When you are starting a new business journey there is all kinds of information about what to do, how to do it and when to do it. But one of the struggles is deciphering what is true to large operations, as opposed to a small independent business such as a stationery boutique, like mine. And while there’s a list longer than my arm of myths and misdirection, I thought I would address a “truth” that applies to where we are right now, The 4th Quarter Slowdown.
For those of you new to the lingo, 4th Quarter references the 4th quarter of the year, October through December, heretofore known as Q4. When I started in the stationery business, Q4 was always referenced as the slow quarter. Well I’m here to set the record strait on Q4 and all the myths that come with it!
The Slow Down
When you run a business that focuses primarily on wholesale distribution, you are held to quite a different schedule compared to retail/direct sales. Your holiday cards can be released anywhere from May-July, depending on what trade shows you attend. Our main focus was always on the National Stationery Show, which up until this year took place in May. So, it was always imperative for us to have new holiday releases available at that show. Now you’re probably wondering what in the world this has to do with Q4 myths; well, I’m about to tell ya. In wholesale you are told that businesses will order holiday cards no later than August. Plus once the holiday season rolls around most shop owners are too busy to place any order til the next calendar year, leaving Q4 for the birds.
While this may be true for large businesses that have the capital to order months in advance, it’s just not realistic for most smaller stores. And smaller stores are the foundation of your wholesale clientele. Understandably, most small businesses can’t afford to shell out a couple hundred bucks way before they actually need the product. This means that they will most likely wait until the last possible minute to order Holiday gifts, cards and products. We have found that our wholesale customers will buy most of there products in September, October and even into November! Which makes a lot of sense if you think about it. These are small operations with just a handful of employees, so their time and money is precious. Even if they place their order ahead of time, they may still request it shipped late in the season. So at least for October and November, you might find yourself being kept busy filling wholesale orders! So much for the Q4 slump!
Retail Direct / Etsy
If you have a wholesale business I’m just going to assume you sell direct to customers as well, whether that be on your own website or through Etsy. And if you are reading this and you don’t, then immediately stop and get yourself at least an Etsy Shop!!!
So let’s pretend its October… All your wholesale orders have gone out (at least the pre-orders) and you think to yourself, “Ahhh now I can relax and take some time off!” WRONG!!!!! This is prime retail season when it comes to direct sales! You better start getting ready for all those holiday shoppers! October is a great time to lay out a schedule for your Holiday Promos and Sales. Are you participating in Black Friday or Cyber Monday? Does Etsy have a sale you can join to help gain some new customers? Do you have your promo materials ready, like banners for your website or Instagram photos? How about that email you need to send out to all your loyal customers? How else are they going to find out about the amazing products and sales you have coming up? Once Q4 gets under way, time really flies. It’s good to prep all these things ahead of time so that you aren’t frantically trying to throw a sale together. Take it from someone who has waited til the last possible minute, it’s crazy stressful and so not worth it. Remember that your schedule is going to be filled with family dinners, holiday parties and gift exchanges with friends. And the last thing you want is to miss out on the party because you are to busy with your Etsy shop!
New Year Prep!
If you are sticking to a strict release schedule when it comes to new products, then you know that January is an important time. With the new year comes the start of a brand new Trade Show season, and that means new products. The first show of the year is within the first few weeks, so you know what that means. You better have everything done before Christmas! If you’re doing the math in your head, this means you need to be working on next year’s products starting October. Going into Q4, you need to have an action plan for your next release. What are you making? Do you have the artwork ready, or does it still need to be created? How soon can you get it printed and how long will it take to get back? Don’t forget you’re going to need to take photos of the new product for a catalog or at least a printed promo of some sort. Oh, and you’ll need time to design that too… But the most difficult part is working around all the holidays in Q4. Does your print shop close for Thanksgiving? How about Hanukkah? Are you ordering those new catalogs or lookbooks online? Usually online printing companies lengthen their turnaround this time of year. And then there’s dealing with the postal service. Just last month I sent out a wholesale order before Thanksgiving, but due to the holiday volume it took it three times as long to get there. So it’s always good to pad your schedule with some extra time!
Wow, the more I write about this the more I realize how insane Q4 is! But don’t stress yourself out too much. If you came into the last part of the year a little less organized than you hoped for, just shake it off and try to get a head start for Q1. Next week I’ll be talking all about First Quarter and how to get your new year started off with a bang!