by Sally Colby
If Christmas is the biggest and best season of year for your business, it’s time to finalize preparations to countdown.
While some who stop in over the next several weeks will likely be long-time loyal customers who return every year, some might be visiting your business for the first time. Take steps now to make sure they have a memorable experience. Have ample well-trained staff who are familiar with your products and services, and make sure they can handle questions in a friendly manner. There’s nothing that turns away customers faster than an encounter with a grumpy employee during the holidays.
Begin by keeping your website and other social media up-to-date. Customers should be able to find you quickly online and obtain accurate information about location and operating hours. Make sure one person is dedicated to making regular updates so marketing opportunities are not overlooked by someone thinking ‘someone else is taking care of it.’ Use social media to announce business hours as well as special offers and events.
As you and your employees prepare for Christmas, make sure signage is clean, neat and grammatically correct. The store entrance should feature enticing displays that include items that are for sale in other areas of the store. Customers are influenced by subtle factors such as store ambience, scents, product display and lighting. If you choose to use holiday-themed scents to add to the mood, keep them light so that customers who might be sensitive to scents aren’t turned off. Scents should be the most obvious when shoppers walk in the door and less so throughout the store. If you choose to play Christmas music, make sure it isn’t too loud.
Whenever possible, displays should be built around gift ideas. Create themed areas and feature items such as snowmen, angels or old-world Santas. Try to display only one or two of each item so customers feel as if they are selecting something special. Be sure to keep a close eye on displays and replenish/restock often. Show your customers how to use what you offer for sale. For example, rather than having all ornaments on a rack, choose some and use them to decorate several display trees.
Take photographs of displays as you create them, photograph changes as they’re made, and note which displays seem to draw the most customer attention. This is especially useful if you make changes to displays throughout the season. Some customers may come in more than once, and if they do, a new store arrangement or feature will entice them more. A photographic record of what worked (or didn’t work) this year will also help you plan for next year.
If Christmas shopping customers have already visited to your farm or store for fall activities, there’s a good chance they’ll bring children with them. Kids love interactive displays, but so do adults. Train displays never get old, so if you can resurrect one and set it up, it will draw attention and perhaps become the reason many families return year after year.
It’s worth a bit of time and space to create a dedicated kid’s corner with an assortment of low-cost items that children can select for parents or others in their family. This requires trained staff members to be on hand to assist young customers, but the rewards are two-fold: parents will take more time to shop, and children have the satisfaction of purchasing gifts on their own. A kid’s corner can also include face painting, balloon animals or even a simple make-and-take Christmas craft.
Use the holiday season to show your community that you embrace the spirit of giving. Offer a mitten or scarf tree so that customers can bring these items to ‘decorate’ the tree for local charities. It’s also an opportunity to offer customers a discount in exchange for their donation. Promote charitable activities on Facebook, and include photos of the mitten tree so customers can see the progress as it’s being decorated.
For retail farm markets, ready-made gift baskets are easy for busy customers to select and purchase without having to wait. But it’s also worth offering custom-made baskets that can be ordered ahead of time, or allow the customer to select items for the basket while you provide the service of putting it all together. Be ready with gift suggestions and ask questions to help customers create the ideal basket.
If you offer gift wrapping or cellophane around plants, have an ample supply on hand along with ribbon and other materials. Create a clearly marked, dedicated area so customers know where to go for wrapping or cellophane. Customers will be quick to discard a purchase if they can’t easily see where to go for help.
Make sure employees are aware of what healthy plants on display should look like and that they can advise customers on plant care. Most, if not all, employees should be able to recognize unhealthy plants and remove them from the sales floor.
Christmas tree farms should have clearly designated parking areas. If parking is tight or there’s a lot of traffic, designate someone to handle parking. When lots are snow or ice covered, keep them clear to maintain safe driving and footing.
Make sure employees can answer questions about fresh Christmas trees and provide written care instructions with each sale. Some customers might be first-time real tree buyers, so it’s important that their experience is one that will guarantee a return visit.
Signage at the entrance should answer most, if not all, customer questions. A display of trees that indicate available varieties will help customers who aren’t sure of the differences or what they want. If your farm offers a selection of cut trees, display them on grass or mulch on top of pavement to avoid premature drying. Signage should also indicate services offered, from assistance in the field to shaking. Tree shaking is well worth the effort as it removes dust, insects and needle debris; resulting in a cleaner tree and a more positive experience that will increase the likelihood of the consumer purchasing a fresh tree in the future.
If trees are cut and loaded onto wagons in the fields, it’s important to make sure customers receive the tree they’ve selected. Shaking, drilling and netting stations can become hectic and backlogged, so it helps to use a tagging system by which a customer retains a stub that stays with the tree they’ve selected. This also ensures correct payment whether trees are priced by the foot, variety or all sold for the same price.
Remember that everyone loves a bargain, and a bargain doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a sale or a discount. Use the season as an opportunity to offer an enticement (and advertisement) for the next season, perhaps in the form of a discount coupon for a hanging basket or Mother’s Day activity in spring.
Christmas is important to people, and the fact that they’ve chosen your farm or market for holiday shopping means something. Whether they’ve been coming for years or coming in as a first-time customer, make sure their visit is memorable.