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How To Market A Seasonal Business

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In the Philippines, business peaks and lows follow the seasonal climate - dry summer, monsoon and the cold periods of the year. Demand can also be driven by nationally celebrated periods like Valentine's Day, School Graduation, and Christmas season (which in some stores starts ridiculously in late August). On a local but still significant scale, consumer demand is further spurred by fiesta periods like the Sinulog in Cebu, Baguio Flower Festival, Pahiyas in Quezon and Kadyawan in Davao. Interestingly, with the development of a multicultural mindset, Filipinos have added new occasions for gift-giving, merriment and community get-togethers like Chinese Lunar New Year, Halloween and Eid al'Fitr to the calendar.

Retailers of fashion apparel, for example, regularly change show window to reflect what's in vogue each season - displaying flattering swimsuits one time, chich raingear the next - to attract shoppers. Fast-food companies large and small prepare to accomodate higher than regular customer traffic and will even open temporary booths where the crowds are likely to congregate. Beverage companies on the other hand increase their production volume during summer months because of the inherent high consumption rate of the mass market. And then there are the small enterprises that anchor annual profitability on any one or all red-letter days, or the natural climate.

Major companies have long acknowledged the immense potential of anchoring their ventures on the cycle of seasons. Small and medium entrepreneurs can profit from their experience and achieve marketing supremacy in their line of business.

Timing is critical. A business owner should recognize when the seasonal upswing of their business commences. Pre-season preparation at the production and administrative backroom should occur in tandem with the time period when awareness generation is ready to commence or is underway. The preparation period can range from as long as six months to as short as two weeks.

Create awareness at the right time with the right marketing tools. Personal representation is my first recommendation for firms regardless of its size but with specific opportunity targets. The cost-effective activities include sending out announcement letters to the purchase decision-maker of the target customers.

If you are into production for export of Christmas decors, your product brochures or catalogues should be with your target overseas buyers as early as May. Catering companies should make their presence felt through creatively designed Christmas party package lists for repeat or new customers by late October. Hire if need be and on a short term contract arrangement a sales person to do the sales calls.

If your company sells a mass market product or service, simple but creatively done announcement print ads in newsletters, social magazines and, if funds are available, the national dailies will be the way to go. Press releases are also suggested, but this time to include television as the communication media.

Attend industry related trade fairs. These are usually organized annually by the industry your company belongs to or the Department of Trade and Industry, and are held at a time providing a comfortable period for closing a sale, manufacturing the quantity required and delivering the goods on time according to the buyer's specifications, or executing the service on the agreed date. Many trade fairs do attract your target buyers who may have been in the business for the longest time as well as buyers attending for the first time. Create a customer database out of the activity.
Sample the product to the buying decision makers. This is highly recommended for articles that require the buyer to touch, smell or taste the item in the case of institutional or corporate accounts, particularly if the product is unique or is a concept entering the market for the first time. Sampling must be a given marketing action at pre-season and during the period proper that the business is generating income.

The sampling program should be a pro-active action such that if needed, create or join an event when this can be done in as many applicable locations as possible.

Make a follow through as the occasion nears and until the sale is closed. Having done a first wave of appropriate advertising and sales calls will not ensure that the customers you are dealing with or prospecting will be closed sale. A second and even third wave of personal calls and/or advertising noise should be employed as the season is about to begin and is nearing its midpoint. Just remember, you are not the only noise maker in your product or service category. Your rivals may be making about the same noise or are noisier than you.

Pick the right spot to sell. For those companies that will take up booths in tiangges and other similar locations, make sure that you get a selling booth at a good location. This can only be done if you have made an early reservation and paid ahead. Booth visibility will rely heavily on how you decorate with the products you are selling along with any photos in the case of specialty products and ready-to-eat food items. Consumer pull on the other hand can be best achieved if you do continuous leafleting to the incoming patrons at the venue's main and secondary entrances.

Be competitively priced. Seasonal businesses usually operates during a short period of time. Sometimes, the entrepreneur may overestimate the potential of the market being served, and thus a large leftover inventory can occur. To ensure that this is minimized if not totally avoided, make sure that your pricing strategy is acceptable to the target market. If possible, move as much inventory at the shortest possible time through creative selling methods like charm pricing and product rebates for very large purchases. The word of mouth endorsement for your business among your satisfied customers will be a key success factor.

Take note of your competition and learn from their mistakes. Some seasonal businesses may experience rather poor business turnover during their high demand period. The question is, did competition experience the same situation? If you faired better from last year's record, what happened to competition? The weak turnout for either party does not necessarily mean the economy is to blame. Rather, it may be due to other brands. Hence, you should identify those key concerns and address them at the soonest before the company goes under.

Be better prepared for the next run. Each business upswing that is created by the season results into varied outputs. It would be ideal that the company during the off-season review its experience, address the issues that were barriers to the business success, and work out a new business strategy that will ensure you shall gain more profit.

Source: Business Line Magazine Vol. 2 No. 4 2004

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