No, really. Maybe the situation is not quite that extreme. But in a Link hidden: Login to view I made the point that one must really start preparing for seasonal business -- whether it's themed to a given holiday such as Halloween or Thanksgiving, or simply taking advatange of traditional shopping surges such as occur around Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day etc. - well ahead of the event. You can't start looking for a Halloween costume supplier a week into October. You just won't get anywhere with that kind of mentality, as a general rule of thumb.
As I have mentioned this a couple of times over the years I've been a Salehoo member, I thought I'd take some time to expand on the point and lay out a "roadmap" for people who want to make the maximum possible return on any given seasonal selling, regardless of what holiday/shopping surge they are focused on. The planning starts, no kidding, twelve weeks ahead of the event -- meaning, for example, get started on Valentine's Day the week before Thanksgiving.
Sound extreme? It is a little extreme. But in the world of wholesaling, there are very few "consumer advocates," and wholesalers will unabashedly play favourites with big spenders, established customers and early birds. Since it's probably a given that you are not either of the first two things, here is a way to slice up your seasonal workload over the course of months rather than the weeks many people allocate to it, get the best deals on the best items, and make the most return on your investment of time and money.
Nothing big to do this week, but you should start outlining your ideas, look at web trends, what are people saying online, what's popular in entertainment and media, etc. So many seasonal gifts and trends take root in pop culture. Find what people are looking for and talking about, not in terms of things to buy, but rather -- just that, just what seems to really have the public interest right now. It might be something as trivial as the size of a Kardashian's butt, and it might be something as serious as a natural disaster or a war. What are the big topics right now, and which among them might translate into a saleable product?
Using your ideas and notes from last week, start looking for suppliers that can match your ideas. Any who seem to look promising, don't waste time working out which items on the site to sell -- contact them directly, tell them you're looking for items to promote for and you want to know what they have coming in, what kind of specials they might be running for early orders and pre-orders, what do they anticipate in the way of hot sellers from last year that will carry over to this year etc.
Wholesalers are in the business to make money, no other reason, and approaching one in this fashion will get you the best response possible. Don't worry if you don't have sales experience, don't have a website to show them etc. The fact that you are planning well ahead shows that you're serious about making money. Be polite & professional, and in almost all cases you'll get the best treatment imaginable.
Get your financial affairs in order now. Determine what you are prepared to invest in stock. Make some room for advertising (although I am a big proponent of spending advertising money on repeat business rather than new business, via sales and specials and freebies, during seasonal periods a little paid promotion can't hurt) as well as for "soft costs" that are hard to break down in your per-order calculations, like tape and mailing labels etc. At this point, you can no longer bank on what you think you might have coming or might be able to borrow or might be able to pay out of profits once things are rolling. Make yourself a budget and stick to it, hopefully you'll cash in big time this year but don't chase after it with more money if you don't. Having your budget set this far ahead keeps you from overextending yourself closer to the event.
You now have a good idea of what you'll be selling, and how much of it you'll have onhand. Start mentioning it. If you sell on eBay, blurb about it in the 'about me' section of your listings and in e-mails to your customers (via e-mail signature, not a direct promotion.) If you have a website, put a blurb about it there. If you use Twitter, tweet it; if you have a mailing list, mention it. Just something short and sweet about what you'll be up to in the next couple of months, what you'll be bringing out etc.
Place your first orders. If you're selling something new, unusual or complicated, open one up and play with it, so that you'll be able to intelligently answer questions when a potential customer asks you one. Don't just quote the website, get that thing out of the box and see what it takes to turn it on, how many steps to get it out of the wrapper, are they going to need a Philips head screwdriver, scissors, batteries, does it not come with its own bowl -- whatever. Get it open and mess around with it, so you know exactly what your customers will see when they open the box. This goes for anything in any niche that is remotely different from what you would just go grab off the shelf at the drug store (ie. if you're selling office envelopes, then this is a step you can probably skip. If you're selling Mr. Finagle The Magical Talking Plush Mule, for God's sake find out what the poor parent will suffer while his kid whines about how long it's taking. Your customers will be glad you did.)
Something I saw in a BigCommerce video about this step -- if you happen to have or have access to a decent video camera, you might even consider videotaping this event, you pulling the stuff out, examining the parts, getting it working etc. and then uploading the video to YouTube with a link to your site/eBay profile/etc. Particularly with some-assembly-required items, this can be a powerful promotional tool for you, and costs you nothing if you already have the camera.
