How To Manage Inventory in a Seasonal Business

by Gil Zeimer on November 5, 2010
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When I was working part-time in a stationery store during my college years, I remember taking inventory of all of the store’s Christmas merchandise during one warm April afternoon. I didn’t realize it then, but my boss had empowered me to manage the inventory of his most lucrative seasonal business.

Here are some tips that can help you manage your inventory before the season gets too hectic.

1) Start with a plan – To keep your cash flowing, season after season, you should create a plan, based on past years’ sales, successes, and lessons learned. It can be a spreadsheet based on each season’s sales, by product group, or by item. If you need help, call your bookkeeper or someone more experienced in sales management.

2) Start early – It’s never too early to start taking stock of your seasonal inventory. Many companies, like toy manufacturers, electronics, DVDs, books, clothing and others sell the lion’s share of their merchandise between Halloween and New Year’s, so they order their stock early enough, and re-order it when possible, to last throughout the holidays. With today’s technology, ordering can be done in minutes, rather than hours or days.

Conversely, other seasonal products like swimsuits, shorts, sandals, and T-shirts are normally ordered in the dead of winter to make sure they arrive on time from wherever they’re made to stock your shelves in the spring. So even if the weather outside is frightful, starting early can be delightful.

3) Re-order often – Empty shelves mean your cash register may be empty, too. Make sure you keep re-ordering inventory early enough throughout your busiest seasons to keep your products flying off the shelves and your customers smiling.

4) Manage your best sellers – You know from experience what your best seasonal items have been, but this is a Catch-22. On one hand, you should have enough stock on hand of your predicted biggest selling items, but don’t overbuy or you’ll be overstocked.

5) Advertise your best deals – Once you know what your seasonal anchor products will be, start working on your advertising. Reach out to your current customers first in emails and postcards with the biggest discounts. Next, run newspaper ads that your prospects will see to reel them in. Finally, as you get closer to the end of the season, mark down your merchandise as needed to sell it so you won’t have to return it to the manufacturer or store it for another year.

6) Manage your personnel, too – Does it seem like all of your employees want to see their out-of-town families on the same week when you could be at your busiest? Circulate a vacation calendar now to have them commit to a staggered holiday schedule so you’ll have adequate help to work with your customers – in store, online, or by phone.

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