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Maximizing the Final Week

Five Shopping Days left! Internet no longer a viable option. They have to come see you. Here are some things to remember to make this weekend HUGE!

Prep the Store

  • Get everything out of the warehouse and on the floor, even if you’re making creative piles in the middle of an aisle or off to the side of another display.
  • Load up on your giftwrap/bags/tape, etc. You don’t have time to go to the backroom and get more supplies.
  • Straighten the shelves and pull everything forward to the front edge of the display. It makes the shelves look more full and inviting.

Prep the Staff

  • Schedule breaks for them so that they are fresh when they are on the store.
  • Get food so they don’t have to leave to eat.
  • Healthy food so that they don’t have a bunch of sugar highs/lows.

Sell Up

  • Show the best first.
  • Limit the options.
  • Complete the sale by showing any and all accessories and add-ons that could possibly needed.
  • Ask this very important question… “Who else is on your list?”
    (nod to Bob Phibbs)

Have Fun

This is why we are in retail. This is our moment to shine. Be in this moment. Enjoy this moment. Have some fun in this moment. That is what retail is all about.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Other cool things you can do for your staff… Give them gifts – lottery tickets, gift cards to restaurants, gas cards, etc. Give them massages – hire a masseuse for the day to chair massages in the backroom. Feed them – order in pizza, or cater a healthy lunch/dinner. Put on Christmas Movies in the backroom to keep them in the mood.

You’ve Ruined My Christmas!

“You’ve ruined my Christmas!”

We’ve all heard it. You can’t be a retailer with 4th quarter traffic without hearing that a few times. The problem is that we often let that statement ruin our own Christmas.

Why do we give it so much weight?

Why do we let one customer ruin our day, ruin our holiday, ruin our year? Chances are we weren’t even the responsible party.

Most often that statement is said when the customer had an unreal expectation of what you could provide. Or maybe your vendor let you down. Or maybe the customer was just bat-sh#t crazy. Or maybe you did make a mistake, but because your steps to rectify the mistake weren’t perfect, you ruined their Christmas.

Why let that get you down?

Unless you’re a real f#@k-up, you probably only hear this once every few years. And you’re a stand-up person, so you made it right to the best of your powers. Yet you can still remember the day that mom screamed at you in front of six other customers. The hairs on the back of your neck go up every time you see a brunette in a fur coat just like hers. It colors your whole perception of the season.

Why don’t we instead focus on the people for whom we made their Christmas?

Go count how many transactions you had between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. Subtract from that all the ruinous statements. Now multiply the remaining number times ten. That’s how many Christmases you made last year. (Remember that people are in your shop not just for one person, plus, if you made their Christmas, you made the Christmas of those around them.)

Revel in those Christmases you made. Celebrate the Thank You’s. Exalt the I Love You Guys. Dance with the You Made My Day’s.

There are a lot more of those. Give them the weight they deserve. Pat yourself and your staff on the back. You all deserve that.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This goes doubly for the staff. They are going to make mistakes. You really can ruin your staff’s Christmas if you don’t handle those mistakes properly. I remind all my staff that I expect them to make mistakes, just not the same one twice, so when they make a mistake, I say to them with a smile, “Good, you got that mistake out of the way. What are we going to learn from it?”

Make the Guys Happy This Week

Starting today, the guys are hitting the stores. We are last-second shoppers by nature. Ladies shop fifty two weeks a year. The men? Ten days tops. Although I won’t speak for all guys, here are three things you should do to maximize their transactions.

  • Limit their choices. Guys don’t want to make too many decisions. Bog them down with lots of options and choices from the get-go and you might not get them to go to the checkout. Show them the best in the category. If they balk at that option, find out why and show them one other option. Show them one option at a time until they buy. But always start with the best.
  • Make them feel smart. Don’t question their judgment. Don’t use big words or insider terminology. Explain things in a simple, but not condescending way. Ask only the necessary questions. Let them do as much of the talking as possible. Reinforce their statements and beliefs. You will win their trust and their wallets.
  • Offer them time-saving services. Do you giftwrap? Assemble? Deliver? Guys are willing to pay extra for time-saving services and conveniences. Tell them all that you can do for them. They won’t ask, but they will say yes when you offer. Guys are the reason the “convenience store” concept even exists. Anything to save a few steps, a few minutes, a few hassles.

Guys want their shopping trips to be smart, fast, and hassle-free. The best way to maximize these final days of the season is to be ready for the guys. They should start arriving this afternoon.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One more thing you can do to help the guys – refresh your signage. According to Paco Underhill’s book Why We Buy, guys are the number one reader of signs. According to Rick Segal, signs increase sales by 43%. According to Phil Wrzesinski, Introverts (50% of the population) are the #2 reader of signs.

