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The Christmas period requires a lot of planning as a small business

September is upon us, the days are getting shorter and, before long, thoughts of Christmas will dominate for business owners and consumers alike. As the retail landscape gets more and more competitive, it is essential to make sure you get it right and plan your festive retail operation sooner rather than later, from stock management to marketing and beyond.

Karl Blakesley, marketing consultant at OrderWise says that, with Christmas now only a few months away, many retailers will very shortly enter into their busy period where they will experience a much greater influx of sales orders through their websites, online marketplaces and offline sales channels than in previous months.

‘Without a good system in place to handle this extra demand and accordingly manage purchasing requirements on the back of this, companies may be finding that stock levels are quickly dwindling as sales order volumes continue to increase,’ he says.

Keep your eye on stock

With items sure to be selling out more quickly than usual it is important for businesses to ensure that not having the items in stock at the exact moment of time, doesn’t end up costing them the sale.

‘That’s why at this time of year, it is vitally important that businesses are able to accurately forecast their needs in advance, keep the stock figures on their online channels regularly updated and have the clear stock visibility that allows them to not only sell the items they have in stock, but also items that are due to arrive from suppliers if necessary,’ Blakesley adds.

If businesses don’t have the tools to manage this now or haven’t already begun plans to implement a system, then time is very quickly running out to get a something in place that provides the stock visibility needed in time for the Christmas rush, so that should be a top priority.

‘Ideally by the end of the summer lull, businesses should be looking to forecast their stock needs based on historic usage and their supplier lead times in order to have their warehouse accurately stocked to meet Christmas sales demand,’ adds Blakesley.

‘Then as Autumn progresses to Winter, businesses should ensure that their online channels are fully integrated to all their back-end order processing and courier systems so that they can keep up with the larger sales order volumes that will be arriving.

‘By having this integration in place, companies can automatically import these orders, transfer the required details over to couriers for delivery and then also send back key information such as current stock levels and prices.’

By keeping warehouses stocked with the correct items and having the resources to quickly and accurately fulfil large volumes of sales orders coming through their multiple sales channels, retail businesses are able to fully maximise their sales opportunities so that they have a prosperous and profitable seasonal period.

A Christmas blend

Lifestyle business Solas is being launched this Autumn just in time for December 25th. ‘We have been working for 18 months to get our product and marketing campaigns ready in time for Christmas 2016. This involves website prep, branding and social media too,’ says founder Cheryl MacDonald.

‘With this in mind we have created a particularly Christmas-themed blend in our PAISEAN candle.’

At this point, MacDonald is trying to make sure that her candles are made to the highest spec in time for the festive season. ‘Our marketing and social media focusing on our new range will ramp up towards Christmas,’ she explains.

Brian Smith, founder of Popagami, a company that makes 3D designs of animal design for finger puppets, has this year undertaken a great deal more Christmas planning than usual.

‘With the help of PayPal and 11 localised webstores I need to plan a campaign that works in seven languages and I must have sufficient stock and e-commerce deadlines for delivery for Christmas,’ Smith says.

He also has a TV ad to create and has to consider where he can easily get seasonal staff for unexpected demand.

‘I’ve started now but if I want to increase sales via a third party then I’m planning in October for Christmas 2017 to get new products in front of the buyers in the late winter to Spring.

‘Also any ads in magazines and press are often required from this time if you want to be sure of ad space.’

For many of those businesses looking ahead to Christmas, funding is needed; essentially such companies are investing now for sales which are potentially up to three months away from happening.

There is a raft of new lenders willing and able to help retail businesses too often starved of funding by their banks. Boost Capital is one such example and is ready to offer fast funding to meet increased cash flow demands in the run up to Christmas.

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