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Festive positivity

Confidence grows for Christmas golden quarter as cardies reveal trading hopes

 

Small businesses are looking forward to a positive 2024 and the holiday season is key for many as the FSB urges customers to “think small first” when spending their hard-earned cash.

A survey by the Federation Of Small Businesses (FSB) shows that 86% of smaller companies state that the Christmas season is a “vital revenue driver” for them.

And FSB policy chair Laura Timm commented that the next few weeks are the “golden quarter” for small businesses looking to ramp up trade during the festive season, adding: “We urge customers to think small first when they spend their hard-earned cash.

Above & top: Confidence is growing for the festive season sales
Above & top: Confidence is growing for the festive season sales

“FSB is keen to see councils implement policies that will support their small traders, in particular through relaxing parking restrictions on weekends where appropriate.”

There’s improved optimism about the health of the economy and trading prospects over the typically-busy festive golden quarter with business confidence hitting its second highest level for the year as the Lloyds Bank business barometer has risen to 39% from 36% in September.

So far this year, confidence has been higher only in August, at 41%, and a net balance of 44% of businesses surveyed by the bank expect spending to strengthen over the coming months, while 34% of firms forecast that the economy would improve, and Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Business confidence this month reflects a more positive outlook as we head into the important golden festive quarter.”

Meanwhile Michelle Ovens, founder of Small Business Britain, said: “There is speculation that cash-strapped consumers have held back spend, leading to a difficult few months, because they are saving for the festive season.

“We need that to materialise for all small businesses to ensure they have the best chance of weathering the current storms into a hopefully more positive 2024.”

PG Buzz has also been talking to retailers up and down the country to find out their hunches and approach for this festive season. Here Red Card’s Sally Matson, Tiffa Easmon-George of Gift, Chirpy owner Jo McBeath and Lucy Cornwall from Oliver Bonas give their views…

Above: Sally Matson at Petworth’s Christmas Cracker event last year with the main man
Above: Sally Matson at Petworth’s Christmas Cracker event last year with the main man

Sally Matson, owner of Red Card, Petworth

Your hunch: “I think single cards will continue to be popular for us. We always have a beautiful general selection of the best I can find, and people come to us specifically for our relations offering, so they should work well.

“I’m expecting sales of packs to dip again so I have bought accordingly – I think because of the demographic in Petworth, my sales of charity/non-charity cards are split 2:1. My customers like beautiful cards and some aren’t so worried about whether they’re charity or not.

“I always need a good selection of religious cards as Petworth has three churches all with strong congregations and I’m really hoping that with strong upselling from my staff and a great window will mean we’ll be able to encourage more people to send Christmas cards and increase our pack sales.”

Your approach: “We normally put our Christmas stock out in one hit but have decided to take a more staggered approach.

“We always start with advents, putting them out on 1 October and offer a 10% discount to customers on these during October. This really kickstarts our sales and also means that, when we give them less display space from November, we have room for other Christmas products.

“We put our single card selection, including relations, out on 17 October this year and that worked well – we sold 40 the next day so the timing seems to have been right. We put out decorations and our main table display on 29 October, our wrap offering and boxed cards on 31 October which is late for boxed cards, but it’s tricky with space and timing.

“We have two windows – the large one changes from Halloween to a dark autumn theme then in the third week in November it will change to a second class stamp/#Cardmitment window. Our smaller window will have advents on display until third week of November when it will change to a special charity window.

Above: Red Card’s festive initiative which will see customers buying a gift for a Petworth Cottage Nursing Home resident
Above: Red Card’s festive initiative which will see customers buying a gift for a Petworth Cottage Nursing Home resident

“That’s something I’ve been planning for a long time – i conjunction with our local 32-resident Petworth Cottage Nursing Home, we’re going to do a Tree Of Joy, an idea I’ve borrowed from where my sister lives in Australia.

“I’ll have a Christmas tree in the window with 32 brightly-coloured envelopes on it. Each envelope will include a piece of information about one of the care home residents, eg ‘Joan loves anything to do with nails and manicures’, ‘Ted is fascinated by trains and is an Arsenal supporter’.