When to Stop Buying

Christmas is just over two weeks away. Your inventory is running down. You know about the holes on the shelves that you have secretly covered up by spreading things out. You know what you’re out of stock and won’t be able to get back in before Christmas. You’re worried you won’t have enough inventory to make the sales you need that final week of the season. You grab your line lists to see who will ship the fastest and what deal they are offering this week. You crunch the numbers and start writing the orders. You get into a frenzy, one order after the other, loading up on anything that will ship right away so that shelves don’t look bare. You start to sweat. Panic grips you. One more order…


Step away from the computer!

Don’t send those faxes or emails!

Take a deep breath and relax. I know that scenario above. Lived through it a few times. A lot of retailers make this same mistake this time every year. We panic. Did we buy enough? We think no and start writing orders for a lot of things that probably aren’t going to sell and we get stuck with a bunch of inventory in January and not a lot of cash.

Before you place one more order this week, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Will this product sell in January? Chances are really good that most of what you order this week will end up being shelf-fillers – products that make your store look full, but don’t completely sell through. Even the hot items rarely sell out that last order. But if it is truly hot, it will sell next month. If you know the product will sell after the holidays, proceed. If it is only a holiday-time item, count your blessings that you didn’t have any carry-over and move on.
  2. Will this purchase put me over my budget? You do have a budget, right? You do have a projected sales number in mind along with an ending inventory number you hope to hit? You do know how much is currently on order and how much you still need to buy? Without a plan, over-buying is almost imperative. Plan your purchases around your Ending Inventory plus Expected Sales minus your Current Inventory. 
  3. Do I (will I) have the cash to afford this order? If you have been paying attention to your cash flow and, then you know whether you can afford this order. If the cash flow says you can afford it and the other questions are also answered yes, then go for it. But even if your budget says you need to buy more, but the cash flow does not, go with the cash flow. Better to have cash in January than inventory. 

If any of those questions are even a shaky yes, talk yourself down off the ledge, push the pencil away, and go out on the floor and sell something.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Our customers are the ones to be induced into over-buying, not you. 😉

Peeing Before the Race

Jeff Foxworthy cracks a wonderful joke about a financial planner who advises that you take half your earnings and shove them under a mattress and the other half down to the track and bet it on the dog “who does his business just before the start of the race.”

You laugh because you know there is some truth in that last statement. The dog who does his business is going to be better suited to run a fast race.

Your race is about to start. Have you done your business?

Have you looked around the store to see what is old and out-of-date, broken and need of fixing? Get it fixed now.

Have you identified the must-have items for your store? Order more of them now.

Have you crunched your numbers to see how much you need to buy between now and Thanksgiving? Get out the calculator and a pencil today and do a little math.

Have you sat down with each staff member to show them what it will take for them to get to the next level? Set aside some time in your calendar starting Monday.

Have you updated your website? Have you planned out your events? Have you ordered giftwrap and bows and bags? Have you crafted your message? Have you plotted out your staffing needs?

The race will start whether you are ready or not.

Your chance of winning goes up when you do your business before the race.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS September is a great time for doing your business. The kids are back in school. There is a collective sigh in September between the Back-to-School season and the Holiday Rush. Make a list of everything you do this September. Write it all down. When you can look at what you did this month, you’ll quickly see whether what you are doing is leading you to a better November/December or not. Plus, you’ll have a good reminder for what to do next year.

How Late Are You Open?

This is our number one request from phone callers.

How late are you open?

Most people don’t know our hours in the first place. Plus, they expect that we will have longer hours for the holidays.

How late are you open?

It is an easy question to answer when you are open and already answering the phone. But what about when you are not?

We have extended hours for the holidays so we post our hours on a big banner we hang on the side of the building. Easy to read for anyone who drives by.

We also have an answering machine. A simple, cheap, $20 answering machine that I bought at Radio Shack. It gets the job done for people who call when we are not open. Surprisingly, many indie retailers in my town do not have an answering machine.

Last night my wife called a number of stores in our downtown just to get their hours. None of them had an answering machine.

If she doesn’t know your hours, she cannot plan you into her shopping trips.

Even if your hours haven’t changed for decades, do not assume that every customer knows them.  Unless you are open 24/7, make sure you give your potential customers every opportunity to find out when you are open.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I have a complex phone system, five lines, sixteen phones, etc. There are plenty of expensive phone answering systems out there that include phone trees and customized messages. Since I’m not a fan of phone trees and I don’t have the budget for those systems, the $20 cheap-o answering machine accomplishes my main goal of telling people our hours without breaking the bank. You cannot afford to NOT have one.

PPS Wanna know how I made our message also consistent with our Character Diamond? Call us after 9pm Eastern Time (or before 9:30am Eastern time) (517) 787-4500. I promise it will make you smile.

Head Cheerleader (re-posted from Dec, 2010)

(This was first posted Monday, December 20, 2010, but worth repeating)

(Nine) shopping days until Christmas. In the home stretch. You’re tired, run down and stressed, just counting the days. Your friends and family are encouraging you to “Hang in there, it’s almost over.” 

