Harj Dhasee, Village Stores, Mickleton, Gloucestershire

Harj sees seasonal events as an opportunity to take on the multiples and isn’t afraid to go big on them

Becky Sparkes, three Spar stores, Birmingham

Becky views seasonal ordering as crucial and keeps a comprehensive record of what works to inform ordering for the following year

Ramesh Shingadia, Londis Southwater, West Sussex

A keen user of epos, Ramesh believes in strong preparation for seasonal ordering, and that retailers should work more with their wholesalers

Lionel Cashin, the News Shop, Market Weighton, Yorkshire

Lionel makes sure that he has a balance between promotion and innovation in seasonal ordering

How far in advance do you order seasonal stock?

Harj: We’re two seasons ahead so have recently ordered for Easter next year. It’s the nature of retail that you’re planning so far ahead. It’s just something you get used to.

Becky: We did our Easter ordering three weeks ago so we’re working about six months in advance. Seasonal ordering is my responsibility as it’s a massive job and I don’t want my managers to have to take the time away from the day-to-day running of their stores. Placing the orders early does save some of the hassle later down the line, but it also creates a very fine tightrope to balance as you have to plan so far ahead.

Ramesh: We’ll order six months in advance, but we’ll start planning next year’s order as soon as this year’s event has taken place. It’s easier to get a good idea about what went well straight away rather than revisiting it a few months later.

Lionel: We’re in the process of ordering for Easter now, so we’re just under six months ahead of the event itself.

Does ordering so early make it easier to manage seasonal events?

Harj: It means we’re guaranteed the stock we need for a seasonal event. Retailers still need to organise the store in the run-up to the event, but it’s one less thing to worry about. It allows us to focus on the theatre of the event or organising extra staff if needed.

Becky: It does ease the pressure for us, but it means our stockrooms are full in the run-up to Christmas. Spar does offer a few different delivery options so it doesn’t all come at once, but it’s still quite a lot of products delivered in one go.

Ramesh: Ordering early means you get the stock you want and don’t have to worry about that in the months leading to the event.

Lionel: It certainly makes it easier for the manufacturers! It means you’re aware of the volume of stock you’re going to have for the event, which is crucial information for an independent retailer.

Does your wholesaler offer a pre-sale deal?

Harj: Early ordering guarantees you get the stock you want and it works out a couple of hundred pounds cheaper than if I ordered it later.

Becky: I’m not sure it saves that much money overall, given that it fills out our stockroom and we may have to cut back on other products to accommodate it.

Ramesh: Musgrave has an early seasonal ordering option so you get a slightly better price by ordering in advance, but you also get the extended credit on it so you might even sell it before you’ve had to pay for it, which is a bonus.

Lionel: We order from Palmer & Harvey so we get a good deal when ordering early, but the guarantee of knowing that the stock is yours is just as important.

Will you be ordering more or less stock for the next big seasonal event?

Harj: In line with our usual yearly targets for the business, we’ve ordered 10-15% more stock for Easter. We only buy in products that we can pricematch the multiples on. It gives the impression to customers that we’re as competitive as the multiples as these are the items that customers want.

Becky: We’ll be ordering about the same as last year across our three stores. Because the multiples really push on seasonal events, we’ve seen a bit of a decline recently. Plus customers are still quite cautious with money so it’s vital that you don’t over-order.

Ramesh: This year has been really tricky for us as we’re planning a refit. The store will be bigger and we’ll have to order more stock to fill the extra space. We’ve ordered about 20% more than last year for next Easter to take into account the larger store, but per square foot it’s probably only about 5% more. It was a fairly flat Easter this year so we didn’t want to go overboard. You also have to look at the overall economic climate to see if people are spending or not.

Lionel: For next Easter we’ll be keeping the same size order. We got the amount last year exactly right and I think next year will be flat so I won’t be increasing it.

What do you look out for when deciding on seasonal stock?

Harj: Promotions. To compete with the multiples, you have to go big on promotions. I’ll prioritise products I can pricematch the multiples on and then work from there.

Becky: Our first priority is being a convenience store so we focus more on the items that other stores won’t have. We will have our seasonal products, but we’re more interested in satisfying the convenience shopper’s needs. There’s little point in having a ton of seasonal stock on shelves if you can’t provide what customers may want in an emergency. That’s why at Christmas we make sure we have items such as batteries or tinfoil that people can’t get anywhere else.

Ramesh: We’ll have three or four ‘wow’ promotions to get people in the store to do their seasonal shopping that are comparable to the multiples on price. With seasonal stock you need to raise people’s interest in the season with some promotions that will encourage them to do all their seasonal shopping with you.

