A long time ago I devised my own Petrol Retailers master calendar. In truth this wasn’t exactly a world-beating breakthrough in the science of retailing, but with the little modifications I made each year, it grew into a very useful document. Basically the calendar started by listing any event that could possibly bring in extra sales. It then worked backwards so that it prompted you to start sourcing products and devising strategies far enough in advance to ensure you could maximise your potential when the ’event’ arrived.
Apart from the obvious entries like Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day, over the years all sorts of smaller occasions got added like ’the start of the exam season’ or ’GCSE/degree results time’. At its peak I reckoned that using this device properly contributed to at least 10% of my annual shop turnover.
After each ’event’ I would write up some brief notes on how things had gone. What the weather was like, which lines worked well and which ones didn’t, did we run out too early or were we forced to clear stuff off etc. Apart from acting as a memory prompter, this also proved very useful when comparing my current results against those from the previous year.
The two events that always caused the most difficulty in year-on-year comparisons were Mother’s Day and Easter. Whoever it was who devised the church calendar, he certainly wasn’t a retailer! This year, of course, has produced one of the most concentrated retailing seasons. With Easter so early it means that we’ve had Christmas Day, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter all in the space of three months. Friends of mine with greetings card businesses tell me that 90% of their year’s business depends on these four occasions. While never reaching those proportions for me, the period to the middle of April always used to be ’prime time’, especially when you added in the cold snap we always get in January/February and the effect this has on accessory sales and car washes.
However, this will probably be the last year I shall bother with my calendar. While it’s sad saying goodbye to it, I’m afraid it’s reached the stage where it doesn’t make a lot of difference whether I plan professionally or not. My seasonal trade now barely exists thanks to the hypers. Having reduced the prices of Easter eggs to farcical levels, they have now completed the job by obliterating the Christmas chocolates market and smashing the booze business to smithereens.
The recent ’plea’ by Tesco for the government to step in and impose minimum prices on alcohol would be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that its predatory pricing has already allowed it to virtually destroy the off-licence/independent store market. Incidentally, when all the comparisons came out about the price of Tesco booze compared with the price of its bottled water, was I the only one squirming in my seat hoping that nobody would compare it with the price of one can of Red Bull at my site? In addition to removing any froth I had on my sales, these avaricious mass marketers have also seriously jeopardised the future of our wholesale suppliers. This is an even more worrying turn of events. When I don’t have a reasonable choice of suppliers I know my ability to make a reasonable margin is seriously impaired.
As a postscript to the art of good planning, I suppose I ought to include a section entitled ’Don’t go away on holiday’. Allowing for the change in legislation regarding disposable lighters, I had planned my purchases perfectly so that we would be out of stock of the non-safety and novelty products just before the end of February. Then I took a fortnight’s holiday. You’ve guessed it - my site manager thought the old guy was losing the plot in being so under-stocked and ordered a bucketful. My fault for not being more specific, I know, but come on - when you get to my age you can’t be expected to remember everything. Maybe I won’t abandon my retail calendar after all!