Seasonal sales spikes, as any operator is well aware, are a part of doing business. For retailers, it’s often the end-of-year holidays like Cyber Monday or Christmas. For those selling pizza and chicken wings, it’s Super Bowl Sunday.
Our Super Bowl is Valentine’s Day, the single largest sales day of the year, when some of our operators see sales increases of more than 3,000 percent in a single day. This year, we expect to deliver more than 1.2 million strawberries, 268,000 pieces of pineapple, 66,000 pounds of grapes, and 260,000 bunches of kale.
And while everyone welcomes a dramatic boom in business, whether it is Christmas, Easter, or Valentine’s Day, the logistical challenges and resources needed to meet the demand of your company’s biggest holiday can seem overwhelming for any operator.
To add to the stress, the margin for error is minuscule when you are responsible for conveying an emotion on behalf of someone else on what is viewed as one of the most important holidays of the year for relationships. The pressure to do it right and on time is enormous.
So how do you handle such dramatic surges in business?
Essentially you have two options: survive or thrive. We choose to thrive.
The objective should be to equip your operators with the best chance to maximize every sales opportunity that peak sales periods present.
And the key to meeting this objective is careful planning. In our case, it begins months and months in advance of a holiday, and it all starts with the products. Operators must be confident that they will have the highest quality supplies needed to meet the exponential consumer demand.
Since we are dealing with perishable items, it becomes much more than a simple question of how many strawberries or pineapples to order. That’s the easy part.
The bigger question is how to prepare for unexpected issues like weather or other natural disasters that could threaten a crop. Over the past year, for example, we’ve seen destructive storms ranging from hurricanes to wildfires that have devastated large areas of land across the country. Planning for such unexpected issues can help you to pivot and be sure that operators across the country are set up for success despite acts of Mother Nature. February can bring unexpected cold fronts in regions where fruit is grown—there should be a backup plan in place to ensure success when things are out of your control.
We make sure we have developed product sources in multiple regions. Not only does that help with logistics, it ensures that if a crop in one part of the country is damaged or not producing as expected, we can increase orders from sources in other areas.
The second area of critical importance is training, especially for new operators and employees.
Taking the time to properly train every employee will pay off when your peak season arrives. Through my experience, peer-to-peer training from those with experience typically works best. Our most successful operators are able to provide in-depth, real-world examples of how they handle the increase in demand, whether it is offering tips on recruiting and vetting temporary employees or sharing their process for receiving and processing the dramatic surge in orders. At Edible, for example, we bring on nearly 30,000 temporary hires just for this busy season, and do our best to prepare year-round employees for training.
Finally, as much as any retailer would hope that every order is going to be perfect and that every customer is wow-ed, it is critically important that everyone knows what to do if things do not go right, because no matter how well you plan, issues are inevitable.
Both national brands and small, local businesses can be faced with operational issues. Today, when both good and bad experiences with brands can spread like a wildfire through social media, you should be prepared to handle anything that may arise.
- Does the social media team know how to maximize and share great experiences and photos that your customers are tweeting at you? Additionally, have they been trained to answer customer questions on Facebook or Instagram?
- Does your customer service team know how to respond to the increased number of calls that might come in?
- Are employees trained to efficiently handle the increase in customers, to keep lines from forming and get customers in and out in a timely manner?
- Do employees know how to assist customers who are in a hurry or need to fulfill a last-minute request?
All possible scenarios need to be identified in advance and those who will be on the front line of dealing with the potential issue must be trained to respond promptly and properly.
The bottom line is that when it comes to seasonal spikes in business, the logistical challenges and demands on a business large or small can be overwhelming. With the right planning and training, however, it is possible to thrive, not just survive, when your Valentine’s Day arrives.