Discover five retailers’ secrets to successful Christmas trading
It may seem early in the year but it is a good idea to begin planning for December right now. Here at FFD we’ve rounded up five retailers and persuaded them to spill their secrets to successful Christmas trading.
Georgie Mason, owner, Gonalston Farm Shop, Nottingham
Gonalston Farm Shop increased its Christmas spend by 15% last year and had sold most of its stock by the last full trading week before Christmas.
“We had fewer lines on the shop floor but we’d bought bigger quantities of those lines,” owner Georgie Mason tells FFD, adding that she plans to follow a similar buying strategy again this year but feels slightly more optimistic about purchasing for Christmas 2021.
Wholesale catalogues have started arriving at the farm shop, with Mason looking at historic data to see what was sold last year and how the business is trading at the moment.
“We’ll get plenty of the items that we need, like Christmas puddings that are dated to 2023,” she says. “I’m cautious about buying items that have the words ‘Boxing Day’ or ‘Christmas’ on the label because the shelf life is so limited. They lose margin from 24th December onwards.”
Smaller jars of jams, chutneys and pickles sold better last year because of social gathering restrictions and Mason says she may take up similar orders again this year.
The farm shop will also order bigger brands, like Green & Blacks and Lindt, from wholesaler Booker because of its partnership with convenience store operator, Budgens. These will be offered on more of a promotion to customers, says Mason.
“We may lose a bit of margin in some of these cases, but as long as we do a mix of that with our higher-end lines that we get from Holleys and Cotswold Fayre, then we’ll have a good mix.”
Mark Kacary, managing director, The Norfolk Deli, Hunstanton
The Norfolk Deli had to close its e-commerce operation prematurely last Christmas after the business couldn’t order enough stock to meet the huge volume of orders it was getting online.
“A lot of these orders came from people living abroad buying Christmas hampers for parents and relatives living in Norfolk,” Mark Kacary tells FFD.
During the UK’s third lockdown, Kacary spent three weeks revising the deli’s website, adding new product photography, and moving the entire operation to e-commerce platform, Shopify.
“We learned a lot of lessons last year regarding the e-commerce platform we were using at the time,” he says. “Particularly which areas didn’t give us the flexibility to do things we wanted to do and customers were asking for. Now, 95% of what we sell in the shop is available online.”
Kacary plans to add seasonal Christmas hamper and cheese sections to the website, which will be promoted on the deli’s social media and in a weekly newsletter to its 4,000 subscribers.
“From October, we will start to drip feed messages that we are the place to come for something different this Christmas, especially in terms of gift hampers,” says Kacary, adding that the deli is already doing an ‘Every product has a story’ campaign which aims to educate customers on products the deli stocks both in the shop and online.
“Hopefully that will result in more people choosing to do something different this year and buy our hand-filled hampers as we lead up to Christmas.”
Bill and Rosamund De La Hey, owners, The Mainstreet Trading Company, St Boswells, Scottish Borders
The Mainstreet Trading Company has already placed some small orders for products, like Continental cheeses, that might be difficult to obtain from abroad this Christmas.
“There’s definitely a supply chain issue, so we need to be a bit more prepared this year than normal,” Bill De La Hey tells FFD.
De La Hey won’t go too festive with his product offering because the small floor space in the deli constrains how much he can stock. Instead, he plans to focus on offering premium grocery items like bread, teas, coffees, charcuterie and cheese.
“We’ll offer a few add-ons at Christmas, like nice preserves and chocolates, but I’d always go heavier on the good traditional Christmas products that I know are good sellers, like Stilton, than take up space with lots of overtly seasonal stuff,” he says.
Depending on what the COVID rules will be in Scotland closer to the Christmas trading season, the deli-café-bookshop is also looking at holding a Christmas market-style event in the Autumn months.
The event would see local businesses and suppliers from the deli selling food and chatting to customers from stalls set up outdoors in Mainstreet’s courtyard – or in the barn depending on the weather, says De La Hey.
