Your business has ebbs and flows, you say? It's hard to manage seasonality throughout the year.
If you're on the hunt for tips and how tos from those who do it well year after year, you're in luck. I spoke with three seasonal business owners across a wide range of industries to get their best practices for successfully running a seasonal business.
You just might find a tip down below that leads to a seasonal—and revenue—shift for your business.
The Challenges of a Seasonal Business
Franco Francese, owner of Mattone Restaurant and Bar in LaGrange Park, Illinois, has established a bit of a reputation as a wintertime favorite, leaving a gap in their business during the summer months.
"Our restaurant is traditionally busier in the winter versus the summer," says Francese. "We've always been known as a wintertime place, as we have comfort-style food that people tend to enjoy more in the cold months."
—Garrett Ball, president and owner, 65Medicare
And then there's Julia Rohan, owner and CEO of Rover-Time in Chicago. While pets and their owners need year-round care, she finds fixed expenses can collide with the high and low tide of four-legged clients.
"Affording my fixed expenses during periods of slow revenue while providing a steady and dependable income to my employees are our biggest seasonal challenges," Rohan says.
For Garrett Ball, president and owner of 65Medicare in Clemmons, North Carolina, his team is busiest at one single time of the year: open enrollment for Medicare.
"Because our niche of Medicare is very complex and requires training, licensing and credentialing, it is difficult to 'staff up' for the enrollment period," says Ball. "New seasonal staff can do some tasks, but there are many tasks that they cannot do because of licensing requirements or general lack of training/knowledge."
Learning to Manage Seasonality
Francese embraced Mattone's wintertime popularity and created strategies to enhance summertime, or even inclement weather, revenues.
"To make the menu more summer-friendly, we introduce more salads and lighter options to appeal to summer appetites. We are also set to unveil a new patio this summer, to help draw in an outdoor crowd," he explains.
"During the slow summer months," he continues, "we increase advertising with digital and print advertising, as well as public relations. We use OpenTable for reservations, which entices customers by providing them with points for booking through this service."
Rohan takes an all-hands-on-deck approach when four-legged clients are slow yet her staff needs to make ends meet. Through a combination of advertising and staff management, she was able to manage seasonality like a true pro.
"We ran a one-day-only local promotion. We sold prepaid walk packages at a very slight discount and brought in over $10,000 in sales on that day," she says. "This helped us keep the lights on the last two weeks of December, when business slows considerably for the winter holidays.
"I also offer administrative opportunities—team leadership opportunities, marketing projects, etc.—so my staff can bulk up their time each week when walks might be slow," Rohan adds.
To better service his customers, Ball focuses on strategic workforce management, which frees up his most skilled workers to spend time where it's most needed: with clients. In a highly regulated and compliance-heavy industry, it doesn't make financial sense for his most experienced workers to be managing administrative or housekeeping tasks.
"We hire seasonal staff for specific small tasks; in some cases this means outsourcing to freelancers the short-term, specific tasks that do not require much training," says Ball.
This helps keep enrollments up, gets client questions answered and keeps the business running smoothly during the busiest times of the year.
How to Manage Seasonality Like a Pro
Staffing. Advertising. Strategic thinking. You see each of those actions in real-world business scenarios above.
But what do these business owners say is the best advice on managing seasonality they have to offer?
- Franco Francese: "Deal with the adversity of seasonality head on and don't shy away from making changes to handle issues. Don't be afraid to try new ideas. And, if something isn't working, switch gears and move into a new direction."
- Julia Rohan: "Financial forecasting is everything for a seasonal business. Start with base year, then develop a list of assumptions based on past and present experience and analyze trends. From there, develop a model of your business structure and build out possible business scenarios. It's an endless cycle."
- Garrett Ball: "Have an established plan well in advance. You cannot just simply ride the roller coaster. You have to plan for it."
And now, you have tips and tools to help you have a good season—maybe even every season—in your seasonal business.
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