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Fall 2012
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

You’ve got all your ducks in a row: the right products, the right center, the right merchandising. Our countdown to the holidays gets you ready for that one last push so everything goes according to plan.

Strong and effective staffing is key to great sales. The chart below gives you a good indication of the  volumes of traffic you can expect over the next couple of months. Black Friday weekend (including the increasingly popular Small Business Saturday) has assumed special significance among customers—especially those looking for deep discounts and deals. Be ready with inventory and a plan.
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The chart below shows that all of November is crucial in maintaining staffing levels and that it might be a wise idea to have a fixed sales (and discounting) strategy in place for the weeks leading up to the last week of December.
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When should you start your sales? How deep should your discounts be? Where and how should you look for additional staff? The following pages give some ideas.


Countdown to the Holidays

Proper planning is the answer. To achieve maximum success, your planning must start well in advance of the holiday season. Here’s a planning countdown to ensure your selling season brings much cheer.

Mid October

Making the time to effectively plan your “holiday road map” now will help you (and your employees) stay on course later on in the season.

Staffing
Determine how many selling hours you will need to cover to achieve your sales plan for the season. Now is the time to recruit, interview and hire your new staff. (See article, page 148)

Display
Plan your store displays now. Decide what products you want to feature in weekly rotations from the merchandise you have already purchased. Make sure you have enough fixtures on hand to display holiday merchandise effectively.

Inventory
Confirm shipment of all holiday product deliveries now. You don’t want to find out that merchandise you were counting on is going to be late or worse, not going to make it! Make sure all holiday purchase orders have a start and cancel date; you should plan to have orders arrive between 10/15 and 11/15.

Marketing
Plan the content and timing for all marketing materials (email, blogs, newspapers, postcards) to be sent between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sending a minimum of one email per week during this busy time will be a way to stay in touch with your customers, and notify them about specific holiday products you are carrying, extended store hours if any and weekly sales. Plan daily social media posts.

November 1-15

Staffing
Bring on new staff for training. Taking the time to teach new staff about store systems, core products and store procedures will help you with sales during peak times.

Inventory
All your holiday merchandise should now be delivered (and staged with tickets and pre-wrap if necessary). Use your new staff to do the wrapping and check-in of products with supervision from trained staff.

Marketing
Launch the first holiday-themed marketing campaign. Schedule all emails to arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday to maximize weekend shopping activity.

Sales
Set up a sales plan for every day until Christmas. Display the plan prominently so all sales associates can see what the daily goal is and track how the store is doing. Making sure to engage staff in the goals will help ensure the outcome you want.

November 15-Thanksgiving

Staffing
New staff should now be fully integrated with store systems and know how to sell key products in every department. Set up role-play with trained staff/managers to ensure temporary staff will be ready to deal with customers during busy sale periods.

Inventory
Determine if any last minute re-orders are needed. Pay for air shipments of key products if necessary, to arrive in time for Black Friday selling. Review weekly selling from prior weeks—a best seller in October can be a best seller in December as well. If you get a good sell-through of early merchandise—then it may be the right item to re-order.

Marketing
Invite your best customers for a special holiday preview to say thank you and to give them a chance to see and shop for holiday merchandise early. Offer them the best selection, exclusive products, gift with purchase and refreshments to attend. Hand out coupons for future holiday purchases. The goal is to get your best customers to shop again before Christmas!

Sales
Set up a sales contest during Black Friday week to motivate sales staff during this very busy time period.  Offer cash, additional merchandise discounts on store purchases or gift cards to winners.

December Week 1

Inventory
Review weekly selling of all holiday products starting now. The goal is to ensure that selling is meeting goals and that liquidation is going as planned.

Marketing
Send email highlighting new products this week. Host an in-store event over the weekend with one of the featured products. Post about it on Facebook daily and set up an in-store sign to draw attention to the event.

December Week 2

Inventory
If products are not selling, add picture/video to weekly email with product features and benefits. If those efforts fail to increase sales, try a small discount. The key is to ensure that holiday merchandise will be sold by December 25 and that there will not be a carryover issue in January.

