High Streets Initiative · 3 September 2018

5 independent retailers reveal why Christmas planning should start in September

Yaw Djang, co-founder of Manchester-based home and giftware storeOklahoma

With Rakuten Marketing revealing that 48% of shoppers worldwide have already bought Christmas presents, we were curious to find out if the jolly season was as much of a priority for small businesses.

The marketing company’s report surveyed over 6,000 consumers – and confirmed some of the marketing techniques employed by businesses to gain early attention. YouTube influencers are introduced to products in July and the customer experience both online and in-store becomes a focal point.

But when do the UK’s smaller stores start prepping for Christmas – and how? Here, five bosses unveil their Christmas strategies.

storeOklahoma

Yaw Djang, co-founder of Manchester-based home and giftware storeOklahoma, told Business Advice that one of the ways the company plans is by looking through sales reports from last season to see which products sold well.

“Oklahoma makes around 60% of its annual sales in the six weeks leading up to Christmas, so it’s crucial that we’re prepared,” Djang said.

“A key consideration for us is making sure that we’re stocking our shelves with our best-selling products, so not an inch of store space is wasted. By using historic sales reports from our ePOS system, Vend, our buying team is able to see our best sellers from throughout the year and select similar products well in advance.

“The data also shows us our peak sales days from the previous Christmas, which helps us to predict and plan our stock ordering with serious accuracy. This is also a massive help for keeping a firm grip on cashflow.”

Oxcloth

Sean Hammon founded Oxcloth at the end of 2016. He identified a gap in the market for smart clothes for muscular men and works with famous bodybuilders such as Tom Coleman. Christmas is the biggest time of the year for sales – so he plans to capitalise.

“The company has two key audiences to focus on during the festive period – men who normally buy our products, and people looking to buy Oxcloth products as a present, quite often for their partner!” Hammon said. “This means our sales increase, and therefore everything from production to shipping is busier and has to be as, if not more, efficient than it normally is.

“That’s why I start preparing for Christmas towards the end of August and start of September because that’s a key time just before people plan what presents they’re going to buy.

“Not only does the build up to Christmas require you to order more stock in, it also means marketing will need to change. Obviously, you don’t tend to see social media posts about Christmas until October but a few gentle reminders before then can help put you front of mind. If Christmas is a busy time for your business, the key to success is to plan as early as possible. Although starting to get ready for Christmas in August may sound absurd, once the busy period becomes all-consuming, you’ll be grateful of the prep you did at a quieter time.”

Raver Tots

As Mike Pickets, founder of Raver Tots previously told Business Advice, the first thing he learned when starting out in event management was “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. So you need to be watertight with everything – Christmas planning included. In fact, he plans ahead to an astonishing degree.

“Everything needs a plan B”

“Working in events and running a tour, I’m always planning a year ahead,” Pickets said.

“In a couple of months I’ll be planning Christmas 2019, the year is so much easier when the diary is all mapped out and we can work to a strategy!

“On the contrary, my personal arrangements for Christmas, that gets left till Christmas eve as does my shopping!”

Vintage Playing Cards

Tracy Kemp, founder and director of Vintage Playing Cards, started the company when some of her art deco-style playing cards went missing. The remaining cards were “too beautiful to throw away”, so she turned them into greeting cards. But because each pack is so different in look, Kemp starts planning for the holidays in February.

“As a gift retailer and wholesaler, our business is very cyclical,” Kemp said. “Christmas planning basically starts straight after Valentine’s Day. We look at the trend forecast and start product development for new products to launch for Christmas and liaise with department stores to see what their Christmas themes are.

“Most department stores open their Christmas range in July, so we often deliver goods in to store in June. Journalists also work on long deadlines, so they receive releases on our Christmas products in July. We also plan out what Christmas gift fairs to attend and book them as early as March.

“In terms of logistics, we ramp up wholesale production from September and will promote our online and retail presence from October to ensure we make the most of Christmas sales. Our studio sends out goods until the last posting day for Christmas, and then we are back in January, we focus on Valentine’s Day and then start the 11-month process for Christmas once again.”

T London

Jayne Kethro is founder of T London, a home fragrance and body collection, inspired by travel and “fuelled by tea”. Based in London, the skin-friendly formulas have seen great success. But much like Pickets, Kethro kick-starts the jolly season strategy at the beginning of the year.

“Planning for Christmas for T London starts typically in the New Year,” Kethro said.

“Christmas is one of our busiest times and this gives me sufficient time to develop ‘gift’ packaging which is important for events such as the Spirit of Christmas where the customers are looking for something a little different.

“It’s essential to plan ahead to maximise income during the last quarter and gives the opportunity to launch new products and raise awareness of our brand to a wider audience.

“We are already in the process of filling and preparing to receive stock into our warehouse ready for online orders which start increasing from the end of September.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Shané Schutte is the deputy editor of Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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