While this time of year might be known for the lazy days of summer, small retailers aren't taking it easy. They know that this is prime planning time for the busy holiday season.
"The holidays typically generate close to 80 percent of our gifting sales for the year," says Christine Welch, founder of The Coffeecake Connection Company, an online gourmet food retailer located in the Chicago area. With that in mind, Welch is working on Christmas right now to build what she hopes will be her busiest holiday yet.
"We've created an email campaign with an incentive for 2012 corporate clients, which will offer discounts and guarantee size and flavor in exchange for pre-order," Welch says. "And we are creating a direct-mail campaign for anyone who received a coffeecake from us during the 2012 holiday. We do not have those email addresses so we have to do snail mail."
Welch is also focusing on the search engine optimization of her website to make sure more customers can find her in the months to come, and she's figuring out where to spend her pay-per-click advertising budget.
At DoGoodBuyUs, an online marketplace of charity-made items, founder and CEO Zack Rosenberg is also immersed in holiday planning.
"We look forward to the holidays all year long," Rosenberg says, noting "70 percent of our business comes in the last three months of the year."
Rosenberg has a weekly to-do list of Christmas preparation that he follows from June 1 to Sept. 15. The list includes one or two posts a week about holiday items on the company's blog, working on a catalog, arranging online pop-up shops and developing an automated marketing strategy that will launch on December 5.
New Christmas merchandise is being manufactured right now for Haralee, an online retailer specializing in sleepwear for women who have night sweats or hot flashes.
"We always introduce a new style or color for the holiday season," says owner and CEO Haralee Weintraub. "We also add a new picture or two to our home page to freshen up the look of our website for holiday shopping."
Weintraub is currently working on her plans for a pre-Thanksgiving sale, a period of free holiday shipping, and email and postcard campaigns.
"That's so all our marketing efforts are in place and just ready for execution once the season rolls in," Weintraub says.
Plans for All Seasons
Seasonal planning is also underway right now at Private Island Party, a company that sells costumes and novelty items, even though Christmas isn't the busy season. "Halloween is our biggest holiday and we start planning early," says Nathalie Chao, Private Island's import and export manager. "We avoid common small-business woes during the holiday season simply by planning thoroughly and assiduously tracking our progress along the way."
The planning calendar for Halloween at Private Island Party begins in April, when the staff reviews the previous year's sales and makes a master list of purchase orders. Then, in June, thousands of new costumes begin arriving that have to be categorized, photographed and posted online with search engine optimization in mind.
"We tailor our blog to be made up of 75 percent of Halloween-related content in June so we will rank well with Google by August, which increases traffic and sales," Chao adds.
"The holiday season is busy for consumers, of course, but it can be even more hectic for retailers," Chao says. "By preparing early throughout the spring and summer, we are able to meet the needs of a demanding customer base during one of the busiest and most fun holidays of the year."
Whether it's Halloween in April or Christmas in July, smart retailers look ahead and develop a plan to help them get ready for the holiday and make the most of every sales opportunity.
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