Marketing
Send email featuring gifts for women this week. Create a wish list and offer to send it to male spouses/boyfriends of customers to ensure that the proper gift is purchased. Men shop at the last minute so there is still plenty of time for this!

Sales
Offer sales incentive to staff members who are the best at add-on sales. Create sales programs that engage both part-and full-timers.

 December Week 3

Inventory
Start markdowns on very slow moving merchandise this week. Be aggressive with markdowns—at least 30% (remember, if items haven’t sold, customers are telling you they don’t like the item already—it’s time to liquidate).

Display
Begin consolidation of holiday themed merchandise this week to one location. Goal is to showcase products and spur customer purchases easily while creating maximum holiday excitement.

Marketing
Host an early morning or late night in-store event this week. The idea is to do something out of the ordinary to call attention to your store. Share pictures and video of the event when it is finished. Continue sending weekly emails and social media posts highlighting products and events.

Sales
Make sure your best staff is scheduled during peak hours. This week offer an incentive for every purchase over a certain dollar amount. Keep contests short (usually 2-4 days; one week maximum). The key is to make the sales process “fun” and to keep associates motivated to help achieve the overall sales goal.

December Week 4

Inventory
Markdowns on holiday items should be at 25-30% off this week to incentivize customer purchases. Holiday themed merchandise should be included in marketing campaigns at a discount to ensure liquidation. A small markdown this week will save you money next week and beyond!

Display
Customers are in a hurry to purchase this week. Highlight pre-wrapped and boxed items. Continue consolidation of holiday themed merchandise this week. Goal is to showcase products and spur customer purchases.

Marketing
This final marketing push is about last-minute gift ideas. Price-pointed marketing in store and in your communications makes it easy for customers to shop at the last minute in your store.

Sales
Run one final contest for sales associates this week. Tie it to the store making overall sales goals. They are tired by now and need a final push to get through Christmas!

 December Week 5 (Post Christmas)

Inventory
All holiday merchandise should be marked at 50% off this week and beyond to liquidate quickly.

Marketing
Your last campaign should be an aggressive post-Christmas sales program.  Many customers receive gift cards and cash during the holidays and this week is a great time for your store to capitalize on that spending.

Sales
The last job of temporary staff will be to assist with store cleanup from holiday season and to help take a physical inventory. They can assist with inventory organization, and trained full time staff can do actual counts.


You’re Hired!

To run an efficient operation–especially during the holidays–you need the right people in the right place at the right time. This doesn’t happen by accident.

Running a retail location presents its own set of unique challenges.  Add to that the need to often times, find and hire retail workers at the eleventh hour and even the most experienced operators can be thrown into a quandary.

When faced with sourcing, screening, assessing and hiring staff in a pinch, it’s important not to abandon good recruitment and hiring practices. Why? Because the performance of front-line associates and managers directly impacts your operational results and is a critical factor in making your business successful.

Harnessing talent 

An Aberdeen Research retail report indicated that successful retailers understand that finding and hiring a strong workforce, comprised of quality talent, is a key component to driving customer satisfaction, in-store performance, and sales results.

“It’s what we call the power of people,” says Jackie Kirkwood, Director, Retail Sales, for Hickory Farms. The company implemented an HR outsourcing and national contingent worker program that not only provides superior quality sales associates and managers, but also improves workforce efficiencies by streamlining the process of hiring retail workers.

First, let’s take a look at some of the more critical areas to help improve your ability to find, screen, and hire retail workers.

Early bird deals

Most successful retailers realize that time is of the essence when it comes to hiring retail sales associates and managers. Debbie Brown, EVP of Headway Workforce Solutions, which partners with retail and consumer brands for recruitment and contingent workforce solutions says that with so many operators often going after the same candidate pools, the sooner you start the process the better your overall hiring results will be.

Some retailers might think that with the current economy, there are plenty of applicants available for open positions. Although it may be true that there are more available candidates than ever before, this does not always equate to finding and hiring the best applicants for your particular business. No matter how quickly you need to bring staff on board, it is important to abide with key hiring fundamentals in your quest for finding quality talent.

