective, seasonal strategies can be customized for your business. Consider them just a start to how you can make the most out of seasonal sales.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.

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