Pleading the Fourth
If there's one thing we know about August—with its oppressive heat and stifling humidity and oppressively stifling television lineup—it's that more people are thinking about the beach than they are about Santa Claus. That makes a lot of sense. The beach offers cool breezes and an escape from Modern Family reruns; Santa Claus offers, well, let's just say he'd probably be pretty hot in that suit.
But if you're in the promotional industry, summer is the time to start thinking about Christmas—or better yet, the entire upcoming holiday season. Businesses are gearing up for their big holiday sales pushes, and whatever money's left in their promotional budgets is wide open for the spending. So what's more important: bocce ball and beach-bar margaritas, or a strong finish to your fiscal year? Kickstart your fourth-quarter sales with the guide below. (Yes, you can finish the margarita first.)
1. Start Now
As we mentioned above, it may seem counterintuitive to begin planning for fall and winter sales when the heat index is still topping 100, but we can't stress it enough: Don't wait until it's too late, or you may miss out on sales altogether. "The big mistake I see distributors making is starting too late," explained Rosalie Marcus, The Promo Biz Coach, proprietor of www.promobizcoach.com, a business coaching and consulting practice for the promotional industry. "They should be talking about fourth-quarter promotions months before the quarter begins. It's best to plan 90 days ahead of the quarter."
2. Why So Early?
Ninety days is a long lead-time, but there are a few reasons to plan this far ahead. For one, the closer you get to the holidays, the more likely it is your clients will have already depleted or exhausted their promotional budgets. "Very often companies have run out of promotional spend or have experienced budget cuts by the fourth quarter," said Marcus Sweeney, national sales manager for Bridgeport, Connecticut-based Prime Line.
For another, if your client is looking for a specific item, you want to make sure your supplier has it in stock. "The risk that you take when making last-minute decisions can be fewer choices based on items selling out—usually the most popular ones—and getting the product produced in time, as this is a very busy time of year for production," Sweeney noted.
3. It's Not Just Christmas
Maybe hearing "Happy Holidays/It's the Holiday Season" a thousand times too many each December has conditioned us to equate "the holiday selling season" with Christmas alone. But don't forget—there's a lot going on in the fourth quarter, and that means lots of opportunities for sales. Marcus listed holidays such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, and other big events such as breast cancer awareness month in October. "It's also great because these opportunities repeat year after year," she added. "For example, once you get started with a company for holiday gifts, this is an order that can repeat and be an annuity for you for the life of your business."
4. Who to Target
Sweeney suggested targeting "companies or organizations that typically buy holiday items," as these businesses often set aside large chunks of their promotional budget for the holiday season. This gives you plenty of options. Retail stores will be in need of signage and displays for upcoming sales. Corporations will be looking for end-of-year awards, executive gifts and holiday cards. And clients across all industries will be in search of chocolates, cookies and other food gifts for employee appreciation or general gift-giving. "It doesn't matter how big or small the company may be, people love to reward their employees at the end of the year for a job well done or for the holidays," said Brandon Brown, director of marketing for SnugZ USA, Salt Lake City. "Why not provide a promotional food option that is universal in appeal and provides instant gratification."
5. Give Samples, Often
Don't wait for clients to ask for samples—be proactive. At worst, you'll build goodwill with prospective buyers; at best, you could introduce them to a particular product they may not have otherwise considered for their own promotional needs. "Another idea is to model for your clients what you would like them to do," Marcus advised. "Send them Halloween treats or Thanksgiving and holiday gifts. Send them tasting samples. Many suppliers offer this. Samples promote sales."