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12 tips for retailers in the run up to Christmas

  1. Sign on the dotted line. At this time of year, prospective retail tenants will be under pressure to take early occupation of their unit to enable completion of their fit out before the Christmas rush. However, this is not advisable from either party's perspective without a binding agreement for lease (or ideally a lease) in place. Without this, a landlord may have difficulty enforcing any obligations against the tenant, whilst the tenant is at risk of the landlord requiring it to vacate (and reinstate the unit) on immediate notice.
  2. First impressions are key. A seasonal window display is a failsafe way of enticing potential customers into your store. Be careful about placing anything outside the store, though, as this is likely to be prohibited by your lease and/or council regulations.
  3. Can your supply keep up with demand? With many retailers generating the majority of their profits in the Christmas period service yards are likely to be operating at full capacity - with a lot of competition for delivery slots. Planning ahead may be important both for stock availability and neighbourly harmony!
  4. Better safe than sorry. Ensure all essential equipment is well maintained and serviced; there is nothing worse than a boiler breaking down at the first sign of frost, or the air conditioning failing during a packed discount evening on an unseasonably warm day.
  5. 'Tis the season to be jolly! Creating a festive ambience in store can really help to put customers in the mood to shop. Always be sure to leave plenty of room between displays to avoid accidental breakages and to make it easier to spot/deal with potential theft.
  6. Open All Hours! For most retailers Christmas means extended opening hours, sometimes until as late as 9 or 10pm. However, check these timings with your landlord, as some leases prohibit late night opening without their consent. It is also important to consider any residents in the vicinity, particularly when planning a late night event, as any significant disturbance could lead to complaints.
  7. Together we're better! Joint promotions or events with other retailers often increase publicity and attract greater numbers of potential customers. If using communal space, ask permission of the landlord and agree in advance how the cost of this space will be divided up. For outside events, health and safety regulations may need to be considered, as well as licensing requirements.
  8. The end of the year is nigh. Many accounting years run to 31 December, so be prepared for the call from your accountants shortly thereafter and make sure your paperwork is kept up to date. In addition, quarterly rents and service charges are usually demanded on 25 December and landlords are likely to expect settlement in advance of the holiday season, otherwise you may face an interest charge in January.
  9. Unwanted gifts? With Christmas purchases capable of being returned well into January, December's takings may prove too good to be true. To take account of this, consider delaying any annual reconciliations by a few months (for example, turnover rent calculations, if the landlord agrees).
  10. Be Prepared. Extended opening hours, particularly in shopping centres, are likely to mean higher service charge costs as the landlord has to provide services such as security, electricity and cleaning for a longer period. Similarly, seasonal decorations and other marketing initiatives carried out by the landlord may increase the service charge bill.
  11. Use the web to your advantage. "Bricks" and "clicks" don't have to compete! Use a web presence to benefit in store activity by, for example, offering a "click and collect" service, positioning items with the most online "hits" at prominent locations or even offering an online platform within the store for people to check stock details. For last minute Christmas Eve shoppers, online may not be an option!
  12. Knowledge is power. Increased custom means increased opportunities for gathering customer data; both to enable targeted marketing in the future, but also to seek feedback on their shopping experience to date. However, using this data in an ill-considered way could lead to negative publicity or loss of consumer confidence. It is easy to fall foul of the strict regulation concerning data protection so it is worth taking advice first, particularly before sending any unsolicited communications.

This article first appeared in the Business Advice online newspaper on 1 December 2016.

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