“It’s a sort of Christmas market mixed with one of our author events,” he says. “People could meet some of our suppliers, hear some live music, and eat some good food.”
“It would be a good event to mark a change of season and really gear people up for Christmas.”
Steven Salamon, owner, Wally’s Delicatessen, Cardiff
Steven Salamon plans to start placing Christmas orders this month but says he will be cautious with how much stock to order.
“If we have a great Christmas and I don’t have enough stock then I’ll know for the following year that things are returning to normal,” he tells FFD.
These early orders will include seasonal items like confectionery, biscuit tins, and Italian and German Christmas cakes.
In 2020, Salamon cut his Christmas order quantities by 50-60% compared to 2019, but this year he’s considering increasing levels of stock by 25-30% on last year.
“My feeling is if I’m short on stock I can always order more good all-year-round products, but at least it leaves me not overloaded with seasonal stock if things aren’t as good as I hope.”
But Salamon is making sure to get orders of wicker hamper baskets in early this year after a national shortage last Christmas meant the deli had to turn down a lot of last-minute corporate business.
“A lot of companies came to us for gift hampers for their staff after Christmas parties were cancelled, but we couldn’t get hold of wicker baskets,” he says. “We want to make sure we have enough ready this year, even if we don’t know what the level of demand will be.”
Making sure the website is fully functioning and up to date with all the latest products will also be a priority for the deli in the run-up to Christmas.
“In previous years, if we bought too much stock we could rely on Christmas to shift it through displays or discounting,” says Salamon.
“Since the pandemic, we can’t guarantee that the business is going to come through the shop physically so we have to make sure that everything we’ve bought in is available through all channels, which is online, physical and corporate.”
Salamon says he’s also thinking hard about the cut-off date for online deliveries of Christmas orders, as last year it was difficult to guarantee delivery before the 25th December due to the demand in courier services.
“I didn’t want to send goods out too late and not be able to guarantee people would get them in time,” he says. “We made the cut-off date for online dispatches at least 10 days before Christmas, but we’ll be looking to see if we can extend it this year.”
Although making more time for e-commerce, the deli owner is still looking forward to welcoming customers back into the shop again this Christmas, whether with social distancing rules still in place again this year or not. “I spent 30 years in business trying to get as many people into the shop as possible and last Christmas I had to keep people at the door. It was really against the grain,” says Salamon, adding that Wally’s will have longer opening hours again this year, including late-night openings until 8pm two weeks before Christmas.
“We’re hoping social distancing rules will be lifted by Christmas but we’ll follow them again this year if we have to.”
Andy Swinscoe, owner, The Courtyard Dairy, Austwick
If retailers are still required to encourage social distancing in shops this Christmas, Andy Swinscoe of The Courtyard Dairy says he will likely set up his shop in a similar way to last year.
The cheesemonger bought extra storage space and turned one of the existing storage rooms into additional retail space ready for the busiest trading time of the year.
Cubicles were also installed on the shop floor, which customers entered when visiting the shop to buy their Christmas cheese and were served by one member of staff.
“They almost had a personal shopper experience,” Swinscoe tells FFD. “I think we would try and do the same again this year.”
“It’s not quite the same buzz as our old shop,” he adds, likening Christmas during pre-pandemic times to a bar on a busy Saturday. “But we felt there was a much smoother flow in the shop, and it improved customer service because our staff could spend time with each customer and talk in-depth about the cheeses with them.”
Although Swinscoe prefers customers visiting the shop to buy their cheeses, during the Christmas trading season he encourages customers to use a click and collect service to divert some extra festive footfall. The business also opened a pop-up shop outdoors for the first time last year for customers looking for grab-and-go items. “The pop-up shop had a much smaller cheese range, but it was great for customers who knew what they wanted and didn’t want to queue outside for the shop.”