Lionel: There needs to be a balance between promotions and innovation. You need to be able to compete on price with the multiples, but the British public also loves to try something new so you have take that into account when ordering and try to split the order accordingly.

How do you work out how much stock you need for the next event?

Harj: We work off our epos system, but a good rule of thumb for us is to order 10-15% more than the year before. Ideally, you want your business to be growing at that level, but you can’t achieve that if you haven’t got the stock.

Becky: You need a basis to work off, so during a seasonal event we’ll keep a record of everything that has sold or not that will be used to gauge the same event the following year. And it won’t just be the typical items it’s everything across the store that a customer might need during that season such as Rennies over Christmas, or tinfoil. Everyone forgets tinfoil!

Ramesh: After an event, we’ll walk through the entire store and do a complete audit of what items sold well and what didn’t, and this becomes our template for the following year’s seasonal order.

Lionel: We’ll check our records for the previous year and evaluate what was sold and what wasn’t. That usually works as a good guideline for the next year.

Is there flexibility to order more stock at the last minute if you need to?

Harj: We could do with a little more flexibility from Nisa on last-minute ordering, especially around seasonal events. Once you’ve sold out of a product, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to get more of it in.

Becky: Blakemore will try to make more stock available if you run out, but mostly once it’s gone, it’s gone and you’ll really struggle to get any more in. We’re Spar retailers so we don’t have other options. What we do when we run out of stock is to work with what we do have left and push that instead. It can work to our advantage as it keeps the range fresh, but it can be disappointing for customers if they find you’ve run out of something.

Ramesh: Most seasonal stock is available on free order that you can replenish as you go along if you need to, but it’s the special items that have you have to pre-order and make sure you have enough of, otherwise you won’t be able to get more of them.

Lionel: Not for the specialist stock, but we can always go to the wholesaler if we run out completely.

What do you do if you have stock left over?

Harj: It’ll all go on promotion until it’s gone. We’ve never been in the situation where we’ve been left with stock, but it would be sold so at least we’ll make some money back on it.

Becky: We aim to run out of stock on Easter Sunday - that’s the goal when it comes to seasonal ordering. If we have stock left over, we’ll discount it just to get rid of it, otherwise it’s just taking up valuable space in the stock room. You might have a day or two’s grace after an event to sell seasonal products on discount, but after that nobody’s going to buy and then it’s just wasting space.

Ramesh: Halloween this year was pretty dismal for us and we still had some stock afterwards which we pushed to get rid of quickly. You can offer a discount and maybe make your money back, but it’s more important to get the items sold and stop them taking up space on shelves.

Lionel: It’s easier to manage at Christmas with items such as selection boxes, as if the items inside are a standard size and have a barcode they can be sold individually. Otherwise, it all goes on promotion until it’s gone.

Have you ever been caught out with a seasonal event?

Harj: The mistake we made last year at Easter was not ordering enough Egg and Spoon pots. When we first saw them we thought they would be too expensive for customers, but when lots of people started asking for them we couldn’t get hold of them anywhere. We won’t be making that mistake next Easter.

Becky: The first year that Thornton’s offered its Santa product through the convenience channel, we didn’t order nearly enough to cope with the demand. They were very popular and sold out three weeks before Christmas, but customers were still asking about them. You obviously can’t predict how every item will perform, but it’s important that you learn from your mistakes the following year.

Ramesh: I ran out of Christmas advent calendars quite early one year and couldn’t get any more in. You can always ring around to other retailers just so you have some availability for customers without making as high a margin, but you aren’t always going to be successful. It’s the nature of the beast so it’s best if you plan ahead as much as possible.

Lionel: Not really. We work with our suppliers well in advance and I’ve never felt that we understocked a seasonal product or disappointed customers by not having an item.

How do you plan for non-annual events such as the World Cup or last year’s Diamond Jubilee?

Harj: There’s more flexibility for events like that. With the World Cup, people usually buy the same stuff they normally buy for get-togethers such as alcohol and snacks, but there is just a higher demand for it. You just have to make sure that you have enough to cover the event.

Becky: Events such as the World Cup are a little bit 
easier to order for. You generally don’t have to order in advance and they’re easier to predict. You know what products are mostly likely to be sold.

Ramesh: For events like that we order ad hoc and there’s much more flexibility. Musgrave sits down well in advance and plans out the entire year, taking into account all events like these. Retailers

aren’t working in isolation on ordering and they should be working with their wholesalers to ensure that these events go well.

Lionel: We don’t have to order nearly as early for events such as this as we do for Halloween and Easter, so we’re able to leave it to closer to the date to decide what to order.