Selling the Seasons

By: Tobacco Business | 11/29/2020

Do you change the way you sell based on the season? I mean, obviously you do BBQs and tailgating in the summer/fall and put a tree up in the lounge for Christmas, but do we actually change the way we sell? The customers are different, the product mix is different, and the level of product knowledge is different. If we open the front door and hope we have a good day, we aren’t really selling anything, and even worse, we will be missing out on sales that we might not get a chance to make again until next year—if they even come back.

Let me give you an example of changing with the season:

In my former life I was an executive for a couple of Fortune 500 big-box retailers. My entire job was preparing stores to capitalize on whatever seasonal opportunities were on the horizon. One of the first stores I looked at was a high-volume store in a suburban area with stable but slipping sales. There was always one time of year, however, that the store had extraordinary sales (two to three times their forecasted sales). Trying to understand where this trend came from, I sat down and looked at the sales by merchandise category. We were selling stuff like totes and beanbag chairs and mirrors at a rate of 800 percent higher than usual. I pulled up a map on my computer and realized that in a 15-mile radius we had almost a dozen colleges and universities. It just so happened that there were no other Target stores central to that many schools, and therefore they all ended up buying their back-to-college stuff from us.

Understanding this, we reached out to the universities and offered to open the store late so they could bus students in for “private shopping,” which also helped us keep the stores clean for regular guests. We ordered empty trailers and filled them with back-to-school merchandise so we could replenish instantly. We began designating seasonally affected stores like this as “freaky,” “super freaky” and “ultra freaky.” This designation helped us change the way we staffed, forecasted, replenished, merchandised and, perhaps most importantly, ensured we didn’t lose out on sales for a lack of understanding about the season we were in. That store saw double-digit growth to the tune of $4 million that year from simply understanding how to sell the season.

In the cigar world, we have “freaky” seasons too. Summer brings golfers, the patio guys, campers, fishermen, the cookout crowd and plenty of other customers that we may not have seen in a couple months. There are opportunities to buy and sell products and categories to these folks that we haven’t had until this season rolled up. Did you change your sales approach to cater to these new customers? Asking a customer, “What are you up to?” opens up a whole new set of sales opportunities. Going golfing? “Do you have a lighter, a cutter and some butane for your golf bag?” Heading up to camp? “How about a humidor and some Boveda packs to keep at camp so your stuff stays fresh?” This seems obvious, but do we focus on doing this during every transaction? Is the entire staff trained to do the same? Simply changing your approach can yield some real financial results.

The holiday season presents some of the best opportunities to capitalize on consumer behavior if we craft our approach. Does the store feel like a place a “once-a-year” cigar buyer wants to shop? Odds are many of the customers you’ll encounter this time of year are buying for someone else. Spending 10 minutes walking them around the humidor explaining the differences in wrappers probably won’t do anything for the sale. What would make their lives (and yours) easier is if you had a well-merchandised table with samplers and gift packs at the front of the store for these gift-minded shoppers. Taking this proactive approach increases the transaction size, allows you to focus buying on certain categories and take advantage of better deals, increase your margin, and save the customer from having to say they don’t know anything about what they’re looking for 100 times.

Another holiday idea that works in big-box retail and in a cigar shop is gift wrapping. Buy pre-wrapped gift boxes for $1 at the dollar store and have them behind the register with a sign saying gift wrapping available. Charge them a few dollars or give it away for free; either way, they will be back every year for the easiest gift shopping experience they could’ve imagined. Take a couple of those gift boxes and use them to eliminate some liabilities in the humidor by pulling out that box that hasn’t been selling, putting 10 cigars and a lighter in one of those $1 gift boxes, slapping a price tag on it and getting it off the shelf so you can replace it with something that does sell. Make it easy, make it quick, and make it a transaction they’ll find an excuse to repeat whenever they get the chance.

You can find tons of great deals and gift items here on the Phillips and King website just in time for the upcoming holidays. Make sure to check out our deals section and gift category to stock up for this holiday season!