How can small businesses prepare for the holiday close-down?
23 November 2017
As the festive period looms, small businesses must start preparing for the holiday close-down if they’re to enjoy a smooth transition from the run-up to Christmas to the return in the new year.
The Christmas shutdown is a trying time for SMEs. Depending on the sector, December can be the busiest or the quietest time of the year, and is complicated by shipping restrictions, stock shortages and the closure of partners and suppliers.
But by taking the time to make preparations for the holiday period now, you can mitigate the risk of problems arising when the pressure’s really on – for a relaxing (ish) run-up to Christmas.
To help you prepare for the holiday close-down, we’ve collated practical tips and advice from a handful of business experts who recognise the strain SMEs are under at this difficult time of year.
‘Inform customers of intended shutdown dates’
Adam Unsworth, Managing Director of Plastic Card Services, plastic card manufacturer:
“As a manufacturing business, we continually plan ahead not only in terms of the production schedule, but also to ensure all relevant raw materials are in stock when required. When you add the Christmas shutdown period into the mix, these planning processes become even more imperative.
“It’s key to inform your customers as soon as possible of your intended shutdown dates – including information such as last order dates and the first delivery dates for the New Year. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as via email and notifications on your website and social media channels. It’s also something that should be mentioned during customer phone calls, if you’re a business that regularly speaks to customers on the phone.
‘Ensure your stock will see you through the festive period’
Brenda Creswell, Founder of Bare Necessities, lingerie and swimwear retailer:
"During the run-up to Christmas, it's essential that you ensure enough stock is available to see you over the festive period. It sounds like common sense, but when you're so busy trying to get ready for the increased footfall, it can easily become an oversight – and there's nothing worse than having to tell someone that the gift they’d planned is out of stock! Also, check with your suppliers about when they'll be available over the holidays.
"If you are offering a gift-wrapping service for your customers, then be sure to have enough wrapping, gift boxes and ribbon, too. Get it right now and you could see new customers turn into regulars in the new year."
‘Manage customer expectations to avoid dissatisfaction’
Lyndan Orvis, Ecommerce Manager at garden centre business, Hayes Garden World:
“If you’re a retailer, I would recommend ensuring your last scheduled delivery date is not actually the last available delivery date – so that should shipping issues arise, they can be resolved before carriers shut down.
“Similarly, when retailing online over the festive sale period, it’s important to make very clear that deliveries will not be dispatched until your usual business hours recommence – this helps to manage customer expectations and avoid any potential dissatisfaction.
“Also, ensure that any canned and automated responses are immediate, ensuring customers are fully informed and valued.”
‘Implement a skeleton cover programme’
Richard Tidswell, SME Growth Consultant at national consultancy network, Business Doctors:
“I’d recommend using the run-up to Christmas to plan in meetings for the new year, as it always takes people a bit of time to get started again in January. Communicate, manage expectations, and use this time wisely so you can hit the ground running when you reopen.
“I’d also suggest putting in place a skeleton cover programme over the close-down period; perhaps stagger annual leave so that employees can enjoy time off with their families, but there is always someone available to answer urgent requests and queries.
“Lastly, ensure that discussions with any suppliers take place within plenty of time of your close-down – ad that you’re aware of your partners’ own closure dates. You may need to forward-order to ensure stock levels are maintained if suppliers are closed over the festive period.”
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for managing the demands of the hectic holiday period, the more you prepare, the better your chances of enjoying a smooth and stress-free Christmas close-down.
Here are our key takeaways for SMEs:
- Ensure that you have enough stock and raw materials to see you through the festive period, as availability may be limited from mid-December onwards, when suppliers are beginning to shut down for the holiday.
- Keep customers and clients informed of your intended close-down and re-open dates, either via email or social media. You should also make people aware of delivery restrictions over the holiday period.
- Implement a skeleton cover programme over the holidays to make sure urgent customer and client enquiries don’t go unanswered. If possible, consider allowing your staff to work from home if this makes things easier for them.
- Plan in meetings for the new year now, so that you can motivate your staff and hit the ground running when the business reopens in January.
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