How to Prep Your Supply Chain for Holidays and Other Busy Seasons

Whether it’s red roses, pink bathrobes, American flags, surfboards, pumpkins, turkeys or Christmas tree lights, seasonal products can be big winners for small and medium-sized businesses. But stocking seasonal products and dealing with the leftover supply when each season ends can mean big headaches, too.

It’s no secret that timing is everything when it comes to seasonal products. Successfully identifying trends, placing orders, receiving shipments, stocking shelves, advertising end-of-the season markdowns and returning or liquidating unsold stock all depend on smart day-to-day decisions.

Prepping for the Holiday Season? Don’t forget about your supply chain.      Tweet This

Gather data

No matter how good your educated guesses and instinctive bets are, there’s really no substitute for reliable hard data about your customers. And these days, analytics are everywhere. While this intel can come at a price, the more you know about your customers’ demographics, preferences and shopping habits, the better prepared you can be to manage seasonal demand.

Negotiate delivery terms

Discuss your timing needs with your suppliers and try to negotiate the best delivery schedules you can. Taking delivery of seasonal products days instead of weeks or months in advance can dramatically lower your warehousing costs. Shop around for suppliers who can work with you to optimize your deliveries of seasonal products without charging you peak-of-season rates.

Be flexible

Recognize that seasonal supply chain management is rarely perfect. Rather than bemoaning that reality, accept that even your best-made plans will likely be at least a little off the mark and be ready to make adjustments throughout the season as demand for limited-life products rises and then drops off.

Make connections

Get to know your suppliers and how they operate their businesses, so you can identify vulnerabilities that could prove problematic for you as well as them. While legal contracts are important, personal relationships often can be even more valuable when problems need to be solved.

Make contingency plans

Ask yourself “What if …?” and plan in advance how you’ll respond if a natural disaster or geopolitical incident disrupts your supply chain at the height of your most important holiday season. If you import goods from overseas, consider risks that involve disruptions in the countries of origin or during transport.

Lengthen your timeline

The year-end holiday shopping season that accounts for a large proportion of many businesses’ annual sales doesn’t just seem to get longer every year – some shoppers now begin to hunt for holiday bargains as early as August or even year-round. You might need to start planning next year’s season as soon as this year’s season ends.

Monitor trends

Be on the lookout for new products that your customer data suggests should sell well, but be cautious about trendy new seasonal items that might not turn out to be the next big thing. Many new products fail or take years to attract a large base of customers, while tried-and-true traditional favorites sell well year in and year out.

Liquidate leftovers

Keeping seasonal goods stocked after demand wanes takes up valuable shelf space and may give your business a dated appearance, as few customers will purchase products that are long out of season. A quick sale (or return of goods to the supplier) enables you to regroup and restock for the next surge of seasonal demand.

Track outcomes

Rather than rethink your supply chain management strategies for each season from the ground up year after year, keep records and written notes about what went well and what didn’t during each seasonal surge. Over time, these records will help you refine your systems, create efficiencies and improve your results.

Photo Credit: thayra, Twenty20