“My customers will then be encouraged by the window signage to take an envelope – or two! – off the tree and we’ll give them wrapping paper so that when they return it the display in the window it all matches, and they’ll then buy an appropriate gift, attach the label to it and return it to the window. We will then deliver the gifts to PCNH prior to Christmas. The activities’ manager at PCNH knows her residents inside out so has given us the perfect gift prompts for each of them.”

Wish for Father Christmas? “In all honesty, it has to be to sort out this dreadful situation in Israel and Palestine and bring peace. From a retail point of view – help Royal Mail get its act together so we can guarantee a 75p stamp will deliver the goods in a timely manner!”

Above: Tiffa Easmon-George is feeling optimistic about Christmas trade
Above: Tiffa Easmon-George is feeling optimistic about Christmas trade

Tiffa Easmon-George, owner of Gift, Crouch End, London

Your hunch: “I actually think Christmas card trade will be good this year despite the fact that people will be more careful about their spending overall.”

Your approach: “I stocked up early on our essential Christmas card selection and put it out on display slightly earlier than usual to encourage early buying, but will be at the ready to order more as and when it’s needed.”

Above: Jo McBeath raising a toast to Christmas while at PG Live!
Above: Jo McBeath raising a toast to Christmas while at PG Live!

Jo McBeath, owner of Chirpy, Chapel Allerton

Your hunch: “We seem to be on a par with last year with the lead up to Christmas – a few people are saying they’re starting their Christmas shopping, but lots of people still getting ideas. That’s usual for October, so we have to ensure we’ve got lots of lovely new stock coming inspire them!

“My main concern this year is that the schools break up very late which could mean the week prior to Christmas, which is traditionally very busy, could be less so as people will still be occupied with end of term activities. However, this could mean people start to shop earlier or the weekend before Christmas could be even crazier!

“I think Christmas for a small independent is about holding your nerve and knowing that people will come to you for all those last-minute presents, secret Santas, stocking fillers, etc, and you have to be ready with lots of ideas for them.

“I haven’t really got a feel for the split in card sales, we’ve got about the same mix as we had last year so fingers crossed.”

Above: A special Chapel Allerton Christmas bauble on sale at Chirpy
Above: A special Chapel Allerton Christmas bauble on sale at Chirpy

Your approach: “It’s my anniversary in Chirpy the first weekend in November so I always use that as the time to kick off Christmas with our more Christmas-related stock going out, baubles, wrapping paper, Christmas cards. This year I’ve put things like diaries out in the store earlier rather than having them in the stockroom.

“Christmas comes a little bit earlier online with a Christmas section already launched and pre-orders being taken for new stock which is starting to arrive. This has helped with product selection and cashflow. The first weekend in December we’ll also have a double loyalty points event to drive sales.

“We don’t tend to stock very Christmassy-themed gifts, we stick to our usual design-led gifts that can then be gift wrapped for Christmas. We do have some bespoke Chapel Allerton Christmas baubles made as these are always a bestseller. We’ve also launched several Christmas-themed workshops, such as fabric wreaths and felted baubles, which are getting booked up.

“Boxes of cards did really well last year so I’ve hopefully got plenty of them. I tend to keep them quite modern in keeping with the rest of the cards we sell. We offer a discounted card bundle of any five cards and I find people will include single Christmas cards in their bundles.”

Wish for Father Christmas? “A holiday! And a very busy festive period to pay for it!”

Above: Oliver Bonas is keen to build on the nation’s Christmassy feeling through decorations and card selection
Above: Oliver Bonas is keen to build on the nation’s Christmassy feeling through decorations and card selection

Lucy Cornwall, greeting card buyer for Oliver Bonas

Your hunch: “There’s so much doom and gloom about that we believe people will really enjoy looking forward to making Christmas special and a great way of connecting with others is, of course, by sending Christmas cards.”

Your approach: “We launched our Christmas card in stores earlier than usual as there does seem to be a hunger for them.

“We’re delighted Oliver Bonas is now being seen as a destination for greeting cards which is something which we’re hoping to build on in this Christmas run-up. We have included more contemporary and humour designs this year to create a really joy-centric display, which chimes with our whole ethos.”

Above: Oliver Bonas’ Lucy Cornwall (right) with Nicola Connolly, greeting card merchandiser, with the Retas 2023 award in July
Above: Oliver Bonas’ Lucy Cornwall (right) with Nicola Connolly, greeting card merchandiser, with the Retas 2023 award in July
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