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All bets have been cast for Christmas trading. Britain’s festive cheese stocks have been allocated to the retail trade, and what you’ve got on order is what you’ve got to sell.
When I was in the newspaper trade, our goal was to have one copy of the Express unsold in every newsagent in the UK at the end of every day – no demand unmet, but commercially (if not environmentally) acceptable wastage.
My business changed, and the world with it – waste is now seen as morally unacceptable, as well as a cost.
Later experience as a cheesemonger showed me that a complete sell out late on Christmas Eve was akin to a Pools win. I might place a small re-order for New Year visitors to the town, but that was it until February and demand started anew.
Enthusiastic overbuying by Christmas shoppers, followed by half the population starting a new diet, meant precious little demand until half-term.
Christmas 2010 was different. I was persuaded to sign up for a ‘last Saturday before Christmas’ fine food market. I ordered a couple of grand’s worth of extra seasonal stock, acquired another set of scales, bought two more Handees and packed the van.
On the Friday night, the snow came down. The market was unreachable, as was my shop. We spent the day at home, realising that far from being our best day of the year, we were going to be lucky to cover staff costs for the day, let alone convert our cheese into cash.
Thankfully, the snow lifted after a couple of days. We still had most of the working week to trade from the shop and shifted some stock. On Christmas Eve, as the shutters came down, I still had six whole blue cheeses: Stilton, Stichelton and Dorset Blue Vinny, not to mention short-dated seasonal lines. A lot of cheese.
That’s the peril of overstock, but this Christmas may be different and premature sell-outs might be commonplace. What to do if punters are waving money, yet there’s no cheese?
Here’s where the deeds of past Chancellors of the Exchequer can show a way. I’d never heard of quantitative easing until about 2010, but it seemed to involve printing more money. My Lyme Regis fellow trader, Si the Fish (monger) accused me of Quantitative Cheesing when I launched a gift voucher scheme.
The benefits of vouchers are many: it’s a non-perishable gift (but do include an expiry date), a reason for new people to visit your shop, and positive cash-flow. This year, it’s also a way for shielding or queue-averse shoppers to buy gifts without coming into town.
I didn’t even bother with outsourcing design or print – a few minutes on the laptop, some card into the printer, and a couple of grand printed up and ready to sell.
It won’t put cheese on the table for Boxing Day, but it can get the tills ringing with a bit more Christmas cheer. Number 11, eat your heart out!
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