It’s summertime, and the living is easy — for other people. If you run a seasonal business, this may be your busiest time of year.
Summer tourism can bring a big boost to revenue. In Maine, the state known as “Vacationland,” visitors seeking an escape from the heat last summer spent more than $2.8 billion at regional businesses [PDF]; the bulk of the money went to businesses providing food, lodging, and retail goods. But the boon didn’t last all year: By winter, tourism income had slowed dramatically, with out-of-state visitors bringing in just $714 million.
So, how do you cope when visitors head home? Try these six strategies to keep your seasonal business going.
- Save money to remain solvent during the slower months. If you know that your business is cyclical, stow away a large portion of your summer income to remain in the black during the off-season. The Small Business Administration suggests making a cash-flow projection for the entire year based on historical data, so that you can use those calculations to determine how much you can afford to spend each month.
- Limit your operating costs after the season ends. If your business receives far greater traffic during the summer months than throughout the rest of the year, plan your operating expenses accordingly. Instead of hiring full-time workers, employ seasonal staff for most non-management positions. Consider limiting the hours your business in open during the off-season, too; you’ll save on staffing and utilities.
- Drive demand during the off-season with special promotions. When business slows, consider offering a promotion to bring in customers, such as seasonal price reductions. The Crane Residential Resort in Barbados, for instance, drops its prices by a third during the off-season, and many gourmet restaurants in Vail, Colo., offer half-price entrées and other specials after the winter ski crowd goes home. A group-buying discount can also help you bring in the masses, but be sure to plan carefully and implement a strategy to retain customers you reach through Groupon and the like.
- Partner with other local businesses to create package deals. To entice tourists during the off-season, try collaborating with other local businesses to wage joint promotions and marketing campaigns. Check in with members of your local merchants association or chamber of commerce to find businesses with good partnership potential — if you run a restaurant, perhaps a local hotel and spa may want to partner with you on a winter “romance” or “pampering” package.
- Maintain relationships with customers year-round. Enroll your seasonal fans in a customer-loyalty program to keep in touch off-season. Sending occasional postcards or e-newsletters to offer discounts can effectively keep your business on their minds. Engaging through social media helps, too: Encourage customers to follow you on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and use these platforms to share special promotions, stories, and photos of your community.
- Use your downtime to focus on your business strategy. Slow periods can provide an opportunity to grow your business. Take time to examine your financial data and research ways to increase your profits next year. If you own a retail store, look at your inventory: Did some products fly off the shelves, while others gathered dust? Are there cheaper software solutions you could use to replace your consultants and cut operating costs? At House of Torment, a haunted house that’s only open to the public for 30 days a year, the owner spends the other 11 months conducting market research, studying the competition, and improving his haunted attractions.