Zen and the art of Christmas

Christmas can be a stressful time for retailers and their customers. You’ll all keep a lot calmer if your staff know what’s expected of them and you prioritise the things that really need to be done, says T21 managing director Paul Laville

Forget your jingle bells and Santa hats, you know it’s Christmas when customers walk in and complain that it’s too hot inside the shop and too cold outside it. That it’s too busy. That the traffic was terrible and they couldn’t find anywhere to park and actually it’s all your fault because your shop is where it is, and if they hear that blummin’ song one more time…

Ah, Christmas.

No matter what those happy-smiley TV adverts piped in from another reality portray, in my experience, Christmas is when customers are more stressed, more desperate and more hot-tempered than usual. They blast in off the street like missiles, ready to explode at the first thing they hit. Which is probably you. “Whaddya mean you can’t deliver until the 21st? I need it on the 20th!”

Frankly, you’ve got enough on your plate and you’re not even sure whether you took a break yet. You don’t have time for their panic attacks. Have you got time for anything? There are people to call, there’s stock to book in, that display still needs sorting out, another lorry’s turned up at the back, the heaters have packed up, Steve still hasn’t returned from lunch, the phone’s going off and now some old lady’s just aimed a short, sharp ‘excuse me…’ at you with the precision of a bullet. Just as you attempted to head off to the loo.

Right now, it feels like you’re running around the shop like a headless turkey in search of a party hat.

And relax. Take a breath. Time for some top time-management tips. Always helpful at Christmas. Actually, maybe helpful at any time of the year…

So here goes:

zen_man-webTip 1: Know your busy times and plan accordingly

Sounds obvious (clue: all of these sound obvious), but if you’re caught short for staff cover during peak traffic then everyone will be getting stressed when footfall increases. Don’t have Johnny start building a shelf display when it’s all about to kick off.

Tip 2: Make sure everyone knows what they’re doing

Do staff turn up on the day and ask you what needs to be done? So you spend five minutes going through it with each of them. Or do they crack on without you because they know exactly what needs to be done soon as they come in? If not the latter of these, then fix it and gain five minutes per staff member every day.

Tip 3: Prioritise

There are a million things to do in a day, but ask yourself this. What happens if a thing isn’t done? Do you lose money? Do you lose customers? Is it critical that it has to be done right now? Today?

Answer yes to all three of those per task, then put it to the top of the list. If you can delegate it, all the better. If there’s a ‘no’ in there, then shift it down until you’re left with the absolutely critical tasks of the day. If you have a task with three nos, then forget it until there’s a yes involved.

Tip 4: Is everybody trained up?

This isn’t a plug, honest, but if you have temporary staff in to help cover the load, are they comfortable and confident that they can do the job? Are you comfortable and confident that they can do the job? If not, then what do you need to do to close the knowledge gap before it starts getting hectic? The last thing you want on a busy day is two staff helping one customer to decide which steam iron is right for Auntie Mavis’s Christmas box.

Tip 5: Use free talent

Have you got reps coming in to run live demos? If so, then treat them well and allocate someone to help them get set up. Not only can they drum up some customers and create some theatre that’ll help defuse some of those incoming missiles, but if they feel welcome and loved, then I guarantee you they will go the extra mile in return and close additional sales for you, taking some of the weight off your shopfloor.

Finally, back to the inner zen. The calm place amid the yuletide storm.

All of the above depends on good preparation. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to keep your shopfloor under control. Customers will react to an environment and they will react to you. So, the more controlled, the more calming and positive the environment, the better both for you and your customer.

At least until Noddy Holder screeches out “So here it is, Merry Christmas” at the crucial moment…