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Revving Up For Fourth Quarter!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Revving Up For Fourth Quarter!Don't just hope that your October, November and December will be successful. Plan on it! Former California destination store owner and popular gift show seminar speaker Sue Kirby offers advice and tips to lay the groundwork for an exciting and profitable fourth-quarter selling season.

Q. Why is it that many gift store owners don't have a plan for fourth-quarter sales? What happens when they don't establish a plan?

A. I feel that by nature we retailers don't like the word "plan." We are entrepreneurs who have a vision or dream to have a wonderful store with wonderful products that make people happy. However, a plan is important because it gives clear direction and a responsibility about what will make a retail business thrive.

When I hear the word "plan," I think of numbers and tracking. If you're not good at [that kind of planning], delegate it to someone who loves it, like an accountant or spouse. They go by a system—and we retailers go by emotion. They will do system tracking to determine what is honestly selling. If you bought 144 chairs and still have 100 sitting there, they'll say "Hold on!" By planning, the end result is that you can grow in ways you never thought because you have the realities right in front of you. If you're not responsible to that part of your retail business, it will eventually take you under.

Q. If retailers don't have a plan in place, where do you suggest they start?

A. First of all, don't panic. It's never too late to make a plan. Talk to your accountant. Take advantage of computer [planning] software. You can also talk to a SCORE representative in your area ( They're volunteer counselors with a variety of business skills who can discuss your retail business and why and how it will flourish. When I owned a store, we talked to SCORE counselors often.

There's also a wealth of help right down the street—from other retailers. They're going through the same things and might tell you "Here's how we did this." Also, turn to discussion boards like those in Giftbeat and Country Business magazines. In addition, your employees are the real pulse of your business. They're there when you're not. They see and talk to people that you don't. They know what's selling, and they can make display suggestions.

Q. Should retailers be delegating part of their fourth-quarter responsibilities to others? If so, to whom?

A. This question makes me think of a quote from Harold Schultz, chairman of Starbucks: "You never get to the finish line alone. Always take your people with you." You should absolutely delegate! [That action] changed everything for me. My store grew leaps and bounds when I began working with my staff as a team. I have to think that that was a large part of the growth. All of us want to be part of something good. Your staff is waiting to show you what they can do. It makes them sing to everyone they meet that this is OUR store and not just yours.

Enlist your store customers, too. I had a Christmas breakfast at my house, where employees [all] got to bring their favorite customer. People always want to see your house, to see how you live—and fourth quarter is such an exciting time anyway. I'd talk about upcoming events and the theme for the holiday open house. Then I'd ask, "What do you think?" People love to be asked! I'd also say, "I need your help." Everyone at the breakfast wanted to be part of the open house. They'd offer to make cookies and sew aprons [for the staff].

Q. The calendar already reads October. What can retailers accomplish this month?

A. Remember that panic is self-defeating and takes away from pleasure. You can't miss the fall season because the idea of "gratitude" is so big this year. Make up flyers on your computer asking customers "Who are you grateful for?" Have them bring answers back to the store and have staffers review them. The winner and a friend could be treated to a "Gratitude Tea" in the store. Contact media about the event because this is a great story, a great advertisement and a great thing to do!

Harvest or fall display themes take you all the way until the end of November. This look can be done with gilded pumpkins, twigs, apples, bales of hay, baskets sprayed orange or copper, or puddles of leaves against an armoire or at the door where customers have to walk on them. Make sure you're selling things like the gilded pumpkins, twigs and hay, too.

Remember, none of your customers knows that you haven't started your Christmas season yet. It's the easiest time of year to catch up because everybody's waiting to get excited and celebrate. In a weekend, you can create an immediate Christmas display that makes the store look ready. Bring in some new Christmas items every Friday to tease customers —but wait for your open house to introduce most new items.

Q. What should be on retailers' "to-do" lists for November and December?

A. This is the time to think "We have to make it now, we have 60 more days." Rev up your attitude. The more joyful you and your staff are about your products, the more you'll sell. Make sure everything you're going to do this holiday season (i.e., your theme) is reflected in your ads, flyers and windows. This is the feeling you're hoping to create and have people take home with them. It's a creative time anyway, so let it out!

One of my rules is "Why do when you can overdo!" The difference between hanging two garlands over the front window or doubling them and hanging four is that that took time and shows that you love what you're selling. It's the whole feeling, the experience, the abundance. Create a wonderland by putting [faux] snow on counters, armoires and around Santas and adding fresh-cut branches in displays. Again, be sure you sell the snow and branches!

Give your employees value by having them create displays. It's hard to think "Diane's display is better than mine." It's your store and your dream in the beginning to do all the display work, but that's part of growth and success. Also, avoid getting in the habit of saying, "No, we can't do that," "That's not for us," "We can't wrap" or "We can't deliver." Your customers are there to have their needs met.

Q. What suggestions do you have for hiring and training part-time seasonal employees?

A. Some of your best customers are dying to work this season for you. They already love what you have. You don't just want a body who'll sell, you want somebody there who believes in your concept and items. A part-timer is as important as the owner because she [along with other employees] is the first person customers see in the store. Bring in part-time people by November 1. Have a training session for existing and seasonal employees. Don't start part-timers at your open house and throw them in. Have them learn how to work the computer, recreate displays and answer questions. At the session, say, "We're glad you're here." Talk about attitude, and how you want to sell "down to the walls."

Q. What other fourth-quarter survival tips do you have for retailers?

A. Start working on you in October, and have the most splendid attitude you've ever had. Feel as good as you possibly can physically. Take vitamins and plan your meals so you have food to eat after an exhausting day. Get your hair done, so you can look the part. Walk a half hour every morning, because you'll never do that at night. Work on falling in love with your store all over again. Start to walk it, talk it up and tell your customers that you love it. This is the year to do something different and see magic results!

Note: You can reach Kirby at (253) 719-8375.

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Categories we're tracking
In This Month's

  • Summer/Seasonal
  • Message Gifts
  • Stationery Accessories
  • Non-Jar Candles
  • T-shirts
  • Fashion Accessories
  • Reorders
  • Personal Care

While coloring books and related products were all the rage in Stationery Accessories last year, this year it's back to basics: note cards, journals and planners.

* Every month Giftbeat tracks sales in a a variety of product categories (more than 50 categories throughout the year). SIGN UP NOW to receive this vital information on which gift items are moving off store shelves.