This is an extended version of my latest Southern Daily Echo blog entry:
The clocks have gone back, we’ve been tricked or treated and the town is putting up its lights. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
For nearly all retailers including my shop Your Life Your Style, Christmas is the make or break time of year. It’s a bit like the theatre industry in which I used to work. In that case, it’s the pantomime that keeps most theatres going the rest of the year. The main difference is that, provided you get the price and marketing right, it takes huge talent to lose money on pantomime whereas in retail, you not only have to nail those two slippery challenges, you have to choose the right products in the right quantities. Get it wrong and you’re either cursing that you could have sold more or looking forward to a big January sale.
The biggest problem is, what sold last year is no longer fashionable this year- unlike panto, where the recycling the stars of yesteryear makes it more akin to a Halloween tale of the living dead than Christmas entertainment. So all have to take a very expensive stab in the dark, based on experience and gut feeling. The experience is the easier bit because you can look back at previous sales of different kinds of products and price points. 40% of our sales are at Christmas so we know how much overall stock we will need based on sales so far and we know, for example, that 10% of christmas sales will be decorations.
As to the kind of stock, we know Christmas is a time for the kind of low price products that we don’t normally sell in quantity, because customers are buying stocking fillers and presents for lots of people they barely know let alone love. However there are still sales of the more expensive presents for special people which are the equivalent of every birthday rolled into one season.
So you know what you need in general terms. Instinct is more difficult. When you go to trade fairs in the early part of the year, you’re presented with many new or different products. You can only go on your sense of what you feel will appeal to your customers. No-one can get it right every time but a good buyer will score 90% because they are in tune with their customers and they have spotted patterns in past successes and failures. This year we ‘re hoping our new collectable bathtime ducks, Dartington lead crystal glasses, faux fur slippers and handmade soaps will ring the tills.
If you see me in a new car in January, the news is good. If I’m opening up the boot of my old car and offering cheap gifts, you’ll know we got it wrong.