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Updated: Nov 13, 2015
A beautifully decorated storefront, aglow with lights, holly berries, and the squished faces of happy window shoppers.
The perfect seasonal marketing campaign, complete with promotions, clever ads, and messages of joy.
Eager customers clamoring at the cash register, clutching their credit cards ready to buy the perfect gift…
This is something all small business owners of, but not properly preparing your holiday inventory can look more like barren shelves, filled with the regret of purchases that can’t be fulfilled and customers turned away empty-handed, never to return again.
Mismanaging holiday inventory is a recurring nightmare that too many small business owners have right before the busiest and most profitable season!
Follow these six steps to ensure your holiday inventory game is on point so you don’t lose out on some of your best revenues of the year.
The first and most critical step of preparing for busy season is ensuring you have enough cash on hand to purchase the holiday inventory you’ll need to fulfill your projected sales goals.
When you strategize your winter finance plans, don’t forget that the gains you’ll reap from holiday sales will likely come in a later profit cycle. Be ready to make a hefty upfront investment, because it takes money to make money!
By securing financing ahead of time, you won’t run into last-minute cash flow obstacles that put a cap on your holiday season potential.
One way great way to finance seasonal surges in spending (and profit-making!) is an affordable term loan.
For example, many small business owners use their Funding Circle loan to purchase holiday inventory upfront to last them through their peak selling season, because our low, fixed monthly payments make budgeting predictable and easy.
You know that feeling when grandma doesn’t make enough pie, and the tin is empty by the time it’s passed to you?
Don’t do that to your customers: make sure you make or buy enough of your best-selling products to meet customer demand through the new year.
If you’re pleased as holiday punch with your current manufacturing setup, just make sure you have enough financing to hit your production goals.
However, if you’re aiming to expand your operations this year, now is the time to consider affordable local options through Maker’s Row, a platform that connects you to the right factories and helps you create your products right here in the United States.
If you work with suppliers, don’t be afraid to negotiate or switch it up this year! The folks you buy products and materials from are hoping to meet or exceed last year’s sales just like you.
To find new suppliers, check out directories like C2FO! Their online marketplace makes it easy to make the right match, and integrate invoices and payments.
Timing is everything these next few months, so for each item you intend to sell for the holidays, make sure you get a delivery date from your vendor.
Tip: in case an item runs out or becomes unavailable, have acceptable substitute items lined up so you won’t slow down your flow of holiday inventory – and ask if your vendor can expedite orders when necessary.
Why bother making delicious spiced cider if you don’t have enough thermoses to store it until it’s ready to be enjoyed?
The same goes for all the wonderful items you’re producing or purchasing in advance of the holidays. If you depend upon warehouse space, make sure it’s cleaned out and organized to accommodate the influx of product.
If you need to expand your warehouse space to hold extra holiday inventory, a term loan is an easy way to afford an upgrade!
If you have less popular products taking up precious space, slash prices and mark them as discount items to move them through the sales cycle and off your shelves.
It’s all a cost-benefit calculation: if you stand to make higher profit margins on your best-seller holiday products than you do by holding on to slower-moving holiday inventory, it may be in your best interest to reduce prices or even donate those items to a holiday charity drive.
Sure, Santa Claus gets all the glory – but he’s not a one-man show, and for good reason: pleasing all the important customers in your life takes a village!
You may not be able to afford bringing on additional full-time hires year-round, but contracted hires for busy season could make a huge difference in hitting your sales goals.
For more entry-level retail hands on deck to help keep the store organized, stock shelves, and smile at the cash register, scout via Craigslist, newspaper classifieds, or social media for local college students who may be home for the season looking to make some extra cash.
Now that you have the right people in place to support you through the season, set them up for success by making sure they have effective ways to close sales and create happy customers.
If your business is a brick-and-mortar retail storefront, perform an audit of your current point-of-sale (POS) system and decide if it’s on your naughty or nice list.
If you expect your revenues to grow significantly through busy season, it might be time to invest in a POS system that will grow with you.
Look for systems that support mobile payments and are easy to use for both staff and customers. Some solutions even help you track your holiday inventory in real-time so you know when you’re running short!
If your business operates via e-commerce only, it’s critical that you have a beautiful (and well-oiled) website that can handle an influx of holiday orders.
Customers have increasingly high expectations for their online shopping experiences, and your website is their only impression of your brand – so an investment in a high-performing and pleasantly designed website could be a gift that keeps on giving!
If your site needs some sprucing up, consider outsourcing the renovations to a web development professional through a service like 99designs, who can help you deliver a better experience to your customers.
Making purchasing predictions and ensuring you have enough of the right type of holiday inventory is a careful balancing act, so you want to do your best to avoid feeling like a nervous ballerina teetering precariously during a dramatic Nutcracker Suite climax.
The risk? If you’re manually tracking your holiday inventory with Excel or that notebook you’ve had since 2010, it might be difficult to promptly know when an item starts selling like snickerdoodles and needs to be reordered.
For your business, knowledge is purchasing power – and you should always know how many partridges are left in your pear tree.
One way to prevent your shelves from going empty is using barcode scanners in your POS system and linking them with an inventory management software. That way, you can use the inventory software to create and monitor alerts when a best-seller is running low and reorder before you run out.
Luckily, there are many inventory management software options out there to suit your business’s unique needs, like Wasp Barcode.
Pro tip: barcodes and real-time knowledge of your holiday inventory will help prevent expensive expedited vendor deliveries, and help your employees easily process post-holiday returns. (You know no one keeps their gift receipts these days!)
Paige Smith is a Content Marketing Writer and Senior Contributing Writer at Funding Circle. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige has written for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.