Despite the best efforts of the summer and the heat, fall is approaching. Just as you can set your clock to the turning of the leaves, you can do the same to Sentry’s fall promotions blog! Typically, I use the next few paragraphs to tell you how to increase sales with fall-inspired flavors. I inspire you to host fundraisers and fall events to build your bottom line. My words motivate you to take the slight downtime to improve operations and fine-tune your customer service. But frankly, it’s all been said before. Our first fall promotion blog was long ago in 2015 when orange was the new black to keep you in the black. For the last 7 years, I’ve recommended putting pumpkin in everything you sell. I even suggested your employees wear pumpkin. We lived through the fall trends and the seasonal fads. I worked with customers to host fall cornhole tournaments, hayrides, and toy drives. Trick or treats with you being the treat was the theme from fall blogs long ago. Now, 7 years and tons of profitable suggestions later, I’m left with the thought:
What are we going to do this fall to help our business?
Let’s move past the obvious and the previously stated and look at this year in a vacuum. What was your biggest hurdle? In speaking with my customers, the common denominator was…..well….fairly common. Product costs.
As inflation hits us home it hits even harder in our business. The cost of everything has gone up exponentially – which is a fancy word for TOO MUCH!. Even if you raised your prices at the beginning of the year, it’s been impossible to keep up with the ever-changing supply prices. Your margins have inevitably taken a hit. It’s put you on the defensive as a business owner. You are purely reacting to what is being given without the ability, time, or energy to fight it. Well now is the time to fight back. Understand it’s really not the fault of your distributor or supplier. They are being hit with the same increases you are just from a different angle. Heck, even the gas prices have affected delivery costs nowadays. But you still have to look at what you are buying – from soup to nuts – and see how you can do it better.
- Look at your paper and dry goods and see if there are opportunities to condense and eliminate what may be hard to get. As companies get squeezed, the slow-moving or limited supply items become harder to produce. So you can’t get them. Analyze if you have a lot of these items that you order and work to make it simpler. Even if that means limiting sizes. Try and have one cup handle multiple items. Limit your SKUs. Build your menu better from the inside out.
- Can you buy now in bulk to take inventory and stock for next season? Sooner or later the worm will turn with the supply chain. Vendors will be left with an abundance of stock. Think toilet paper from a couple of years ago. We heard it was low. We couldn’t get it. We stockpiled, and overbought. It made the supply of TP worse. Until it got better. Then we could buy toilet paper everywhere. Wawa had toilet paper. Fruit stands sold it. Even my neighbor's kid opened a lemonade/toilet paper stand outside their home at one point. The same will happen here. With some items, it may have already occurred. Talk to your suppliers and see if you can stock up on some things. You will get a locked-in price and not have to stress about next year.
- Look at nontraditional sources. I like the one-stop shop, but if those stops are too pricey, you may have to source some items somewhere else. Whether it be dry goods, candies, paper supplies, etc…look online for the same items and see if you are getting the best price. Use this downtime to truly analyze every item you are buying to ensure you are buying as well as you can. Perhaps you can get things overseas and wait a month or two to get it. The fall/winter is the time to make that happen.
- Talk to your main suppliers about your core items. One thing I would not recommend is to change your core products (ice cream or gelato mix, water ice supplies, key ingredients) for a cheaper alternative. You are not saving money – you are simply giving your customers a lower quality product. Quick story – I was recently car shopping – total seller's market. I had the car I wanted and was ready to buy. I asked if they could do just a little better, understanding I didn’t have much leverage. The sales manager came back with a better price but only because they eliminated something they were originally giving. I told him such and he said that’s the only way to get a better price. I bought the same vehicle somewhere else. I would have respected him more and would have bought if he just said no – our quality, service, and support demand this price. Your customers have other options. Giving them less may save you money on the transaction, but you can lose so much more. Rather than cheapen your product or ingredients, sit down with your suppliers and see what can be done. Perhaps not much right now, but start the communication so they know you are watching.
- Have price flexibility for this year and next. I’m shocked by the amount of customers who continue to fight their own personal price thresholds. “I can’t charge over $3.00 for this” or “I can’t go over $10 for any item.” I have the perspective of a few thousand customers and price points. You can charge whatever you want. Customers want value. They are as upset at paying $2.00 for an undervalued item as they are at $5.00. The key is to give them value. Give them quality. Give them service. But you must charge for it. And you must be able to raise prices during the year if you need to. Even on some items. Is it what you want to do? No. But if you have to, you can’t use the excuse that your menu is preprinted. Or you don’t want to deal with change.
This fall try and learn from this supply chain crisis and inflationary pressures. Insulate your store as best as you can for 2023 and any future problems. Control your margins! And also, read the blogs from years past and do that too…you know pumpkin stuff and the like!