Monday, October 19, 2009

Traditional Values can Make For Happy Holidays

Many businesses count on the fourth quarter holiday season to make their year. With unemployment nearing 10% nationwide and an uncertain economy still with us, this holiday season will likely not be a blockbuster. However, that doesn't mean you can’t make it a jolly one.

Owning and operating a successful small business is not all about piling up cash. It’s about freedom, rising to challenges, meeting and exceeding people’s needs and expectations and generally making people’s day a little brighter and having fun doing it.

Whether you’re a religious person or not, the holidays are a time to focus on the real values in your life; family, friends, remembering good times past and creating new ones. Perhaps it’s because the days are shorter and the weather is colder that we have come to see this season as a time to concentrate on the warm and the bright side of life. Whatever the motivation, this is a good year to really take it to heart.

How does this relate to your holiday business strategy? Well, money may be tight for consumers this year, but they still want to reinforce personal connections and traditions. If you don’t currently carry greeting cards, maybe you should start. Unique, custom cards are particularly popular, but if you aren't the artsy-crafty type, a service like Leanin’ Tree can provide both the displays and the stock.

You may carry fewer of any given high end item, but don’t bail on them entirely. Many families will still choose to make high end purchases, just not as many of them. On the other end, you’ll want to offer low priced alternatives, but don’t go low quality. An inexpensive gift that lasts can be appreciated for years to come. A cheap trinket that breaks within a week might just foster disdain. Ornaments make a great low cost gift item. Whether it be a wreath, a wall hanging or something for the tree, it’s something that most everyone can afford and may even be passed along to future generations.

Don’t be afraid to deck the halls. Despite what you may have heard on the news, a festive atmosphere is not going to offend enough people to worry about, unless your business model is strategically targeted at killjoys. You don’t have to be a born again Christian to appreciate a good light show, even if it does involve a manger. You can also include Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Santa Claus...go nuts.

A great in-store promotion, especially in tough economic times, is drawing for free gifts or stuffed stockings for the kids. This year, rather than one big one, consider several smaller ones. Make the drawing at least a week in advance of Christmas. Kid’s love to unwrap surprises. It doesn’t have to be a new car or a PlayStation. Just something fun. A gift card or certificate to a local restaurant can provide an evening of family fun for your customers while also helping out a fellow local business owner.

In uncertain times, people often look to the past for comfort and for grounding. Think nostalgia. Traditional holiday books, albums and the toys and games you grew up with could be good sellers this year. On the “new stuff” end, think communication. While you may not want to go head to head in the cell phone sales arena, you could offer accessories like colorful cases and head phones. Flash drives are inexpensive and handy items as well. Speaking of comfort, maybe an assortment of chocolates on display near the register?

None of these things are going to lead you to record breaking sales this year. There will be some businesses that achieve that, but they will be the exception, not the rule. Adding some inexpensive, thoughtful items to your inventory may help at the margins however. More importantly you want to show your customers, and yourself, that a tough year is not going to bring you down. Remember what’s really important to you. It’s the fundamentals that will bring us through this economic fog, ready to move ahead in the right direction. Now is the time to reflect upon and celebrate them.

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