What is your 4th
 
Quarter Plan?
 
     Kids Shopping
Yes, it's summer, but remember past years when you were overwhelmed?
Once we hit mid-August, it seems like businesses blink their eyes and suddenly it's January.  Many of you have great ideas, and you lament at the end of the year that you "just didn't have time" to implement any (or many) of them.  Because the 4th Quarter is the primary shopping season for most retailers and many service firms, lets make this year different.  Because, as the information below will help you see, it may not be a "time" issue as much as a "planning and execution" issue.
  
Below are some steps you can take to improve your 4th Quarter from "good" to "stellar".  Many of these steps take some time and an investment, so you will need to start the process now.  And remember, feel free to pull staff or some of your best customers into the decision making process.  When people feel ownership in an idea, execution and effectiveness tend to improve.  Below are the top ten ways you can influence success for your 4th Quarter sales:
  
1.  Determine how you are going to get the word out to the public!-  I know you'll be shocked when you read this: businesses don't like to spend money.  They just don't, but if you don't market your business, people either won't know you exist or they won't think of you when you when they are ready to make buying decisions.  I can hear a few of you saying "but we've been here forever, if they don't know about us by now…"  Look, you may have been in your community for a long time, but some of your potential customer's haven't.  We turn over about 1/3 of our population every 5-6 years.  What would you do if you increased your traffic this quarter by 33%?  Sit down and determine who your target market is (remember, your target market may not be who you are).  Now, what ways can you best engage your target market through traditional and non-traditional media.  Who does your market listen to, watch and read?  How can you create quality graphics that reach out to the public?  What are your sales expectations via your advertising strategy?  When you sit down and plan items out, the planning process can create a consistent result (i.e. sales.)
  
2.  Display your way to traffic.-  Your windows are billboards.  If you paid $650 a month for billboard that looked cruddy, you would be pretty upset, right?  Well The Sweet Granada
, if you have windows that are subpar, you are probably losing much more than $650 in lost sales each month.  Your "dominant wall" is immediately inside your front door and to the right (most people are right handed, and they instinctively look right as they enter an area).  Do you have a "wow" display full of high margin or signature items in this prime retail spot?  Do you use flood or spot lighting to highlight items throughout your store?  Do you use color or interesting displays to make people turn, stop and look at merchandise?  Do you highlight programs like gift certificates and upcoming store events at your register to make people return?  Does your business utilize sights, smells and sounds to reinforce the holidays?
  
3.  Special events require special creativity.-  Everyone runs events during the 4th Quarter (or they should).  How do your events translate into sales?  When there is increased traffic around your store, how do you convert passers by into customers (both right then, and in the future)?  For example, this will be the third year for the Downtown Trick or Treat (October 26th).  If you meet kids right at the front door and hand them candy as you send them on their merry way, the event may not have a significant impact for you.  Now, if you have a display set up for kids that also serves as your candy location, or if have "treats for adults" that include holiday coupons or gift certificates outside of your kids candy, that may create a more positive impact for your business.  Think about what's happening and create a plan to take advantage. 
  
4.  Small Business Saturday, DEMAND recognition.-  The Saturday after Thanksgiving is "Small Business Saturday".  This is a day specifically to Small Business Saturday Bannerpromote shopping with "the locals".  Promote the concept in your business to promote awareness, but also encourage your media partners to pump up the concept.  Recognize your loyal customers that support your small business.  Tell your business story.  Thank your clientele.  Talk about how your business impacts the community in a positive manner.  Instead of just talking about your products or services, sell "who you are" to the public.
  
5.  Interactive fun.-  You want to make a shopping experience memorable.  Too often, 4th Quarter shopping is a big ball of stress with flying elbows, long walks and impersonal service (if you are lucky enough to get service).  When you find a way to "break the norm", you create consumer advocates and customer loyalty.  Games at the register where people can spin a wheel for a discount on their next visit, something special for kids to do in the store, letting people "help" with gift wrapping, or simply offering suggestions on other places people can shop or eat locally show the public you care, and it forces a conversation beyond "is that all for you today?"
  
6.  Improve frequency and lengthen visits with strategic planning and convenient hours.-  This isn't rocket science: the more people visit your store and the longer they shop the more money you are probably going to make.  If people are rushed to get to you "right before you close", they aren't going to buy as much.  If you don't take steps to pull people through your location, they will miss items.  If you don't have offers that increase frequency, you'll experience the dreaded "one and done" shopper.  When people avoid your store because they don't think you "have what they need" or they "don't know if they're open", it is an unrecoverable loss.  Have your holiday hours posted clearly (including on your web site and ANY social media you use…  it's how most people will remotely check your hours).  Train your staff to include a message that brings people back in the near term to your business.  Always try and find ways to improve accessibility.
  
7.  Flexible pay options means a broader customer base.-  Credit cards, checks, cash, community gift certificates…  People want to give you their money. Square Point of Sale TabletFigure out how you can take it!  You may want to do a training on identifying counterfeit bills or using technology to spot bad checks, but helping people spend the money they want to spend with you should be the easiest part of your job.  Consider adding additional terminals or Point of Sale options during the holidays to discourage lines, and remember to have "impulse" items, including gift vouchers, close to your register.
  
8.  Rewards aren't just for customers; energize your staff!-  You can have great marketing, displays, events and atmosphere, but if your staff is blah, that's all your customers will remember.  Team sales goals, holiday parties, rewards and recognition for outstanding service (both in the store and through social media), contests and more help pump up your staff.  Things as simple as getting to pick store music for exceptional sales efforts tell employees that you notice their hard work.  Asking for, and implementing staff suggestions makes staff feel like their opinions are valued.  A little bit of goofiness (within reason) can help liven up your store.  Dress up for Halloween, wear Santa hats for the Christmas season, rotate bringing treats to work, appoint someone as head of the morale committee…  When everyone is energized at work, the energy is infectious and will lead to more sales.
  
9.  You are not an island…  Partner UP!-  We hear from a lot of businesses "I just can't compete with (insert name of big business here)".  If you view yourself as an island, you'll get lonely quickly.  Find other businesses that you can partner up with for events, staff rewards or to create "shopping nodes".  Maybe a restaurant or local liquor store can do a tasting for a late night shopping event.  You could trade gift certificates with another local business for rewards to employees.  Find a group of like minded businesses that you can create "promotional relationships" with, and refer customers within your close loop.  Find a local charity that is willing to do gift wrap in your store, or become a drop off/donation center for a local charity.  Solidify those relationships NOW, because soon you will be too busy to make connections.
  
10.  MOST IMPORTANTLY- Write It.  Post it.  DO IT!-  As you are reading through some of these suggestions, you are probably saying to yourself "but Strategic PlanHOW am I going to do all of this?"  Ultimately you and your staff will have to execute your 4th Quarter strategy, but there are some simple things you can do to increase the likelihood of projects getting done.  First, hand write your goals with bullet points, including a time frame for completion.  Second, post those goals in a prominent area that you and your staff must look at each day.  Finally, assign budgets and responsibility for each task.  When you take an idea and go through the process of writing it down, it subconsciously commits you to the action.  Putting people "in charge" of specific tasks creates accountability.  Actually "doing" the task creates a sense of accomplishment and can bring your staff closer together while improving your business.
 
Doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is one definition of insanity…  This year, plan something different, be more effective and execute your ideas.  To a large extent, entrepreneurs can help create their own market reality.  Make this year's fourth quarter count! 
 
Scared of Not Trying
  
Are you struggling for ideas?  Contact Emporia Main Street and we may be able to help you identify some unique 4th Quarter solutions for your business!