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IN THE TRENCHES: Finish the year on a positive sales note

by Ron Pelger | November 30, 2009
By now, most of us have become exhausted from the constant reminding about the shaky economy that continues to plague the business world. Repetitive news about the sales and unemployment doldrums has weakened the public morale even further. Negative reports about the economy have become a daily routine.

There have been some very tough times during the past couple of years, and some companies have felt the blows more than others have. But the gloom will not last forever. In fact, there is a good chance that with a favorable holiday season, retail sales could be just the spark needed to jump-start some recovery. Many business gurus feel confident that this holiday shopping season will be much better than last year.

The customers will be coming -- ready or not -- so it is better to be ready for them if you want the sales that will be available during this traditional holiday period. Frankly speaking, consumers are quite blue from all of the adverse economic exposure. It is time that they re-energize their spending during the holidays.

There are two to three good solid weeks in which to take advantage of consumer spending during the Christmas and New Year's holidays. You should target to sell as much produce as possible during this time by capitalizing on the consumer peak-period interest. The busiest shopping period during the holiday season runs from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23. Prepare to maximize your sales during this window.

Holiday retail history indicates that sales begin to rise 5 percent the week before Christmas. The biggest impact is the week of Christmas, when sales will increase up to 25 percent. However, shopping takes a downward trend the week after Christmas, decreasing sales by about 22 percent. There will still be many customers scurrying through the supermarkets shopping for party goods to celebrate the New Year's holiday. This usually tends to be more for deli, bakery, snack and specialty items. The Christmas to New Year's period is the biggest time of the year for cut fruit and veggie platter sales.

Bear in mind that these are not common times when consumers will shop in the same routine manner as they would during a more positive economy. Even though the Christmas spirit fills the air, there is less money to spend, and consumers will shop where they can be provided with price, value, quality and good service. You can be sure that the aggressive supermarket retailers that commit to those ingredients will get the best business.

How much business will you lose this holiday season if your produce department primary displays are depleted for just one or two hours? What if a display is left barren for an entire day? Customers will not tolerate trying to shop from neglected displays. This scene will force them into running to your competition down the street. As a matter of fact, you never can make those sales back. It just does not happen. There is no such thing as a second chance after losing sales to a competitor.

It does not require rocket science to do business. Most supermarket operators normally do holiday planning far in advance. The advertising program is developed, product secured, merchandising displays positioned, special signs printed, labor schedules written and meetings held. Everything is assembled and placed on the drawing board. Nevertheless, the most important function to achieve successful sales results is the implementation of the entire plan itself. Any breakdown in one of the planned links will directly influence the sales numbers. Therefore, simply focus on sticking to the plan and motivating your staff.

Christmas is one of the stronger sales and profit periods for fresh produce. Can you beat last year in sales volume and even set a record? Here are a few reminders to help you maximize holiday sales:

Targets -- Set a produce sales goal, and shoot to exceed it.

Ad development -- Consider the "dollar volume amount" of each item before inserting it into the ad program. Measure amounts it will take to generate high sales.

Ordering -- Bring in heavy amounts of staples such as potatoes, onions, carrots, apples and citrus early. Setting up staples early can save on labor later.

Displays -- Displays are the backbone of all sales. Major displays should always pack a big punch. Highlighted displays should have some strong "muscle" to move mass amounts of produce.

Stocking levels -- Focus your attention and efforts on keeping displays full. Out-of-stocks are lost sales you will never retrieve.

Workmanship -- Good produce departments come from good workmanship. Put some "art" into the display presentation to attract shoppers. Do it neatly and professionally.

Signs -- Customers usually won't ask the price of an item if it lacks a price sign and may not purchase it. Signs are your "silent salespeople."

Plan ahead -- The most important key is to stay ahead of the game. There is no such thing as catching up once you fall behind in the produce business.

Remember, this is the time of year for sales opportunities. Shoppers will not wait for you to get ready for them. Once they enter your produce department, that's it. So get everyone to roll up their sleeves, take a few deep breaths and get out there to break those holiday sales records.