Sorry to burst your bubble, but you need to do more than just hang in there.

Of the hundreds (thousands) of customers who come through your door this week, many are entering your store for the first time.

Now is the time to WOW them so they become lifelong customers.

So no matter how tired you and your staff are feeling, no matter how many hours you’ve worked, how many sleepless nights you’ve had fretting about the business, you have to find that reserve inside you that makes this week the most special experience your customers have ever had!

And you need to fire up the staff, too. Your new role for the next 5 days is Head Cheerleader. Here are three things you can do to keep your staff going strong until the end.

  1. Praise them. Tell them specific things you have seen them do right in the last few days. Share their praise with everyone. 
  2. Cater lunch. Not just some sandwiches and chips but a real sit-down meal with silverware.
  3. Hire a masseuse. Give the staff 20-minute breaks to get table massages.

These next few days are not only critical to your holiday sales, they are critical to your future because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Get your store ready, get your staff ready and get busy!

You can do it. Rah rah rah, Sis boom bah!! I’m pulling for you!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Regardless of whether your business is doing well or not, you need to adopt the attitude right now that this is the best Christmas ever. Fake it until you make it? Sure! The better your attitude now, the better your results later.

You ARE Making a Difference

Sometimes it is good to take your eye off the big picture for a moment and focus on those little things you do that are so wonderful.

This is a good time of year to do that.

The customer in front of you is one of those moments. She is stressed. The holidays can do that to a person. She has a million things on her mind. Give her your full attention. Let her know you understand, you care and you can help.

Solve her problem.

And be thankful for that moment to make her life just a little easier and a little less stressful.

Her family will be thankful, too. They may not know to thank YOU for that. But they will be thankful nonetheless. And you will know it. And that is all that counts. Enjoy all those little moments. There will be time to look at the big picture soon enough.

Merry Christmas my friends! Thanks for all you do.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Here is a video of a song I wrote when my first son was born called The Greatest Gift

Statistics Falsified for Your Benefit

I love December!

The statistical anomalies are so much fun.

Most businesses look at their sales in comparison to last year. And most businesses compare Thursdays to Thursdays, Fridays to Fridays, etc. This comparison works great right up until December 1st.

As you know, you only get 24 days in December prior to Christmas. Those 24 days are extremely important. So you might be tempted to compare December 1st to December 1st for this month to see how you are doing instead of Thursday to Thursday.

Just to show you how misleading those numbers might be…

If I compare day to day for Thursday 12/1 and Friday 12/2 to the correlating Thursday & Friday from last year (12/2/10 and 12/3/10), my sales are down 21%.

But if I compare those same days this year to 12/1 and 12/2 from last year, we are up 11%.

Being an optimist, I’m going with up. Two days down, twenty-two to go.

Keep smiling and keep making memories. Those are the numbers that really count.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS No, there really isn’t a lesson in this post, unless you want to take away from it that the most important thing is to keep a positive spin on everything this time of year. There will be time to evaluate how you really did when the season is over.

The Busy Season

As a toy retailer everyone expects that my busy season is December. They would be wrong.

December is the store’s busy season. My busy season is right now. Here is my October To-Do List:

  • Place all my orders for product I expect to sell in December. If I wait too much longer, many of the best items will already be sold out.
  • Hire and train my seasonal staff. This involves writing and placing ads to attract applicants, weeding through all of the applications, scheduling and doing interviews, doing background and reference checks, setting up a training schedule, updating the employee handbook, and doing the actual training. It also includes refresher courses for the regular staff.
  • Place orders for all selling supplies. I need to make sure I have plenty of bags, giftwrap, price tags, receipt paper, toilet paper, paper towels, layaway string, tape, etc. to get through the holidays. Do it now or forget and not have it when you need it.
  • Prepare my marketing campaign. I need to write/create/produce/schedule all of our marketing for November and December. This includes promotional events like Neighborhood Toy Store Day, the Downtown Christmas Parade, Discover Downtown Again Day, and the Toys for Tots Breakfast. This also includes writing radio ads and planning a Facebook campaign.
  • Carefully plot out cash flow. The money rolls in during December. The money rolls out during October and November as we stock up for the holidays. That means I have to pay close attention to every penny I spend.
  • Clean up. The entire store needs a fresh and thorough dusting. Displays need to be upgraded or moved out. Merchandising needs to be plotted and planned for all the new products coming in.

Yes, my busy season is right now. After I accomplish all those things over the next few weeks I’ll have plenty of free time in December to do what I do best – sell toys.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I wrote this list as much for MY benefit as for YOURS. For me, it is a reminder to stay focused on the tasks at hand. For you it is a reminder of all the things you need to do to make this the most successful selling season ever.