What to look for

First and foremost you’ll want to try and not get behind the proverbial eight-ball when it comes to building your candidate pools. Continually build and refine your database of potential job-seekers through a variety of sources.

One of the worst positions to be in is when you are forced to hire someone who you would not normally consider a top contender or someone who clearly is not the right fit for the position—but you have no other reasonable choice at the time.

Help in a pinch

Continually stay in touch with other retailers’ employment activities, which can be fluid in today’s environment. The fact is most retailers have different operational requirements and might have had to recently cut back staff for a variety of reasons.

This is an area where a little front-end homework can pay dividends for you in the long run. However, having an inside edge on your competition does not mean you should automatically hire their former workers right on the spot. It’s still important to make sure candidates are the right fit for you.

Also consider using social media vehicles such as Twitter for your job openings, or LinkedIn for professional and managerial talent.

At other times it might make sense to utilize more innovative vehicles, such as online communities that are geared to retail workers. One example is The Retail Life, which is an online social community comprised of retail workers who share ideas and network specifically for retail-related job opportunities and career advancement. Retailers use this site to connect with prospective talent in a more conversational format, and they can also take advantage of posting their open store positions for free.

Getting to know you

Before hiring the next warm body that just happens to complete an application, there are certain things you will first want to take into consideration.

Looking for the right “retail personality” is part art, and part science. When testing and interviewing candidates, try and identify those who enjoy people and have a passion and ability to serve customers and keep them happy. You will also want to ascertain their likelihood to keep and follow work schedules.

Multiple location retailers typically will use an online Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to keep a record of all job applicants, as well as the hiring status of their candidates as they progress through the hiring process. Many ATS tools enable online screening and assessment, which can be configured to align with your ideal candidate skill sets that are required – customer service, engagement, sales, etc.

Time after time

Most people don’t care for surprises, and retail associates and managers are no exception. You will want to discuss schedules and expectations ahead of time. Setting up work schedules as part of the initial hiring phase is a smart move. It enables employees to learn about their work commitments well in advance.

Learn if your POS system tracks average sales by the hour of the day, number of transactions per hour, as well as weekend versus Monday-Friday variables. This will help determine what type of coverage you’ll need on the floor for your hours of operation. Also, remember that most shopping center landlords require your retail location(s) to be open and staffed during regular mall hours, which can be challenging, especially during extended holiday hours.

Sales, sales, sales…

Try looking for candidates who are “brand champions” of your products or services. This could mean finding existing customers who love your products and concept or other retail workers that really appreciate and know your product category.

A well thought-out training program can go a long way toward increasing average ticket sales as well as contributing to overall sales growth. If you’re hiring someone at the last minute, you will want to make sure appropriate training measures are in place given the time constraints.

Finally, you’ll want managers to understand that what motivates one person may not work for someone else. Identifying and being attentive to each person’s unique abilities, skills and shortfalls can go a long way toward properly motivating associates. To really help sales efforts make sure last-minute staffers thoroughly know about the products you’re selling as well as their specific job expectations.

Outside experts

When needing to hire associates, key holders and managers at the last minute, another option to consider is engaging a staffing partner or employment solutions provider. Using a third party that is in the “people business” to acquire talent enables you to quickly find quality workers, when and where you need them most.

Due to economies of scale and deeper hiring and employment resources, these providers can often deliver more cost-effective results. Using an outside workforce solutions provider also reduces your time, money and resources that are used to advertise, screen, schedule, interview, test and hire candidates for your open positions.

The key is finding a provider who can accommodate your operation, as well as one who possesses specific retail recruitment and staffing solutions experience.

In today’s world, smart retail operators have learned that being able to successfully find the best qualified talent, sometimes in a pinch, provides them a true advantage over their competitors.

Lynn Switanowski

Lynn Switanowski is the founder of Creative Business Consulting Group, a retail consulting firm based in Boston, MA. For more information, please visit cbc-group.net.
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