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How to Scale Inventory and Staffing for Holiday Sales

Maximize sales this holiday season with these nine best practices for inventory management and staffing.
Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed
November 23, 2012

Get ready: the next six weeks are going to fly. Holiday sales are expected to increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. As you prepare for the sales rush, take note of the following tips on how to scale both your inventory and staffing levels. And these tips aren't just for holiday sales, they can be used year-round.

Inventory

Stocking up your inventory the right way can make or break your sales season. Dan Jablons, founder of Retail Smart Guys, a retail consulting company in Los Angeles, offers a few best practices on how to best fill those shelves.

1. Forecast by category. After determining your monetary goal for the season, gather reports from your point of sale system and break out sales by classification. “If you want to make $50,000 in the next month, you need to figure out what your hottest ticket items are first,” Jablons says. “If you are a clothing shop owner, figure out what sells best—suits, pants, dresses—and buy more of those items.”

2. Learn the market. Research sales trends in your space by shopping the competition and talking to vendors and other retailers, suggests Jablons.

“Spend more time in the marketplace and check out competitors a few hours away to see what is selling well,” he offers. “It will help you determine the items you need to stock.”

3. Cycle in new merchandise. Customers don’t want to see the same items in your store week after week, bring in new inventory on a regular basis—ideally every two weeks, Jablons recommends. “Inventory is not like wine and cheese, it doesn’t get better with age,” he says. “The more often you turnover your inventory, the more money you will make.

He gives the example of Forever 21, a chain that purchases finite amounts of inventory. Once a product is gone, it is gone for good—making the exclusivity of the product all the more enticing for consumers to buy right away.

4. Negotiate with your vendors. Stay in close contact with your vendors during the holidays to discuss what is selling and what isn’t, recommends Jablons, adding that a lot of vendors will trade out merchandise that isn’t performing well. Then, make sure to negotiate for the best deals.

“You are never too small to negotiate with a vendor,” he says. “As long as you pay your bills, you are worth your weight in gold.”

Staffing

When staffing up for a busy season or even a promotional event, here are a few tips for how to best choose your staff:

1. Consult a temporary staffing firm or local college. If you don’t have time to screen candidates, call your local recruiting agency and tell them what you need, recommends Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting, a human resources consultancy in Northampton, Mass. Each person is pre-screened, which saves you interview time, and if things don’t work out, you can ask for replacement employees quickly.

Local colleges are another great place to look for temporary workers, says Patricia Hunt Sinacole, CEO and founder of First Beacon Group, an HR consulting firm in Hopkinton, Mass. Try contacting the career services department and asking for the names of a few good students.

2. Over hire. “There will be fallout; some people won’t make it through the training, some people won’t show up,” Chinsky Matuson says. “If you need three people, hire four and you will probably get three good hires in the end.”

3. Look at past sales. As founder of Babesta, a baby clothing store with two locations in New York City and an online shop, Jennifer Cattaui consults her sales numbers before hiring seasonal help.

“If we are doing 20 percent better this year over last year, we will staff accordingly,” she says. “It is always better to have a solid staff over the holidays because there will be a lot of smaller sales and higher volume of people in our stores than in a usual month.

4. Hire according to training need. Focus your seasonal hiring on low skilled positions that can be learned quickly, recommends Cattaui. If it is easier to work the showroom floor of a boutique, assign your temp workers to that area and dedicate yourself to taking over the cash register.

5. Focus on the long-term. Although you may not end up keeping on your seasonal workers after the holidays, go into the interview process thinking that you will. It is this mentality that will help you choose the right people for the job—the people who fit into your culture and have values that align with yours.

“It is critical to have good employees all the time,” Cattaui says. “They are creating an experience for your customers and anytime anyone is making contact, it is a direct reflection on you as the business owner.”

Don’t forget: November 24th is Small Business Saturday—a day dedicated to supporting small businesses nationwide. Learn more at SmallBusinessSaturday.com. 

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Photo: Rosie Greenway/Getty Images 

Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed