The gift-giving holidays are over, with many people staring down larger-than-usual credit card bills. Spending declines. January, February and March are months when many consumers par down their personal budgets — especially for shopping expenses. Add onto that the slew of New Year’s resolutions about cutting calories, and it’s a difficult time for beverage alcohol retail.
That does not mean that opportunities for growth and sales are out of reach. Even with people less likely to spend, there are still ways that your stores can take advantage of the post-holiday period.
Sales And Specials
Savvy sales promotions remain one of the best ways to capture consumer attention come January through March.
“Sales, sales and sales have proven helpful [this time of year],” says Brandi Pollock, owner of Fisher’s Liquor Barn in Grand Junction, CO. “If the customer is still drinking during the month of January, then they want to get their normal brands for less. If they are working on their New Year’s resolutions, we are focusing on low-calorie and low-carbohydrate drinks. So our marketing is focused on healthy drinks and products that are on-sale.”
Customers may also feel worn out from the holiday push. “We focus on more convenient ways to shop, like our deliveries and our curbside pick up,” Pollock says. “We try to make shopping as convenient as possible.”
To avoid SKU issues during the post-New Year’s lull, Pollock emphasizes the importance of successful sales programs during the holidays.
“Our biggest strategy for post-holidays is to move through as much inventory as possible, so that we aren’t sitting on excess inventory during the slowest three months of the year,” she explains.
Agreeing with her is Tom Agnes, liquor operations manager for the Brooklyn Center municipal liquor stores in Hennepin County, MN. “Sales always slow down, so we may change up some of our sales strategies to include more popular items than we normally would.”
Keep in mind what products people are most likely looking for after the holidays.
“We have found that when people have less money to spend, they will buy down, so we will build extra margin in low-end products,” Agnes says. “Take things you have extra margin built into, and offer them at a discount, with perceived value.”
Beards Hill Liquors in Aberdeen, MD, holds two annual “Customer Appreciation” sales, in February and August. During these three-day events, “the margins aren’t great,” says General Manager Daniel Hull, “but what’s great is getting customers through the door during what’s normally the slowest parts of the year.”
Another way to help attract customers during the retail doldrums is by offering special perks like tastings and classes. “We’ll bring in a supplier, and get a special one-day license in our market to do sampling with buying, which allows special events like vertical tastings,” Hull says.
Beards Hill Liquors hosts after-hours tastings, with small plates of food, while showcasing a producer. “We have more time to plan and execute these events because it’s the slow time of the year,” Hull points out.
Opportunities extend beyond sales made during these classes. “After the holidays, there is time for more specialized forms of marketing that can allow you to grab additional market share,” says Hull.
Yankee Wine & Spirits in Newtown, CT, regularly holds after-hours wine classes, and occasionally touches on beer and spirits. These popular events are hosted by staff or brand reps, who educate guests on the finer details of the products and categories.
“We’ve come to find out, in the past three to four years of holding these classes every month, that there are groups of regulars for which these classes have become their monthly night out,” observes Yankee Wine & Spirits Owner Chris Ciskey. “It’s not what we imagined of when we first started the classes, but they’ve become a real social thing now.”
Ciskey also agrees with Agnes about post-holiday consumer spending patterns.
“Consumers are probably going to drink anyways, but they’re likely trading down after the holidays,” Ciskey says. “We see a lot less of the $15 bottles, and more of the $10.”
While the weather is colder and holiday-fever has died down, January and February do contain one scheduling advantage. This is the time of the year for the NFL postseason. Football teams this January will face off for Super Bowl bids, while the big game itself is set for Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020.
And the winner can include beverage alcohol retailers.
“Usually, a lot depends on how well the local NFL team is doing,” says Hull.
Operating in Maryland, Beards Hill Liquors serves plenty of Baltimore Ravens fans. And with Lamar Jackson redefining quarterback play with his electrifying athleticism, Hull can expect a surge of patrons this year hoping to stock up for postseason parties. “It has a significant impact on how well our weekends do during that time period,” he says.
Bullfrog Wine & Spirits in Fort Collins, CO, counts many Broncos fans among their clientele. While Denver may be less likely to make a playoff impact this year than Baltimore, that does not mean that loyal fans will stop watching and partying on Sundays. And even if the locally favorite team falls short of the playoffs, the NFL postseason still makes for some of the best sports viewing of the year.
“In general, the holidays blend into the end of football season, which still draws good customer traffic up to the Super Bowl,” says Josh Beard, general manager of Bullfrog Wine & Spirits. “After that, it’s not too long until we pivot to springtime promotions. There’s always something to focus on. We change the displays out so they continue to make a visual impact that gets them more attention.”
Just as consumers typically resolve to get in shape after the holidays, retailers should also look to tighten their belts at the beginning of the year
“This is the time of year to slim down on expenses as much as you can, without cutting customer service, to accommodate for less sales,” says Agnes.
However, Agnes cautions not to overdo it. “Don’t cut staff too much that it will hurt your service to your customers,” he says. “You are already going to lose sales — don’t lose customers, too.”
Instead, it’s about managing the potential. “You should be careful of expectations,” Agnes says, “and look for profit margins versus high sales.”
Everybody needs a breather after the chaos of holiday season — including retailers. This is an ideal time to catch up, tidy up and get your business back into its best shape.
“We focus on store appearance after heavy traffic times,” says Beard, “cleaning and restocking the entire store.”
To make sure staff are not burned out following the holidays, Beard reminds retailers about “having a realistic set of expectations and not treating staff like retail robots. The holidays are a stressful time for everyone, full of obligations and busy calendars. Add to that the increased workload from holiday traffic, and it’s not hard to understand why immediately after the holidays, everyone enjoys a little breather to let off some steam and release the pressure.”
“I try and frame the post-holiday period with the expectation that the end of the year isn’t really over until we finish inventory, but the dip in customer traffic alone can be a relief that lets us focus more on other tasks,” Beard adds. “Everyone takes a breath before we dig into projects for the slower customer season. These projects often include deep cleaning, strategic shelf resets, more staff training, sales analysis and strategy, and any procedural changes we want to try — those often work best during the slower times.”
Ciskey also looks at the post-holiday period as when he and his staff can finally relax a little.
“That time of the year, we’re generally more about taking a breather, frankly,” he says. “We’re so jammed for two-and-a-half months that there’s never time to breath, really, until the holidays are over.”
Back to the Basics
It’s never a bad time to connect with your customers, and this includes the January-to-March stretch.
“I think a great way to maximize sales is to ask your customers for feedback on what they are looking for, and what ways we can make their shopping more convenient,” says Pollock. “Our customers love to see their feedback being recognized!”
Sometimes — and all year long — it really is that simple.
“I bet each store has its own intricacies, but for us it’s not rocket science,” says Beard. “It’s good, consistent customer service. Staff trainings in products, or suggestive selling, can certainly move the needle, but if we don’t have the basics of hospitality and courtesy down, the rest will fall short of producing results. Work on improving retention of our best staff is one of the most effective ways for us to maximize sales.”
Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece How a Craft Distillery Captured the Flavor of Texas.