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Spring 2006 Holiday Sales Start-Up Calendar

Every seasoned specialty retail entrepreneur will tell you that the sooner you start planning for your holiday sales, the better your chance of retail start-up success. To help you plan ahead and make the most holiday sales possible, here is a monthly holiday sales calendar, starting with April.

April

Begin product research. If you have not settled on specific products or an overall retail concept yet, April is the time to zero-in on what you plan to sell. Experienced retailers know that a great product in one location isn’t necessarily a great product in another. So when you’re deciding on your product line, keep your potential location and customers in mind. If you cannot decide on a product or retail concept, ask the leasing manager what products have sold best in their centers during previous holiday seasons.

Identify potential locations. Make a list of the malls or other high-traffic retail venues you are interested in. For each center you are considering, call the management office and ask to speak with the specialty leasing manager. Introduce yourself and fully explain your holiday sales concept. Ask about rent rates (including overage rates) and any other costs associated with leasing space, such as common-area-maintenance (or CAM) charges. Also ask for any demographic information and marketing data available on the center, including traffic counts. Find out when they expect to start signing lease or license agreements for holiday locations. (Many centers start to sign agreements sometime in the late spring or early summer.) Be sure to get each manager’s e-mail address; e-mail is often the most efficient way to communicate with these very busy leasing professionals.

May

Continue product research. Use retail trade magazines, buyer’s guides, trade shows and online resources to find dependable suppliers for products you want to sell. If you plan to buy from a company that offers a complete turnkey retail start-up package, ask for several turnkey operator references. Call the operators to ask about their first-hand experiences with the supplier. Ask open-ended questions to get the operators talking about their experiences, such as: How beneficial was the training offered by the turnkey provider? How effective was the guidance they offered on how to sell their product? How helpful were company representatives at resolving any problems that cropped up? Experienced retailers can provide you with great insight into not only their specific experiences selling that particular product, but their broader perspectives on holiday retailing in general.

Write a business plan and marketing plan. You will increase your chance of retail success if you write a business plan that outlines your retail concept and target audience—as well as a marketing plan that details how you plan to reach that audience. (Some leasing managers now require a business plan before leasing space.) The two easiest ways to create a winning business plan are to purchase business-plan software or go online to see dozens of sample plans. The most popular business plan software is Business Plan Pro, which includes 500 sample plans and costs about $100 for the basic package.

Meet again with the leasing manager. As soon as you have settled on a specific product line or overall retail concept, schedule a meeting with the leasing manager at the mall. Present your business concept at the meeting. Bring any product information provided by your supplier to support your presentation. Now is the time for you to fine-tune your holiday sales concept with the leasing manager’s input.

June & July

Secure your space. Once you have decided on a location, sign the leasing agreement to secure your space. Be sure to read carefully the entire agreement before you sign it. Although specialty-leasing agreements are often fairly straight forward, it’s prudent to have an attorney review the agreement before you sign it. Be prepared to put down a security deposit at the time you sign the agreement. The amount of the deposit required will vary from mall to mall.

Ask about on-site storage. Some malls offer space to holiday tenants for storage of excess inventory. If such space is available, it is generally limited. Consider renting this space if available. It’s much easier to have your product shipped directly to the center and stored on-site, than to have it shipped off-site and then delivered to your retail location.

Finalize supplier options. Decide which suppliers you will ultimately buy from. Review with your suppliers all purchasing terms and conditions you discussed earlier. Verify minimum order requirements, whether shipments will be received COD or on terms, and the suppliers’ returns/backorders policies. Now is the time to dot every supplier “i” and cross every “t.”

August

Secure start-up capital. Be sure you have enough money to cover the following: your first rent payment to the mall, including the security deposit; your first inventory order; and your operating expenses through at least your first month of operation. Common sources to cover your initial funding include your own savings, credit cards and/or funds borrowed from family and friends.

Create a visual-merchandising plan. The more professional and visually engaging your display, the more customers will purchase from you. The mall may suggest—and in some cases require—that you work with one of the center’s professional merchandisers to create a dynamic display that fits in with the center’s overall look and feel. If you do work with a professional visual merchandiser, meet with them early and often, so they have time to create a winning display and you have time to purchase any fixtures needed to put the finishing touches on your holiday location. If you chose a turnkey concept, your supplier may provide you with a suggested display that you should review with center management to make sure they find the display acceptable.

