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Christmas Planning and Prep for Small Businesses: Advice From Owners

Dec. 8, 2012
Holiday Tips & News
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For small merchants and indie retailers, the holiday season can be a great opportunity to build a brand, get in front of more consumers and drive sales. But there can also be a lot at stake – many small-business owners depend on Christmas sales to end the year strong.

NerdWallet surveyed small-business people to get an idea of their best tips for the holiday rush. We found small-business owners to be a font of useful advice, providing guidance ranging from the interesting and creative to the necessary and timeless.

So if yours is a seasoned small business success story or you are an upstart facing his or her first holiday season, take a quick look to see if there’s anything here that could be useful for you.

Table of Contents

1. Preparation and Groundwork

2. Getting Technical

3. Discounts, Promotions and Social Media

4. Christmas-Specific Specials

1. Preparation and Groundwork

Set plans early and map out every aspect of your strategy.

Flynn Zaiger, CEO of Online Optimism, a digital marketing agency with retail clients:

“The best way to handle the holiday rush is to prepare for it before it starts. We always spend the week of Thanksgiving with clients helping them make a calendar for their sales for the rest of the year, as well as planning out the social media/blog posts that will accompany each sale. This way, as their retail work picks up and they no longer have time to be working with us, we already know what their business is going to say.”

Get shipping plans in place.

Maxine Tatlonghari, founder of Vanity Girl Hollywood, a lighted vanity mirror and beauty station company:

“We also came up with an appropriate drop-dead date for Christmas orders, added an extra customer service person, and are working on flat-rate rush charges for the people who don’t make our 2 p.m. Dec. 14 deadline.”

Make sure everyone is on the same page, so adjusting on the fly is easier.

Ebon S. Glenn, vice president of RDG Concessions, specialty retail stores with locations at the San Francisco Airport:

“Start to prepare as early as possible so you have time to adjust the promotion if it isn’t working as you have planned. The company’s buyer, managers and sales force all have to have the same marching orders before heading into a major promotion for it to be a success. Everyone needs to be as excited as the owner, so the energy can be passed off to the customer. I even ask my sales force to wear Santa Claus hats.”

2. Getting Technical

Redesign the website with the user in mind.

Richie Frieman, co-founder of Charm City Babies, a new baby clothing line based in Baltimore:

“Also, use this time as a target to really revamp your website. We worked on a redesign/enhancements that we used this time as our goal to be ready by. Now, knowing more people will be looking, we wanted to make ourselves as attractive as possible. The holiday season is the ‘main event’ of the entire shopping year. So be prepared to work harder, but it will be worth it.”

Display your credibility icons for first-time shoppers.

Joel Gross, founder and CEO of Coalition Technologies, a marketing and Web design firm:

“Display ‘trust icons’ prominently on your website. Whether it be a secure payment gateway, certification from Visa, MasterCard and American Express for transactions on your site, or your membership with the Better Business Bureau, make it evident. These icons will boost confidence in the quality and trustworthiness of your site, and make people feel more confident in buying from you.”

Be festive.

Catherine Simms, owner of Whiner & Diner Wine Crate Pet Accessories, a pet supply company that makes raised dog feeders out of wine crates:

“We also have replaced our regular website home page with a holiday-themed one and have optimized our website for the holidays weeks ago. We are running (a Google) AdWords campaign and have bought some holiday banners on pet-related websites.”

3. Discounts, Promotions and Social Media

Promote your store in many different ways.

Darlene Tenes, founder of CasaQ, a Hispanic lifestyle company:

“I have been dabbling with different marketing methods this year for my cool, funky, niche line of Christmas ornaments. I have tried Facebook ads, promoted posts, a print ad in Star Magazine, cross promotions, flash sales (very successful), direct mail, and offer different discounts with codes, from $10-off-order to free shipping. I also added a (shopping) cart app to my Facebook page, which I love!”

Use product promotions to attract attention and reward shoppers.

Nada Zaki, owner of House of Zada jewelry, an online specialty jewelry shop:

“I held a few jewelry parties the past few weeks for the holidays, offering specials such as if you buy two or more, you get 10% off, and did raffle giveaways to help promote the shop. The sale special helped me sell 40 pieces in just one party. Also, I stocked up on my jewelry material beforehand to offer fast turnaround time, which encourages buyers as well. This year, I also offered gift boxes, which people loved!”

Offer discounts, but don’t go overboard.

Sabina Dungarwalla, owner of, an online gift shop:

“Online, we have offered discounts on specific gifts, such as 10% off personalized wine for Christmas, for example. However, we are very competitively priced in the marketplace, so consumers who are looking for a great Christmas gift will find affordable prices on our website already, plus the added bonus of free delivery, which seems to be very attractive.”

4. Christmas-Specific Specials

Cater to the spirit of the season.

Bisera Urdarevik, owner of Lush Gourmet Foods LLC, a maker of gourmet spiced nuts:

“(One way) to entice customers to purchase is by offering a promo. For example, we recently did a promo where if a customer ordered our six-pack gift box, they would get a free package of our product for themselves for free. They already have to spend some money on a gift, so why not get something for themselves in return?”

Recognize where your product fits into Christmas traditions.

Julie Austin, founder of Hydrosport, a maker of wrist water bottles called Swiggies:

“I usually make sure I have plenty of inventory ready in plenty of time for the X-mas rush and have some part-time workers to handle it. I make sure Swiggies is on as many stocking-stuffer websites as possible, since it’s a unique gift.”

Have perspective on how Christmas business contributes to long-term goals.

Chad Rubin, managing director of Crucial Vacuum, a manufacturer and direct seller of vacuum cleaner components:

“I suggest other small businesses plan ahead and anticipate the spike in business. At the end of the day, our job is to delight our customers. The (lifetime) value of a customer is extremely high and many of our customers are first-time purchasers. Therefore, we have to WOW them with incredible service.”


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