Is it Christmas yet?

Every year all the children get excited because Christmas is coming, but all the retailers get stressed because Christmas is their busiest time of the year.

In the US their busy period is from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) through to Christmas.

Wikipedia tells me the name comes from the appearance of the crowds that thronged the streets of Philadelphia but the popular myth is that it is when the retail chains move into the black (into profit) for the first time since January. Don’t tell anyone, but the smart retailers make money all year round, not just in the last few weeks of the year. The dumber ones go broke in January & February when the rent bill falls due.

Is your business seasonal? Is there a distinct pattern to your sales, so that you know that some part of the year will be quieter than another? Do you look for the pattern?

Seasonality is common in many business sectors, with summer holidays and the Christmas break affecting many, but if your business is seasonal you have three choices:

A.      Match your resources and investment to the pattern of your sales. Some businesses do this through the use of temporary staff (Retailers at Christmas is a classic example of this)

B.      Use the quiet period to do jobs that have been put off from the busy period (common in the agricultural sector, and in some parts of the building trade)

C.      Find something else to fill in the gaps

One of my clients is a florist, and their seasonality is weekly, or rather at the weekends. Everyone wants to get married at the weekend!
We’ve made a deliberate decision to target other markets, moving away from weekend work to jobs that can be done between Monday and Friday, balancing out the workload across the week. It will never be perfect, but where doubling the size of the wedding floristry would require a doubling of the team, we can double the size of the business during the week just by utilising the existing team & giving them a few more hours.

Big swings in sales lead to big swings in cash flow, big swings in cash flow stress the business (and the owner) sometimes to breaking point. If your business is very seasonal, that’s not a good place to be. Remember that more businesses fail from cash flow problems than anything else.

Find another market, or another product to sell to smooth out that seasonality.

A colleague helped a client whose business was entirely winter seasonal; they bought a business that equally seasonal, but in the summer.

The same is true of orders and projects. If all you do is very large projects, sooner or later one will go wrong or be delayed & deferred. Lots of little project to fill in the gaps are a really good idea.

The best sales graph is one that has a smooth upward curve – how can you smooth out your sales?