September

Set up back-office operations. Now is the time to address the operational aspects of business. Secure merchant accounts so you can accept credit cards, file for the necessary business licenses, open the business bank accounts you will need, take out the necessary insurance policies (mall management will let you know what type of coverage they require), and arrange for the phone lines you will need.

Purchase business supplies. Make a list of supplies that you need for opening day. Items on your list will likely include the big items like a cash register/POS system and credit card processing terminal, and the small stuff like pens, shopping bags, gift paper, extension cords and so on. Review the list with the center’s leasing manager and ask if there are items you neglected.

Arrange for a payroll service. It may be worth your while to contract with a payroll service to figure payroll taxes and cut paychecks. To find these companies, go online or consult your local Yellow Pages. Payroll services are efficient, inexpensive and will enable you to focus on your primary goal—ringing up the sales—rather than being distracted by the details of completing your payroll.

October

Order initial inventory. Place your initial inventory order at least two weeks prior to your opening date. Leave yourself enough time to get to know all you can about your merchandise before you open for business and allow for any problems with shipping.

Hire and train staff. About a month prior to opening, begin the process of hiring and training your staff. Malls are generally open 12 to 15 hours a day during the holidays—and some stay open 24 hours! No matter how many hours you plan to be on-site, you will need employees. As you make your hiring decisions, keep in mind that how well you do sales-wise is often a direct reflection of the quality of staff you hire. Have your candidates fill out a short employee questionnaire and application (formats for both can be found online). Outline for applicants the job opportunity, from pay to hours required to the specific duties of a sales associate. If possible, hold weekly training sessions for several weeks prior to opening day. These meetings will give you a chance to provide cash register/POS training, product training, sales training, and to keep your staff focused on the coming holiday season. Weekly meetings are also an excellent way to build a team atmosphere.

November

Opening day! Holiday retailers typically open for business November 1st. Some retailers even open on October 1st or 15th, so they have additional time to train staff on-site and work out any kinks in their systems before the holiday buying season is in full swing.

Continue hiring. Think of hiring as an ongoing process. You will always need to find new qualified applicants. Hold weekly performance reviews with your staff, and replace those who are not performing. Ask top performers to recommend friends or family who might be interested in working for your company.

Continue training. Keep in mind that your staff won’t get off track a mile at a time, but inch by inch. No matter how well you train your staff initially, they can get off track if you do not spend time working with them on a daily basis.

December

Order big! Be sure to order enough product for the big holiday rush in the last few weeks of the season. A common mistake made by first-time holiday retailers is to not order enough inventory for the two weeks before Christmas. Don’t get stuck without inventory, or having to pay huge fees for expedited shipping, which will cut into your profit margin. A good rule of thumb is to expect about 50 percent of your holiday sales to come in the last two weeks before Christmas.

Staff heavily. Many first-time holiday retailers underestimate how much shopper traffic increases during the two weeks before Christmas. Be ready to take advantage of the traffic and the increase in buying mentality by scheduling additional staff for the last two weeks before the big holiday.

Plan for post-holiday sales. Last but not least, plan for your post-Christmas sales. One of the busiest shopping days of the year is December 26th. In fact, from December 26th through January 31st, shoppers redeem 60 percent of the gift cards they receive—cards that totaled $18 billion last year. Don’t let your staffing guard down after Christmas day—and have enough inventory on hand to take advantage of the post-holiday shopper traffic.

With a little—OK, a lot of—pre-season planning, you can maximize your holiday sales and profits, and make your first specialty retail venture a success.


Brady Flower

Brady Flower has spent the last ten years in the mall cart industry. He started and ran his first Comfort Zone cart in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota in the mid-1990's selling reusable heat and massagers.Flower has operated sold different products successfully through carts in the mall on a seasonal and year round basis.Flower is a highly regarded speaker in the Specialty Retail Industry, both in the United States and Internationally. Since 2002 has taught the ONLY ongoing public seminar, "Start and Run Your Own Mall Cart or Kiosk

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