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As the biggest retail event and food occasion of the year, Christmas is planned months in advance to make sure those crucial weeks go smoothly.
By summer, the festive stock has been ordered, and when an autumn chill winds its way through the trees, the decorations are ready – if not already up – and promotions are underway.
But with economic uncertainty still casting a shadow over the festive season, there is plenty of scope for last-minute preparations. In fact, independent retailers especially have the flexibility to adapt last minute – whether that’s updating their website or social media, sending out a final newsletter to customers, or getting in extra seasonal staff to help offer the best customer service.
For Amy Coleman, farm shop manager at Rhug Estate, “My biggest concern is the knock-on effect of the ever-increasing cost-of-living and the sacrifices people are going to have to make this year as a result of this.
“At Rhug Estate we pride ourselves on providing customers with the highest quality products and services and inevitably this comes in at a cost higher than that of supermarkets and such like.
“It could go either way for us and other farm shops over the festive period, people may choose to go all out at Christmas as they have been cutting back on other things or they may have to reconsider their usual spend at that time of year and cut back on the “luxury” items they usually buy.”
Heather Copley, co-owner of Farmer Copleys is also finding it difficult to predict which way it will go. “My biggest concerns are twofold: firstly, are people going to come and buy their ‘normal’ purchases, have I pre-bought too much, then secondly, are people going to spend more on food and family gifting rather than non-food gifts and thus have we got enough?
“What we really need is a crystal ball. We have made an educated decision by keeping bought-in stock at last year’s levels, thinking seriously about the lines that we are going to stock, and having the ability to upscale all of our onsite and homemade produce including hampers.”
This is a common dilemma for independents, and Mark Kacary, managing director at Norfolk Deli, is taking a similar approach. “We are looking at Christmas and having to make an educated guess as to what we think people will spend, and informing our customers as often as we possibly can that if they want something they need to order it”, he explains.
While indies have the benefit of being flexible over the festive period, this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be prepared. As Amy explains, “To ensure things run smoothly the key (for us anyway) is to be prepared.
“We planned all our Christmas events in early September to ensure that we have the time to make sure the events we have scheduled run efficiently and to the highest standard for our customers to enjoy.”
For Heather, “The team are going to be key more so than ever before, so we will be keeping them upbeat to ensure the customer has a really positive festive experience.
“We will be ensuring the ambience of the shop is delightful and everything that customers want to feel at Christmas, we aim to make Farmer Copleys ‘the’ place to shop this Christmas, we are having a positive outlook, even though as business owners it is unsettling at the moment.”
Making sure both staff and customers are happy is something Tom Newey, CEO of Cobbs Farm Shops, also feels strongly about. His last-minute preparations involve “Making sure rotas are planned well in advance and that staff are prepared for (we hope) a busy period and ensuring key equipment – from fridges to tills – is working properly.
“It’s an incredibly pressured time for all the staff and small gestures of recognition will go a long way to making them feel special – we need them on top form as they represent us over this crucial trading period.”
After all, as Tom puts it, “If your team are embracing that Christmas spirit, then so will your customers.”
But for Mark Kacary, there won’t be any last-minute preparations as such. “We are not and will not be making any last-minute purchases. This could work for us if the doom and gloom turn out to be true, but also means that if there is a higher demand and desperation to get something, we will be able to shift things we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to shift, just because it’s Christmas”, he explains.