If you have a customer base, Twitter following, mailing list etc. Run an "exclusive special" selling your newer items at or very near cost. Do not advertise this special publicly. The stated purpose of this special is to reward your customers and fans with an exclusive first look at the season's hottest whatsit. The actual purpose is to get feedback from people who you probably won't run off, and who probably won't compain about you on eBay or charge back their purchases if they aren't happy (since they have up to now been happy with you.) Follow up all purchases a week or two after the fact to see how it is going, get customer feedback etc.
If you don't already have an established base of customers, followers, etc. Think of a few family and friends who fit the target market for the product, bite the bullet and give away a few items so that you can get their opinions.
This is a fairly crucial step! Once you start focusing in on the prospect of success, it is very easy to develop "tunnel vision" and forgive flaws and issues with your products, sometimes even doing so subconsciously. Get those items into other people's hands, people who won't be afraid to tell you that it's crap or that you are a fool for charging $39.95 when it should be $89.95 or that fuschia is a really horrible colour for a dinner plate or whatever. Get feedback.
Take the results of your feedback to your supplier(s.) Any products that just tested horribly, don't bother following up. Don't ask for what else they have or a discount, just drop them and see what they've got next year. Anything that tested well, talk with the supplier about availablity, bulk discounts, anything they might have in the way of accessories and upsells for those products, etc. Don't forget your budget.
Final call for inventory. You should be getting stocked up. No more looking for new products, no matter how awesome or value-priced they may be. No other business on earth has the ability to burn up your cash like trying to sell online. Save your cash/credit limit for emergency re-orders, more supplies, paying a neighbourhood kid to make a run to the post office for you, etc.
Start promoting the season generally via social networks. ie. don't promote your products. Promote the season "OMG doesn't everyone just ADORE St. Erho's Day!?!? #gofinland" etc. etc. etc. Build anticipation of the holiday, not the sale. Meanwhile, do a pre-season sale on your website/eBay/etc. It doesn't have to be a big sale - look around, you see every retailer on earth doing 20% off sales and Buy-Two-Get-Third-Half-Off kind of sales in the weeks just before a seasonal event. Run one of your own. Practice good inventory maintenance and mind-blowing customer service.
Start actually promoting products on social networks, mailing lists etc. No more sales, you're charging whatever it is you're charging. If you're not competing on price, make sure that whatever you are competing on (service, availability, free gift wrapping, free shipping, whatever) is promoted in letters so big and bright they can see them from the International Space Station.
This is your real event week. Sell, Sell, Sell. Service, Service, Service. If you're in a book club or a biker gang, make sure that your mates know you will not be available this week. If you're working from home and have kids, see if it is at all possible to have a week of playdates lined up. Do not watch television, do not check your (non-business) Facebook. This is the biggest, busiest week of any given three month period, two weeks before a major seasonal event. Sell, Sell, Sell. Service, Service, Service.
At this point you should be down to barebones inventory and largely out of customers anyway. Let those last few orders come in, serve your customers, ride it out. You'll get a day off in just eight days or so.
What to do after all this? Make sure that your customers are happy. Handle your returns and exchanges, monitor eBay and social networks for negative and positive feedback. Make sure you express enthusiasm and gratitude for how awesomely it all went, even if it didn't.
Also, if you have a bit of profit piled up, this is a very very good time to stock up on seasonal stuff. You'll never find a better supplier of Halloween decorations, makeup kits and other non-perishable seasonal items than a Target on the 1st of November. Selection will be kind of spotty, but this is no matter. If you have somewhere to store it, and are in the black on the ledger, it cannot hurt to pick it up on the cheap while you can.
Finally, once you are done handling customer service issues, take a look at your suppliers. Do any stand out as having really come through for you, having really been helpful and delivered value that increased your bottom line? Send them a card and a handwritten note thanking them. Let them know that they made the season work for you, that you appreciate it, and that you look forward to working with them in the future. Showing sincere appreciation, and the positive feedback on the profitability of their products and services, is not only a warm-n-fuzzy bit of sharing, it will also put you on the short list next year for specials, new merchandise etc. They may have never heard of you when you sent that first e-mail a few months ago, but they'll be looking forward to hearing from you in the future.
That's my spiel. Hope the above offers some ideas and incentives to those of you who want to cash in on seasonal events and shopping trends. If anyone has any questions, comments or feedback, please post them, I'd love to get a discussion going.