“Ho Ho Ho? Too soon to be hearing a reminder of Christmas Just Past?”

16 January 2015, 16:48 pm
Town Crier by Justin Tunstall

But before the twinkling lights and tinsel go to the back of the POS/display storage shelf, I think it’s vital to take stock of just how well we did in the late December flurry

Christmas is so significant in the shop’s calendar that we need to learn as much as possible from what went down if we are not to repeat mistakes next time around. My checklist includes reviews of three particular areas of concern – hampers, wastage and ‘seasonal items’.

Many of our customers visit us just a couple of times a year, while on holiday visits to the area. They like to send gift hampers to their friends and family and to order their Christmas cheese board from us. We fulfil these via 24 hour courier – and of course, almost everything needs to go out in the 10 days immediately prior to Christmas Day. Did the couriers do their job? Do we need to look for a better service or a cheaper deal? Did we get our suggested hamper selections right this year? Bespoke hampers are fun to create, but take longer to pick and pack than our own selections. Did we promote them too early or too late? Did we manage to pack everything in that short time window without undue stress? We’re fortunate that during the winter months we are closed in the early part of the week, so can be uninterrupted as we use the full 22 square metres of the premises to create a packing line. It still requires a proper system to get the hampers ready with chill packs around the cheese only just in time for the courier to collect.

At Christmas we find wastage to be more important than turnover. Sure, we want to grow and to maximise market share, but not at the expense of profitability. In 2010 our small seaside town was cut off by snow from the outside world on the Saturday prior to Christmas – we were also unable to attend a Festive Food Fayre that I had (perhaps foolishly) agreed to attend on the same day. On New Year’s Day we still had over 30 kilos of quality blue cheeses to shift – Colston Basset, Dorset Blue Vinny and Stichelton. While we can’t predict weather, we can look at how much of each key line we managed to sell each year and make a timely note of what we should order for the following year. We’re very happy to run down our stock to almost zero as Christmas Eve goes by, though we do hope to have at least one variety of Cheddar, a blue and a soft white rinded cheese to offer even the tardiest shopper. We then get a second bite of the cherry as holiday cottagers arrive for the New Year break and we do need to have something to offer them. We then close for 6 weeks – visitor numbers are low, the majority of the population is on a diet and thus of no use to us! (The shop is also unheated and we like to get away for a break – this year to Morocco, if you’re interested).  There’s no ready restaurant business to take our wastage at this time, so we throw a party at home (the Charmouth Cheese-Up) to clear remaining stock.

Wastage also relates to staffing levels – were there enough people to keep the queue moving and to upsell at the till, or did we constantly struggle to keep on top, dashing twixt till and cheesewire? Alternatively, were there any days when the team had little to do, other than to catch up on vital texting duties and Heat magazine?

My final area for review is of the special items that we order solely for Christmas. Over the last 5 years I’ve noticed that customers weary of seeing the same ‘novelty’ items year after year. We prefer to shift small numbers of the jolly snowmen, Santas and Christmas pud-shaped cheeses early on, rather than have to pop them as freebies into regular customers’ bags at 3.30 on Christmas Eve. One year I had so many left over that I was reduced to dishing out these novelty items at the Christmas Day Charity Swim!

Right, I’m off on my hols now – hopefully into warm weather that’ll inform my planning for the ice cream scooping season. We usually start that activity in time for the Easter school holidays, but with climate change, who knows?

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