Whether you’re a retailer who ‘does Black Friday’ or not there’s no getting away from the simple fact that the final weekend in November signals the beginning of the Christmas Countdown, AKA ‘The Silly Season’, the Season of Joy, of Good Will to All, where chestnuts roast on open fires and hopeful young faces gaze in wonder through shop windows filled with promise. A light patter of snow. The Sally Army playing carols in the High Street. Everyone snuggled in scarves and woollies, smiling and holding hands…
Forget it. You know it’s Christmas when customers barge in with bored, hungry children and shake off their rain-sodden brollies and pram hoods whilst complaining that it’s too hot inside the shop and too cold outside it. And that it’s too busy. And that the traffic was terrible and they couldn’t find anywhere to park, and the buses were stuffed and actually it’s all your fault because your shop is where it is and if they hear that blummin song one more time!!
No matter what those big-budget, weepy-eyed TV adverts piped in from another reality portray, in my experience Christmas is when customers are more stressed, more desperate and more hot tempered than usual. Forget cute penguins and cheery Santas, customers blast in off the street at this time of year like unguided missiles ready to explode at the first thing they hit. Which is probably you. “What do you mean you can’t deliver until the 21st? I need it on the 20th!”
Frankly, you’ve got enough on your plate and you’re not even sure whether you took a break yet. You don’t have time for customers’ random panic-attacks. Have you got time for anything in fact? There are people to call, there’s stock to book in, that display still needs sorting out, another lorry’s turned up at the back, the heaters have packed up, Steve still hasn’t returned from lunch, the phones are ringing back and front with no one available to answer them and now some old lady’s just aimed a short, sharp ‘excuse me!’ at you with the precision of a bullet. Just as you thought now might be a good time to finally head off to the loo.
As December’s calendar ticks off the hours like a countdown to Doomsday it’s easy to find yourself running around the shop like a headless turkey in search of a party hat.
And calm. Take a breath.
Time for some top time management tips.
Always helpful at Christmas. Actually, maybe helpful at any time of the year…
Tip 1: Know your busy times and plan accordingly.
Sounds obvious but don’t get caught short for staff during peak traffic. It’s all very well bringing in extra bodies to help out but it’s easy to lose control of the day if activities and breaks aren’t planned and followed through. Put some thought into your rota, make sure everyone sticks to it, and don’t have Jonny start building a shelf display when it’s all about to kick off.
Tip 2: Make sure everyone knows what they’re doing.
When you’re assigning tasks and breaks etc, make sure you do so well in advance so that everyone knows exactly what needs to be done as soon as they come in. Then they can just crack on with it. If you’re taking half an hour every morning to gather the troops and allocate jobs, then you’re losing half an hour to complete the jobs that you need to do yourself.
Tip 3: Prioritise.
There are a million things to do in a day but ask yourself a question: what happens if a thing isn’t done? Do you lose money? Do you lose customers? Is it critical that it has to be done right now? Today?
Answer yes to all of those per task then escalate it to the top of the list. Answer ‘no’ then shift it down. If you have a task with three ‘no’s then forget it until there’s a yes involved. This way you should be left with the absolutely critical tasks of the day, so all you need to do then is allocate time and get them done without procrastination. If you can delegate, all the better. Too simplistic? Try it.
Tip 4: Is everybody trained up?
If you have temporary staff in, do they know what they’re meant to be doing? Are they comfortable and confident that they can do the job? Are you comfortable and confident that they can do the job? If not, then what do you need to do to close the knowledge gap before it starts getting hectic? The last thing you want on a busy day is two sales staff helping one customer decide which steam iron is right for Aunty Mavis’s Christmas box whilst other customers are wandering the shop looking for someone to serve them.
Tip 5: Use free talent.
Have you got Christmas Elves (aka supplier reps) coming in to run live demos? If so then treat them well and allocate someone to help them get set up. Not only can they drum up some customers and create some theatre that’ll help defuse some of those incoming missiles, but if they feel welcome and loved then I guarantee you they will go the extra mile in return and close additional sales for you. The bonus here is that using those reps will take some of the weight off your shop floor.
Finally, back to the Inner Zen. The calm place amidst the yuletide storm.
All of the above depends on good preparation and time management. I know it’s easier said than done but the more prepared you are, the easier it will be to keep your shop floor under control. Customers will react to an environment and they will react to you and your staff. So the more controlled, the more calming and positive the environment the better both for you and your customer.
At least until the Christmas songs loop back to the start for the umpteenth time…
Paul Laville, Director, T21 Training and Development