By Dan Mann
Is there any retail issue more unpredictable, more maddening, more unforgiving or more important than the weather?
We try to plan for it.
Politicians debate over it.
Consumers seem to be very influenced by it.
Our activities are dependent on it.
The great “warm weather fourth Quarter” of 2015 is behind us now, and many of us are still licking our wounds.
Seasonality has different meanings, of course. For the snow sports and outdoor industries, we need that cold weather as soon as possible in the fall to sell layers, outerwear and winter sports hard goods.
For the bicycle and running industries we’re looking for Punxsutawney Phil to bring news of an early spring on Feb 2. Even the warm weather cities can experience a slowdown in the summer when the temps hit triple digits and no one wants to go outside.
The problem for retail is that this inconsistency plays havoc with our buying plans. If you are in retail, I haven’t said anything as of yet that you don’t already know. Here are some tips and suggestions to help you keep control of your business even when Mother Nature tries to take over:
1. Inventory planning begins with a review of the prior year’s performance. Instead of just looking at last year’s numbers, base next season’s buy on your trailing three-year average.
2. Keep optimism focused on the front line. If you only see doom and gloom don’t be surprised if this attitude influences your sales force. If they give up you’re customer service suffers and the customers who ARE coming in won’t be back.
3. Use social media to “keep the dream alive.” If your weather is affecting foot traffic you can bet it’s affecting your customer’s ability to participate in their activity. Don’t resort to selling in your social media network—that looks desperate. Focus instead on better days ahead.
4. Renew your commitment to events. If the customers aren’t coming in, they you should give them a reason to. Running retailer, Skinny Raven has more than 250 people each week for their pub runs. They have a Facebook page dedicated only to their events (2300 likes). Oh and BTW, Skinny Raven is in Anchorage, AK.
5. Reality Check: You need an exit strategy for all merchandise. Every SKU has a lifecycle. No sense in fooling yourself. If the weather and consumer demand didn’t meet your expectations, don’t hold on to it hoping that things will change: Mark it down and move forward with fresh product.
6. A bird in hand. While you might be discouraged at the lack of foot traffic, don’t overlook the shoppers that ARE in your store. Now is the opportunity to provide them with the BEST possible experience you can offer. This past December shows that while foot traffic was down, Conversion and Transaction Amounts were up. Maximize the opportunities you have.
For what it’s worth, the impact of bad weather is usually short-lived. We live in Western North Carolina. There’s nothing like a weather report predicting an inch or two of snow to cause a run on bread, milk and eggs at the local grocery store. But that doesn’t cause the Grocer to change their overall assortment plan. Neither should you.
Respond accordingly to the seasonality of your business—even unexpected events. Stay disciplined and follow your assortment plan. This is the best path to long-term retail health.