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How Retailers Gear Up the Back Office for the Holiday Rush

For most of America, a chill in the air is the signal to start dreaming of roast turkey, pumpkin spice lattes, and other holiday pleasures. For retailers, however, the start of fall marks the beginning of the most frantic — and important — season of the year.We spoke with a couple of small business owners to discover how they get their back offices ready for the frenzy to come, so they can still squeeze a little joy (and hopefully a lot of profit) out of the festive season.

Prepare Earlier Than You Think You Have To

According to a new survey, nearly half of consumers will get all their holiday shopping done before Thanksgiving. So while you call it the "holiday rush," smart business owners begin prepping before the first snow.

"We definitely start prep well before there's a chill in the air," say Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur, the co-founders of design retailer Of a Kind. "It's all about the prep: Making sure you have systems in place well before any holiday madness so that you aren't workshopping new things, or trying on new solutions, in the thick of it."

You'll Live and Die by Your Forecasts

Just like you need to get your systems running smoothly before the crunch hits, you also need to get your inventory squared away early. If relying on last-minute orders is a bad idea for customers, it's a worse idea for many business owners.

"Because we design, manufacture and sell our products the process we manage is long and complex, with many players in the supply chain," explains Loog Guitars founder and CEO Rafael Atijas. "Once the holiday season arrives and we start getting orders in larger numbers the dice have already been rolled." Accurate demand forecasting is key.

"We don't have time to react and produce a new batch in case we notice we will be short. That is why is so important for us to plan as accurately as we can," he says.

Choose Your Partners Wisely

No small business owner is an island. The success — or failure — of your holiday season depends as much on the businesses you partner with as it does on your own performance, a fact Loog Guitars, which makes musical instruments for kids, learned the hard way.

"Two years ago we literally lost the holiday season," which represents about 40 percent of the company's annual sales, says Loog COO Edgard Barilas. "We did not have product to sell during that period. The issue was due to a problem with the manufacturing partner we were working with at the time, and once the goods we had ordered were produced, we found out that the quality was not acceptable,"Atijas says. "We relied too much on the partner and did not have the right quality controls in place, and we paid a high price."

Now Loog only works with best-in-class suppliers. "We outsource the storage and distribution to Amazon and Shipwire, and they are used to managing the peak in workload for that period. Also, we are a tiny part of their operation, so we are covered by their risk management plan," he says.

Keep Your Chin Up

No matter how early and well a retailer prepares for the holidays, the season is still going to be madness. For most businesses that means long hours of hard graft. But while an increased workload is probably inevitable, unhappiness is not, according to Cerulo and Mazur. Your sanity largely depends on your outlook.

"It's really important to keep morale up and to get the team revved for the holiday season — it feels like we're firing on all cylinders, which can be exciting or just draining, depending on how everyone approaches things, so the goal is more of the former," they said.

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for Forbes, CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Women 2.0, among others. 

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