Clipboards with checklist marked

Summer 2020
Prepare Now By Debbie Eisele

Operational and merchandising considerations for Q4 success

Although many retailers may still be experiencing stay-home orders, others have reopened. How the public will respond is still an unknown as of the writing of this article. Rest assured, retailers will pursue the final push of the year during the fourth quarter to increase sales, especially during the holiday shopping season. Ashley Miller from Gib Carson Companies and Monica Loving from Ivystone provided some great insight on how retailers can prepare.

Preparation

According to Miller, retailers should capitalize on an opportunity to grow sales — “that’s what Q4 is all about.” She noted Q4 sales are typically double than any other quarter. Her advice is not to ignore existing inventory. “Get creative and mix it in, but a solid retailer will take the time to research and plan additional inventory that is tailored towards their Q4 visitors, customers and events,” said Miller.

Q4 image

“I think there are many unknowns right now,” shared Loving. “I think it is going to be very important for retailers to be cautious and stay on top of their open orders more than ever; pay attention to what is on order and when it is to ship in case changes need to be made.”

Inventory is all about planning. Miller shared that retailers she works with will easily spend 10-20% of their time “devoted to inventory planning and buying.” Loving believes the busiest time of year is definitely coming and retailers should “plan on placing orders for top vendors at the same levels that they have in the past, or perhaps slightly down.”

“I am not suggesting that our retailers will have a good year but I do think that most can survive if we do not have another spike,” Loving stated. She suggested that best-selling vendors and reorders of product should occur now to prepare.

“Right now retailers are facing challenges and restrictions, but as an entrepreneur there is opportunity. Opportunity to focus on what you CAN do. One of those things is planning and pre-booking Q4 inventory,” Miller said. “If you could have it all planned out and not be stuck scrambling and purchasing from ‘what’s leftover’ why wouldn’t you put that on your task list for now!” She further emphasized the importance of meeting with your sales reps so they can help retailers move forward from the current challenge “equipped with a plan” for success.

Made in the USA

USA Flag in a circle image format

The industry as a whole has experienced challenges with supply chain issues and the ability to obtain product from other countries as quickly as in the past. In America during the pandemic, citizens have reminded others in the nation to shop local and support businesses. How does this translate to consumers asking for more Made in the USA merchandise?

“I personally love products made in our country and I think that more Americans are captivated by this now,” emphasized Loving. “Retailers need to make sure that those items are clearly marked and call attention to them. They also need to get them out on social media and try to pre-sell as much as possible before they arrive in their store.”

“I do believe we will see more momentum with Made in the USA, but more importantly I think it will be a bigger rally around #ShopSmall before Made in the USA,” noted Miller. “The sad reality is that a lot of best-selling products are unable to be ‘Made in the USA’ due to the cost and manufacturing technologies of those costs.”

Miller shared some of the most successful Made in the USA brands focus on customization, short turn-arounds and low minimums. “These include customized apparel with LuckyBird Clothing, custom designed souvenirs with Gift Works Plus, name-drop home/garden with Carson, printed wood signs with Young’s, and so many more,” she said. Other options include personal care products, jewelry, food items, pet treats and more that are all made in the U.S.

Procurement

In the wake of COVID-19, retailers have discovered new ways to find product to order in light of show cancellations during the spring and summer seasons. Miller stressed the best way to know what is available is to rely on your sales reps. “Just like retailers, vendors are adapting everyday. There are some talks happening, but you are likely to get a whole new virtual experience available from vendors in the coming months,” she noted. “If you get digital catalog links, save them in a specific folder in your inbox for easy access. If you don’t get them, ask for digital easy-to-access catalog links.”

Image of tiny shopping basket and hand

Loving echoed this sentiment and noted more vendors and sales agencies are going digital with catalogs and marketing. “The Market Centers have put a high value on this as well. Zoom has become a mainstay for retailers, vendors and reps,” she shared. “While digital catalogs are important, digital content for those products that a retailer brings in their store is just as important.” She also shared that Ivystone has dedicated resources to help retailers by creating content to assist with sales once product is in stores and provides resources on Ivystone’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

Retailers should research and take advantage of incentives or order modifications that vendors have put into place. “Many makers are offering special arrangements during this difficult time in order for retailers to remain afloat — from drop shipments to smaller orders, to other incentives, there is a lot to research and understand prior to placing Q4 orders,” Loving shared.

Image of team collaborating

“I highly recommend being intentional during your sales meeting: communicate your budgets, categories, sales goals and the type of products you need for upcoming inventory,” stressed Miller. She suggested retailers should know what will help them for their specific business, such as budgets, smaller opening orders, etc. If retailers identify these needs first, Miller said it will help narrow down what incentives vendors can use to help.

Planning, using resources and knowing retail goals will ultimately help stores with Q4 preparation and work towards a successful year-end sales push.

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