Hardware stores and builders’ merchants: coping with quiet periods

Seasonal fluctuations are part and parcel of any retail business, but many firms remain ill-equipped to cope with them.

16th October 2014

Even global businesses must cope with seasonal changes in demand. Retailers of all sizes must learn to take these fluctuations in their stride. As ever in business, this is easier said than done. Small businesses may not have the reserves of Apple or Wal-Mart to draw upon during these tricky periods, so must take precautions to ensure that trade continues to run smoothly. Integrity Trader’s stock control software can help you cope with these seasonal fluctuations, but there are – of course – many other ways to ease your troubles during these fallow periods.

Common problems
Every business will encounter their own specific problems during quiet periods, but the vast majority of businesses will have similar problems to contend with. Namely:

  • Cashflow issues. You will be selling less, but still under pressure to maintain stock levels for an expected busy period in the future. In addition, you’ll still have to pay wages and other business costs such as rent and business rates. Chances are, your customers and clients will be facing similar cashflow problems during the same period, so will try to pay you as late as they can.
  • Panic. What if this quiet period is actually a sign of a longer term drop in demand? Will you be able to pay your staff on time? It’s easy to let stress and panic overwhelm you, and your customers and staff will notice your loss of control and may lose confidence in your management skills.
  • Motivation. It’s extremely difficult to maintain staff morale during quiet periods. With no customers coming through the doors, contacting you by phone or processing orders online, your employees will soon become bored and listless, potentially losing their enthusiasm for the job.

Overcoming the issues
You probably won’t able to impact on overall demand from your clients and customers no matter how much you might want to, but there are a number of steps you can take to shorten quiet periods – or make them less of an issue.

  • Forecasts. All businesses should get into the habit of creating cashflow forecasts and monitoring them regularly. You know your industry – you know when to expect demand to increase and decrease. These forecasts will never be entirely accurate, but are useful guides for your business. Use the busy periods to save for rainy days.
  • Planning. When your business is running at full capacity, it may seem a hassle to take time out to plan for when it’s not going so well, but this approach will serve you well. Consider stock levels, promotions and staff. Is there anything you can do to shorten quiet periods or increase demand? By looking ahead to these periods, you can reduce your panic and stress when you do encounter them.
  • Temporary staff. Rather than taking on full-time, permanent employees during busy periods, consider temporary workers instead. By letting these staff go during quieter spells, you can reduce the pressure on your cashflow and ensure your business is flexible enough to cope with changes in demand.
  • Monitor stock. If you use stock control or retail software, keep a close eye on stock levels. Be ready to change orders or cancel deliveries if stock levels remain high and demand starts to fall. It’s easy to monitor stock if you use a system such as Trader. If you haven’t implemented stock control software, this task will be a considerable time sink.

Capitalising on quiet periods
Instead of moping in your office in fallow periods, use the free time you have productively. Catch up on admin tasks, analyse financial reports and create forecasts for the coming months. Additionally, you may wish to take some time out for training or to brush up on your marketing skills. Start a blog, create social media profiles, attend network events, or research your market. Although you won’t be seeing dozens of customers come through your shop doors every hour, you can use this time to increase your takings in the long-term.

To find out more about how stock control software can help you sail through seasonal variations in demand, give the Integrity Trader team a call

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