The end of the year is near: Top tips for beating your competition at Christmas, no matter what industry

Claire Morris Prezzee

Prezzee co-founder Claire Morris. Source: Supplied

The Christmas rush is critical for the success of countless businesses, but it’s not just companies offering stocking stuffers that stand to gain from the next two months of trade.

From hospitality venues offering end-of-year functions to those in businesses delivering corporate gifts, startups and small businesses across all sectors face make-or-break months in November and December.

SmartCompany asked company founders across a range of industries how they plan to crush the competition this Christmas, and what they have learned from years of experience channeling pressure into results.

Here are their top tips.

Success is a collaboration

Retail experts have previously told SmartCompany a good Christmas sales period is defined by the ease of payment and quality of experience for customers.

Creating this environment requires all hands be on deck, and co-founder of gift card startup Prezzee, Claire Morris, says taking care of your staff during the end-of-year rush is key to delivering success.

“It’s important to give your team all the resources they need to handle the silly season,” she says.

This includes having a plan to fill gaps when demand for your product is greater than expected, she says.

Do you need more resources in customer support or sales? Have you got a strategy in place to deal with these peak times?”

It’s not just the gifting space that sees big demand in the last two months of the year: those in the hospitality sector say there’s plenty of opportunities to capitalise on increased demand.

For Anna Carosa, co-founder of hospitality venue operator Retail Savvy Group, dominating the competition during the end-of-year rush comes down to an aim to “out-execute everyone” else in the space. This means focusing on the combined result that can be achieved when everyone in a business is following the game plan.

The former Smart50 finalist, which operates a number of Melbourne bars and eateries including Father’s Office and The Bank, focuses on performing well during each individual shift.

“It’s aces in places and put our best foot forward in exceeding our guest’s expectations. It’s all about the routine and executing that routine shift-in, shift out,” Carosa says.

Be the consistent performer

Gift business and 2017 Smart50 finalist Yellow Octopus says it derives about 65% of annual sales from the eight weeks leading up to Christmas, with founder Derek Sheen saying this means it’s “make or break for the entire year”.

The stakes are high for the multimillion-dollar business, but Sheen says rather than prioritising overly complicated strategies at this time of year, the basics become top priority.

Everything is magnified over the Christmas period and it can be easy to let the pressure and increased number of orders lead to mistakes,” he says.

Making a mistake that affects a customer’s order during this time has the potential to “derail” an entire year’s worth of good service, so Sheen says the plan for his business is to make sure the nuts and bolts of packing and delivery are bulletproof.

Yellow Octopus Smart50

The Yellow Octopus team at the Smart50 Awards in October 2017.

Know who you’re selling to — and take time to connect with them 

Before they start capturing consumers during the silly season, several business founders say they’ve spent time laying the groundwork to make sure their brands are front of mind when wallets are opened.

Steve Thomas is the director of fairytale-themed Melbourne bar StoryVille. He says the very design of his venue is about marketing to new customers, particularly in the lead-up to booking mid-week festive functions.

As a themed venue, we organically attract patrons wanting to celebrate a particular themed event such as Christmas. Our openness to these themed events allows people to really let loose,” he says. 

However, the trick is to identify good customers throughout the rest of the year in hopes of finding patrons who will come back into the venue again after visiting for a function. For StoryVille, this is about encouraging staff to have their ears to the ground.

We have asked staff to identify people who are potential clients for over the Christmas period. We also ask staff to bring into conversations that we are trading right through, as a lot of businesses don’t trade through in this period,” he says. 

Morris says Prezzee’s offering is simple in that it allows users to purchase and store gift cards, but the business is still focused on making sure its social channels work for them. 

“Have a supporting strategy to help boost your primary marketing objectives but most importantly up the ante on channels that have proven success,” she says.

Meanwhile, kids homewares business Incy Interiors is focused on the sales opportunities that pop up after Christmas, where the company’s Boxing Day sale is “the biggest event”.

Founder Kristy Withers tells SmartCompany her business starts planning the sale offer three months out, and a big part of this is making sure Incy gets bang for buck on social media.

We have really focused our marketing efforts over the last three years on growing our own channels such as social media and email marketing,” she says.

The effect of this over the longer term, says Withers, is that Incy Interiors is ready to “communicate with as many people as possible in a cost-effective way” when sale season rolls around.

Founder of children’s lighting business Little Belle, Laura Burbery, also says her company’s approach to building an engaged audience during the rush is to spend the rest of the year executing a strong social strategy.

“We invest considerable time and effort in building up trust and brand recognition with our social media followers, customers and stockists. Our top priority is to convert this effort into sales during November and December,” she says.

Think about your customer’s needs — especially first time shoppers

Retail expert Gary Mortimer has previously told SmartCompany that maximising returns as the year comes to an end is about playing on the ”ritual” experience of spending money during this time.

Customers have a “mental wallet”, he says, which sees them planning how much to spend before they decide on specific purchases, making it important for businesses to jump on the chance to convert those plans to cash.

For many businesses, this task is also about showing a new customer what your products can add to their lives over November and December.

Homewares business Lavender Hill Interiors is aware its products fill a niche for customers who are planning events.

“It’s not so much about Christmas gifts but preparing the home for Christmas entertaining, in particular the dining room which where a lot of the activity takes place,” co-founder Mary McManus says.

Promoting the possibility of a sale is all about getting festive imagery of the company’s lines across social media, while writing blog posts and content to suggest how buyers might use the products for their functions.

Yellow Octopus’s Sheen says over the Christmas period his business is often dealing with new customers, and it’s critical to prepare marketing channels and delivery to maximise connection with these new people.

It’s important to maximise this ‘Christmas rush’ to secure as many conversions as possible when people have their wallets out and are ready to buy,” he says. 

“Make sure you have A/B tested things such as your newsletter pop-ups to ensure that when the busy period comes, you know you’re converting the maximum amount of people into database subscribers.”

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