Preparing for the Upcoming Holiday Season

The countdown to Christmas starts now!

Do not panic yet, there is still plenty of time to get ready, especially if you are working with small artisanal food producers in your local area.

In this post we will list the key elements of successful retail holiday preparation and leave you with a quarterly calendar that hopefully will make the step-by-step process easier to implement.

I’m not big on extended blog introductions. I want the blogger to get right in to the point. (Time is money.) But in this case some explanation might be required. Don’t you want to know whom you  are dealing with?

As the founder and creative director of West Coast AGAVE, I’m working with a fantastic group of artisanal food producers, so I get to understand the benefits and limitations of holiday orders in this community. In my previous life I was a buyer for specialty food stores and got to personally experience the excitement and dilemma of holiday fever. Way before that, I worked on the visual team of a high-end retail company, and believe me when I tell you that the holiday season lasts at least eight months in that world.

With this knowledge in mind, please read my suggestions carefully and understand that I’m talking to you not only from the perspective of an educated graduate with a master’s degree in sales and business psychology, but with roughly 20 years of experience in sales and advertising.

I’m looking at the holiday season strictly from the buyer’s and marketer’s perspective, and I will be leaving you with all of the operational dilemmas, so please fill free to comment and point out your personal challenges. We will keep adding it to our calendar so we all can learn from each other’s experience.

Aga of west coast agave
christmas merchandising

Did you pre-order your key sellers yet?

It is never too early to communicate and reserve your holiday needs with the producer or broker. It might be hard to estimate the quantities, but believe me you have to start somewhere. Small artisanal food producers are working with a minimum budget that they have to invest responsively. You will make your life easier, and their life simpler, if you can at least give them numbers that they can start with. 

While looking for that key seller, keep in mind that this product will be your golden egg-laying chicken. It has to bring sufficient income, but have the right price, and it needs to fit with current market trends. The success of your key seller can be determined by seasonal changes, past successes, and current customer needs. (COVID 19 will absolutely require some consideration.) Most of all, you have to believe in your choice. If you and your staff love it, your customer will love it to. 

September is usually your last chance to whisper into your broker’s ear how much you think you will need to reserve, and when you would like the product to arrive in the store. October is go time, and you will just gladly have to accept what is left if you have not pre-ordered. 

Request a split order ( it never hurts to ask ). Pick up 1/2 now and pay for it, but request the other half to arrive in a month. You might not get that extension, but it will give your small producer an idea how much you are hoping to sell this season. A month later you will know if you need to grab any extra cases, because if you are anything like I was as a buyer, you tend to underestimate your capability. It is never good to overbuy but an even worse feeling is to lose an opportunity because you didn’t secure enough merchandise to support an exciting holiday season.

Create your holiday lifestyle concepts around your key sellers

Have you ever created a life-style vignette at your store? It is quite simple. Make that key seller shine by presenting it in the company of two to three other items that will inspire your customers. 

Believe me we are all looking for new experiences. You probably notice that these days, especially among the millennials, the trend is to try and experience as many things as possible. Personally I love this mindset and you should as well. There is nothing that your customer wouldn’t try if you promise them an experience of a lifetime that can be associated with these goods.

For example:

How many of your ever bought a trendy kitchen gadget because of a food trend that lasted one or two seasons? I’m still holding onto the salt block that I got attracted to a few years back during one of the annual food shows. 

A cold slice of tuna or salty fried jerky, how perfect is that? We have used it several times while entertaining friends—it’s a great way to impress your visitors and provide them with an unforgettable experience. Does it work any better than cast iron or a stainless steel rack? Not at all! Does the meat taste any better? That is up for debate. Would I recommend it to my friends? Definitely!!! Why? Because I didn’t buy an object, I purchased an experience. Now we have this perfect conversation starter to break the ice and impress our guests.

Make sure that your seasonal vignettes and end caps tell the story. Is it going to be a tasty bowl of oatmeal on a cold morning at the grandparents’ house, or a warm cup of fragrant  chai tea on a rainy afternoon? Make sure that it’s your product that will make them feel good and experience something unforgettable and special.

Start scheduling your demos now (and create a back-up plan if you can’t)

Yes, this will be a beast in the current era of the 2020 pandemic. But don’t get discouraged. Lots of producers are getting ready to offer single-serving packages, and marketing materials. They can be handed out or added to the shopping bag. You can also set up social media promotions and giveaways sponsored by the producers. Think outside the box? Can you create virtual tasting demos? Can you ask your producer or broker to provide you with ready-to-use recipe posts or videos?
Sure it’s not the same, but be smart and creative. There is no point in pretending that we can do it the traditional way. No matter how hard you try it is not going to feel the same. So instead of acting like life has to go back to “normal” this holiday season, create new exciting experiences for your customer. Give them what they need to be excited and inspired today.

Don’t be afraid to ask for merchandising help

We are all running short on help these days, so do not be afraid to ask for assistance. The holiday season can be overwhelming. So check with your broker and set up merchandising help. Just do it now, they are also running shorthanded and you want to get the most experienced merchandiser available. With some brokers/distributors you might get complementary assistance, especially if you are just bringing on their products or a new product line for the first time. With others, you might get low-priced merchandising assistance or consulting.
Invite your producer or broker to the holiday staff meeting and let them train your new hire. It’s a win-win for both of you. Well trained staff is what you are going to need this season.
Oh and one more tip, merchandising will not help you too much if you do not have a solid plan for constant restock. If you like, you can arrange with your distributer to check your inventory with regular frequency and restock you accordingly. This system will work great especially if you are placing orders right on the shelf.

Don’t forget signage 

Signage, especially at small markets and grocery stores, can be overwhelming and pretty chaotic. In my opinion, you have two choices: you can use signage provided to you by producers, or create your own. Did you notice there is no option of no signage? No signage is definitely not an option! 

Making your own consistent signage is more time consuming, but it can make all the difference.  And I’m not talking here about all the product price tags that have to be present consistently throughout the store, but you might want to consider additional holiday signage like: “locally made,” “ women-owned business,” “Santa’s Favorite Treat,” the sky’s the limit! Be creative, and be true to your brand and customer. But remember consistency is the key and do not expect that your busy shoppers, overwhelmed with holiday preparation, will take time to read elaborate shelf talkers and descriptors. In this case less is more. So get right to the point with your signage.

Now check out our quick seasonal calendar. I would love to hear from you. Let me know what is working for you and what you are planning to implement in your holiday preparation. And if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask. We are here to support your efforts and create a successful holiday season for our customers and small producers, 2020 pandemic or not!