Guest Column - September/October 2009

Will Your Holidays Be Happy?

Advice for Holiday Time in the Premium & Incentive Market

By Joe Zanone


I

t is hard to believe when I am still wearing shorts and flip-flops, but my head is firmly entrenched in the impending holiday gift-giving season.

I was standing out on my terrace last night having a glass of wine with a couple of customers of mine from Tulsa, Okla., and I made the comment that the sun was already setting further south in the sky, indicating the return of fall and eventually winter. From that point our conversation turned to the holidays and what the expectations are for this coming season in regards to our business.

The holiday gift-giving season is now upon us, and the Motivation Show is just a few weeks away as I write. So I began to think about all of the joys—and sometimes the pains—associated with this very important time of the year. Having been with Movado Group Inc. for the past 11 holiday seasons, I have learned a few things about how to handle the season and how to react to all of the opportunistic selling that takes place around the season. Some of the pitfalls include "just in time delivery" and "product availability."

Just in Time

Just-in-time delivery basically is a theme that those of us in special markets understand, because everything we deliver has to be "just in time." Holiday "just in time" means it must be delivered by Christmas. So one thing that you need to completely understand is the exact dates that UPS, Federal Express and the U.S. Postal Service have on their calendars as the very last day they will ensure Christmas delivery. Then back your calendar up by three to five business days and make sure you publish this information to your clients and constantly remind them of your cutoff dates for "just in time."

Availability

Product availability is one of those sketchy areas we all have to live in. Most special markets departments are secondary to retail. One of the most frustrating issues during the holiday season is whether or not the product will be available to our segment of the business.

No one likes to disappoint. I know that last year when I wanted a Nintendo Wii and every place I went to buy one was sold out, that I was the unhappiest boy in all of New York on Christmas Day due to no Wii for me. To combat this feeling of helplessness in our business world, I have a few suggestions that have helped me in fulfilling the wishes of my clients at holiday time:


First of all, we live in a world of points-based programs, and most of these programs rely on drop-shipping from the manufacturer to the end user.

To facilitate product delivery, I always ask the company to estimate usage by model so that I can place a forecast for the product with my factory. I also encourage the company to include an availability box next to the item so that the person ordering can see what is available or not. This sounds quite simple, but it really is a solid way to run a points-based program on your items and gives the administrator of the program the ability to monitor the selling of the items and the ability to alter the assortment to maximize point redemption.

One key component is to make sure that all of your clients are aware of your product offerings well in advance of the season. I start introducing holiday offers to my clients in August and continually follow up with gentle reminders that the holiday is right around the corner. I have had inquiries as late as Dec. 15 for upward of 100 pieces of my company's best-selling item and have had to turn business away. If you are not in front of the product development teams and product procurement teams within your company and demanding product availability to be there for you as late as Dec. 15, you most likely will not be able to deliver. So, my recommendation is to start today with your internal organization and forecast out your needs and customer expectations now. I would go to your key customers and ask them for input as to what their usage levels might be.

On another note, when it comes to products being available at holiday time, I always go to my retail division and ask them what they see as "hot" products that are selling well in retail and inquire with them as to what—if anything—would be available to sell in November and December from their forecasts. It is surprising how much product you can offer to the market based upon what the retail division has short-sold! This may not work in all companies but it is a long-tested, tried-and-true means to having products available.