by David Brown
Whenever I ask a jewelry retailer what the most important time of year is for their business, I get a look as if to say, “you must be kidding right?” Even a 10-year-old will tell you that most retail stores, but particularly jewelers, have their busiest time in the lead up to the year’s end.
However, if I ask that same jeweler how they are preparing for their biggest month of the year, there is normally a reaction somewhere between a puzzled expression and a shuffling of feet. Most jewelers take very little time to prepare themselves for their most profitable period: the month that will decide sometimes whether the business will make a profit for the year or not.
By comparison, ask them if their favorite sports team, approaching a championship final, prepares the same way they would for the regular season, and they will respond with a “No way”! A team playing in a final will hone their training to specifically meet the strengths of their opposition. They will often take a special training retreat in the week leading up to the final. They will make publicity commitments to bolster fan support and bring in specialist advisors and mentors to help the team prepare mentally. And they’ll do all this, before they even set foot on the field! The result is a final usually played at a level of skill and intensity that you would not see during a mid-season game. With all that extra physical and mental preparation, those athletes are pumped!
So the thought of a retail jeweler approaching the Holiday Season with the same level of intensity as they approach June leaves me shaking my head at the missed opportunities.
So what should the typical store be doing now to make this year “one to remember?”
Review aged inventory now – Now is your best opportunity to quit this product outside of sale mode. Why? Because the sheer weight of numbers coming through your door means even the ugliest item has someone walking in who will love it. Get those old pieces re-ticketed and re-boxed. Make sure their price reflects current market value. Most importantly, talk to the staff about this product and how important it is to be showing it. Many old items often have nothing wrong with them other than the fact that the staff has seen them for months and years and don’t like them. Start showing the piece to people and it will eventually go. Offer incentives for the staff to move these items– it’s in their interests to not have to keep cleaning them!
Carry spares – This is not referring to the tendency of some jewelers to buy all items in lots of 35! Instead I’m talking about the bread and butter items you can’t do without, but your vendors may not be able to provide during the last busy days. Look at anything on your reports that has a fast seller status of 6 or more. These items are likely to sell so fast in December that you will miss sales without a spare. I even know a store that kept three of the same $1495 best seller diamond ring, because they knew there was a good chance of selling four that time of year. They just weren’t prepared to risk not seeing it happen.
Plan your marketing – and I don’t mean wait until the newspaper or radio rep walks through the door in a month’s time, and then scratch your head about what you are going to do! I mean really plan. What product lines are your best sellers? What mediums are available for contacting your customers? And are you up to date with those mediums? If not, start now! What is your marketing budget? What additional evenings will you put in over the Christmas period? What other retailers target customers similar to yours and could the two of you be jointly promoting? What will it take to make your store the shop of choice for December shopping this year?
Prepare the staff – You wouldn’t send your sports team out onto the field without knowing which direction they were playing, who’s in what position and what tactics are required to take the opponents down. Yet retailers do this repeatedly at this crucial time of the year.
Tell your staff about your December goals. Share with them the budgeted target and how you plan to get there. Make sure they understand the importance of keeping the store presentable at all times. Talk about the good sellers and how they can be kept in front of customers. Help them fine-tune their customer approach and make sure the rosters are in place with back ups wherever required. The average customer has over 10 people to buy for at this time of year! Share that information with your staff and you can open up a whole world of opportunity for the smart salesperson.
Review your procedures so you can cope with demand – Aside from extra staff, there may be the need for spare repair books, extra wrapping paper and computer rolls, even an extra POS terminal or till. Make sure all these things are considered well in advance.
Get your best salespeople on the floor – seems obvious I know, but it’s amazing how often retailers see December as the opportunity to let their new staff “have a go.” This period is too important to leave for novices. Would you let your tight end “have a go” at goal kicking during the final? Of course not, you get your specialist to do it and I would bet money they would have some extra training leading up to the final. But don’t forget the back up players. Before the English FA Cup soccer final, teams playing in the final will get members of their squad to practice penalty kicks before the game, even though these players would never take a penalty or practice their kicks during the season. Why? Because they know if the final is a draw, these players will be called on to find a result through a penalty shootout, so they need to practice. It’s the same with your staff. Make sure your best people are “taking the penalties” (i.e. selling the diamond rings) and that they get the training, practice (and opportunity) they need leading up to the big occasion. But make sure your other staff are ready should the opportunity come along.
Record and measure your activities – It’s easy to forget a lot of decisions, processes and marketing initiatives you put in place at this busy time of year. The result is next year you find yourself reinventing the wheel. Record all your marketing initiatives and store policies in a diary so you can easily refer back to them later. The biggest crime of marketing is not that retailers often get it wrong; it’s that they fail to learn from their mistakes or measure their successes. They will often give up on a good idea, or continue with a bad one, when some simple data collection would show them whether their initiative bore fruit or not. Database mail outs are a case in point. A store often does nothing to measure the effectiveness of letters or vouchers bought back in. How then, do they know if the promotion was successful? They don’t, so they rely on a hunch instead.
Now is the time to prepare for your biggest months ahead. Time spent wisely now, can make you money in the months to come.