For many garment decoration shops and the people who run and work in them, the holidays can be a long, hard slog. From supply chain issues that can mess up timely receipt of supplies, to that one customer who always calls and tries to sneak in a “really quick” last-minute order, to deadlines that cause workdays that seem to never end, getting out holiday orders can be like running a marathon.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. With some planning, some attention to self-care, and a willingness to say “no” when it needs to be said, a garment decoration shop can make holiday cash without sacrificing all the joy and fun that’s supposed to accompany the holiday season. Here are some tips to make sure you’re keeping the “Merry” in Merry Christmas and the “Happy” in Happy Holidays this season.
When to start planning
When you need to start planning varies from shop to shop. Some shops plan all year long or plan around a particular selling season. As Lisa Lemonick-Goebel of Scrappy Dappy Doo says, “Because of spirit wear, I have to do things slightly differently than the rest of the folks. I have my holiday ideas figured out in July and have tested them out already, photographed them, and they are ready to be launched as soon as spirit wear ends.”
Others will start planning for the holiday season in/around the third or fourth quarter of the year. Wendy Rossman of In Stitches Embroidery and Patch LLC comments, “We encourage our clients to think about holiday gifts in September.”
Don’t forget that planning means figuring out what you’ll be offering for the holiday season and ordering the necessary supplies. It also means updating your website and social media feeds to reflect holiday deadlines and pricing if applicable.
You also need to be clear on what holiday volume your shop can handle. Some decorators get overly optimistic and find themselves very overextended trying to get promised orders completed. Set realistic goals for holiday sales and have a cut-off limit established. The temptation to make all the profit you can is real, but that urge can bring with it the danger of accepting orders you can’t finish in time or without a sacrifice of personal health and well-being, and that’s not worth the money you’ll be paid.
Scheduling holiday orders
There are two main tools to use in scheduling holiday orders. One is a realistic knowledge of your production levels. How many garments can you turn out in a day? How long does it take to complete an order? What product offerings can be done quickly, and which ones take more time?
You need to have realistic expectations for how many orders you can complete in a set amount of time. This will allow you to take on the correct number of holiday orders without overburdening yourself or your shop.
The second tool is your holiday cut-off deadline. Every shop should have at least one, and may have one for each product type, depending on preference. This deadline is the date by which you will take orders and guarantee they will be ready by the holiday in question. This deadline takes into account your known order production times – time for things like sleeping, eating and bathing – and realistic production levels. This should be a hard deadline, meaning nothing is accepted after this date for delivery by the holiday.
It may also be a good idea to decide who gets priority when it comes to accepting orders. In Stitches Embroidery and Patch LLC gives priority to established customers. “When we get overloaded, we will cut off new client orders and only service our current clients. They deserve our full attention as they give us orders outside of the holiday season,” Rossman explains.
Dealing with supply shortages/delays
Supply shortages, delivery delays, and multiple order sites have become a way of life for many decorators. When preparing for the holidays, plan for supply shortages and shipping delays. “For out-of-stock options,” Rossman says, “this is why we encourage orders in September, to avoid them.” Encouraging customers to order earlier allows you to order your supplies far in advance of when you think they’ll be needed. It may also be wise to plan for a 10–20 percent overage when you place an order. Mistakes will happen and shipments will get lost, so make sure you order a little extra to cover the unexpected.
You should also have back-up options for preferred garments in case something is out of stock. Keep the garment selection you offer your customers limited — maybe one main option and one back-up option for each type of garment.
You don’t want to confuse the customer with too many choices, and you also don’t want to spend days hunting for a particular garment. You can even set a separate holiday deadline for orders that require ordering specific garments. The idea is to avoid scrambling or losing half a day surfing websites looking for something specific because nothing else will do.
If customers do insist on having a particular garment, consider adding an upcharge to cover the time that may be spent searching for what’s desired. The impulse to give the customer what they want is built into most business owners’ DNA, but if it’s going to cause you extra time and work, make it worth your while. Just make sure your garment substitution policies are clearly spelled out and placed on your website where customers can easily see them.
Managing the holiday rush
If you’ve scheduled your holiday orders and held to your holiday deadlines, your holiday order schedule should be full, but not overwhelming. Yes, holidays are the time of year when many shops make a large part of their profits, but that doesn’t mean you have to work yourself to exhaustion or send your stress levels to the stratosphere. Here are a few things you can do to manage the rush:
First, make self-care a priority. That means eating regularly, getting a reasonable amount of sleep, and asking for help when necessary. Particularly if you’re a sole proprietorship and don’t have employees, you may need to consider pressing friends and family members into service or hiring temporary employees to help cover the added work.
You may also want to do as much of your personal holiday prep ahead of time as you can. “I have all my gifts done, wrapped, and mailed by the second week of November,” Rossman comments. “I find this puts me in the spirit, but also relieves the stress.” Your health and well-being are what will keep your business running long after the holidays are over, so don’t make them a casualty of the holiday rush.
Second, have a plan. Set up a spreadsheet, use scheduling software — whatever works — but make sure everyone in your shop understands what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and what the deadline is for completion for every order received.
Don’t waste an employee’s time with needing to ask what’s next or when something needs to be done. Make sure the schedule is available to everyone. If you have employees, consider offering extra holiday bonuses for orders completed ahead of schedule.
Reinforcing cut-off dates
As Gillian Allen of The Cats Pajamas USA and Thibodaux Toppers and Graduation Caps notes, “It is important to set boundaries and stick to them!” When reinforcing holiday order cut-off dates, your best weapon is one word: “No.” There will always be that long-time customer who asks, as a favor, if you can sneak in “just one thing” after the deadline.
Or a hefty order will come in which would bring in a nice profit but would throw your entire holiday schedule out of whack or require a lot of extra hours you hadn’t planned on to complete. The stereotype of the garment decorator sliding into the holidays exhausted and totally burnt out is one with which most decorators are familiar, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Set your deadlines and stick to them.
Planning for self-care
Remember, even though you, and perhaps your customers, want you to work 24/7, you do need to take care of yourself. Allen points out: “Self-care is important any time of year, but the holiday rush can often make customers think you don’t need it.”
Don’t listen to those customers and neglect your self-care regimen. During the holiday season, the first thing that seems to go for a lot of decorators is self-care. Hours are long, schedules are demanding, and the theory seems to be that we’ll all sleep and eat and, perhaps, bathe in January. The problem with this idea is that people who are tired and poorly nourished don’t do their best work. People who are stressed and over-tired don’t enjoy their own holiday celebrations as they should. The work you do and the business you own should increase your quality of life, not exhaust you.
Another casualty of the holiday rush can be personal relationships. Family and friends can be sidelined by the intensity of the workload and the rush to get orders out. Make sure to plan time, even in the busy season, to nurture the relationships that matter most. For Lemonick–Goebel of Scrappy Dappy Doo, date night is sacred, even during the holiday rush. “Our shop will be running seven days a week,” she says, “but Friday night is date night, no matter what.”