How to prepare your business for its busy season

As your busy season approaches, anticipate your business needs to minimize stress and maximize profits.

Every industry has a peak season, the annual high point of business traffic and sales. But this period puts pressure on the entire supply chain—from manufacturing and distribution to delivery. Without thoughtful preparation, the challenges that come with this busy time can become a burden to your employees, customers and bottom line.

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7 tips to help you prepare for your busy season

Capital One talked to three business owners about how they navigate their peak seasons at work. While each season may come at a different time, their insights have a common thread: Plan ahead.

Advanced planning is key

For the bridal industry, the busy season lasts from late spring through early fall. “Planning is key,” said Ashley Young, co-founder of Bridal Babes, an online wedding boutique that caters to people of all sizes and backgrounds. She and her team start mapping out inventory and marketing strategies six months before peak wedding season. 

Jacquelyn Rodgers founded Greentop Gifts after she couldn’t find wrapping paper that showed a Black Santa for her son’s holiday presents. The business soon expanded beyond Christmas wrapping supplies and now offers celebration products for birthdays, new babies and more. “Our peak season virtually never stops,” Rodgers said. Knowing your customer’s buying habits—what they buy and when—will provide vital insight into year-round planning.

Understand the supply chain

For small businesses, it’s important to prepare long before the busy season in order to head off the potential challenges of a disruption in the supply chain. “We’ve learned to order early and remain patient,” said Young. 

Stay informed so you know when delays are expected, and be proactive about adjusting schedules and timelines accordingly. Rodgers stresses good communication with suppliers. “I ask a lot of questions upfront to really understand what their constraints are,” she said. 

If you anticipate supply chain issues, be transparent with your customers. This could be as simple as adding a few sentences to your website or email messages. “We encourage our customers to order in advance,” Rodgers said, which allows her to plan based on supply and demand. “In 2021, we tried to get ahead of the global shipping issues with the products we import,” she said.

Staff up strategically

Part-time and seasonal workers are essential for many retailers during their busy seasons. Knowing when your store is busiest will ensure you’re covered during peak times. Whether it’s extra cashiers on the weekends or extra hands to fulfill online orders, the strategy starts with understanding your business’s unique needs. 

As Bridal Babes continues to grow, so has its warehouse facility. “During the peak season, we staff up our team to ensure smoother, faster delivery times,” said Young. Training and support are essential for a well-run team. Provide reference guides for quick answers during busy times and communicate what-if scenarios to ensure your employees know what to do in various situations.

Invest in technology

Sales technology does more than manage inventory. Software that encourages self-service can lead to a higher rate of satisfaction. Enabling customers to see their order status or start returns online minimizes frustration by making the entire experience easier. This will also free up your service staff to handle more complex questions that arise during extremely busy seasons.  

Customer service software also provides valuable insight for business owners. “We’re seeing our customers shopping mainly from their cellphones,” said Rodgers of Greentop Gifts. Learning this kind of data about your customers can inform everything from marketing strategy to website optimization.

Focus on what you can control

Remaining flexible leaves you open for creative solutions. Monisha Edwards, the founder of Scent & Fire Candle Company, used last year’s supply chain delays to develop a new product. “Some of the ingredients for our bath and body products were delayed, so I rebranded our lip butters and essentially created a new variation,” she said. 

Rather than focusing on what she couldn’t control, Edwards considered new ways to use her inventory. Shipping delays also forced her to rethink her merchandising strategy. She hadn’t planned to feature her company’s hand-dipped incense during the holidays, but the ingredients were readily available. This quick pivot meant she still had a variety of products for her customers during the busy retail season.

Keep deals simple

It’s tempting to get creative with deals during peak seasons, but don’t lose sight of the big picture when designing things like promos and sales. Consider how convenient the logistics are for both your customers and employees. You often can’t go wrong with simplicity—especially when seamless transactions are at stake. 

Keep in mind, too, that not all customers are tech savvy. “I was humbled when I took a call from an older customer who was struggling to enter a promo code,” said Rodgers. Viewing your customer base with a wider lens often provides a valuable perspective.

Recharge before your busy season

At Scent & Fire Candle Company, Edwards designs products that promote self-care for mental wellness. Maintaining work-life balance is high on her priority list, especially as her company continues to grow. “Every year, I learn more about how to reduce stress and mental exhaustion,” she said. Similarly, at Bridal Babes, Young strategically schedules vacation time in October, when the sales cycle is more manageable. 

Encourage mini breaks in the midst of your peak season as well—even 10 minutes away from a sales floor can recharge a busy employee. This goes a long way toward maintaining a positive atmosphere in any work environment. 

Visit Capital One’s Business Hub to find additional tips, resources and exclusive content tailored to business owners.

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