“A shop for all seasons”

08 November 2018, 06:20 am
Expert Eye by John Shepherd

As we retailers are just about to enter our busiest season, “it is a truth universally acknowledged” that there are not only Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Four Colly Birds and the Four Tops but also Four Seasons in every year.

Except that using meteorological divisions does not cover all the bases when running a food shop. A strict definition of the word ‘season’ would say that it is a time characterized by a particular circumstance or feature, and there are certainly more than four of these for the speciality food retailer to think about. To my mind there are probably six, based along the following lines…

Season One in the Speciality Food Box Set for me would be the 58-day period of January and February. For us these two months contribute about 14% of the annual sales. This season is all about the brutality of winter and a time for a lot of basic work behind the scenes. There is not much material to make an event. In February there is the double positive of Shrove Tuesday and Valentine’s Day, where there is a short lived upsurge in spending, but it’s a blessing when St David’s Day on 1st March ushers in spring and Season 2.

Season Two is the 61 day period of March and April, otherwise known as spring, and which accounts for about 16.5% of our sales. It is often a period of confusion in customer counts as the school holidays collide with Paschal Calendars.

St George’s Day falls into this period, though it has never been particularly successful for us and the weather can be somewhat volatile. But spirits and sales are heading in an upward direction.

Season Three is the longest season of the year. The 76 days of May, June and the first two weeks of July account for over 20% of the year’s sales. It’s all singing and dancing and the boulevard lifestyle for us. Good weather, picnics, sporting events, dining al fresco, cultural events, royal events, the Chelsea Flower Show and two Bank Holidays – as mentioned before, it’s the Goldilocks Zone for speciality food.

Season Four is late summer – the 47 day period between the middle of July and the end of August. The shortest of the six and which provides just 8.5% of the annual turnover. The late yang to early summer’s ying. Characterised by holidays and closed schools and out of office replies and the fact that many wallets have migrated abroad. It’s the last chance for us to see if the Christmas catalogue is in-hand and we haven’t forgotten the panettone order.

Season Five is – you guessed it – autumn. The season of mists and missed opportunities. It’s The Quiet Beatle of the seasons, the one that gets away. I always feel we should be doing better than we do. The schools are back, the weather can be good, the holidays have refreshed customers but there is no focal point. We need a “Day” to liven things up. A modern take on Harvest Festival perhaps or a national celebration of food.

Season Six is finally the big one. Christmas starts on 1st November. Decorative lights are switched on, displays go up, stock arrives and the rest is social science. These two months or 61 days contribute to over 22% of our sales. Black Friday was the day traditionally regarded as the start of the period when retailers become profitable for the first time in the year. Let’s hope we all make it.

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