How to deal with seasonal spikes in customer demand for Valentine’s Day

We speak to a florist, a chocolatier, a jewellery business, and a dating agency to find out how they cope with being seasonal businesses

Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Mothering Sunday, Easter, Halloween have a major thing in common – seasonal businesses rely on them heavily to boost annual revenues.

To mark Valentine’s Day this Sunday we spoke to four seasonal businesses – a florist in Herefordshire, a chocolatier in Leicester, a Shropshire-based jewellery design business and an online dating agency in London – about how they cope with massive surges in demand at busy times in the year.

How big is Valentine’s Day for your business?

Heather Gorringe, founder of Wiggly Wigglers Florists:

During Valentine’s Week we normally sell 10 times as many flowers as we do in a normal week.”

Debbie Noon, founder of The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We expect it to be almost as busy as Christmas for us.”

Anne Reeves, founder of Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“It didn’t used to affect my business. This year it’s got particularly busy. It’s very last minute – not like Christmas, which builds through November and December. It peaks a week before, which says something about men as shoppers perhaps.”

Matt Janes, founder of Doingsomething.co.uk:

“Valentine’s Day is naturally a time for people to meet each other, but DoingSomething.co.uk is an activity based dating site, so it’s a funny time of year. Other dating sites promise love. We promise ping pong. Then, if romance blossoms, great. If not, you get to play ping pong, see some art, go to a museum, whatever.”

How have you prepared for Valentine’s Day? How much extra stock do you order and do wholesalers push prices up? In turn do you push your own prices up?

Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers:

“We start preparing for Valentine’s Day as soon as we’re back from the Christmas break. We look at what flowers are likely to be available and what trends are in for this year in terms of colour and the type of arrangement. We make our designs, price them and then we estimate the sales of that product and order the flowers accordingly. The prices that we pay for the flowers do increase because of extra demand – we absorb this wherever possible because of the extra orders that we receive, but may put prices up if we’re unable to do so.”

Debbie Noon, The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We also began preparations as soon as Christmas was over in determining our product range, advertising and producing stock. We produce chocolate until our shelves are full, then as we sell we can see what the most popular items are and quickly make more. We are able to respond to demand quite quickly and customers can pre-order with a small deposit which also helps. Our suppliers don’t push prices up and neither do we.”

Anne Reeves, Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“I have to order castings for a lot of the designs. It’s incredibly difficult to know what’s going to sell. I have to make sure there’s nothing I can’t fulfil as I’ll get a lot of orders. This year has doubled sales. The business itself is growing at 60% a year. We have 100 products over 25 collections. I have my best sellers, so make sure I’ve got plenty of those. Our Bound Sphere product – silver wire wound into a ball for pendants and earrings – is our most popular. Anything with a heart on too!”

Matt Janes, DoingSomething:

“During Valentine’s Day week, we broke a Guinness World Record by creating the world’s highest urban Ice Bar at the top of the Shard. We created a two tonne igloo and an ice bar at the top. We starting planning specifically for this event in November. There were lots of logistics to consider, such as getting the ice to the top of the shard, building the ice bar and selling the 400 tickets. As well as organising the event, we also test the website to ensure it can handle spikes in traffic, as we typically see many people signing up to our site around this time.”

Do you hire extra staff to help get you through the period and maintain customer service levels?

Debbie Noon, The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We have a back-up plan in terms of people we can bring in family members at short notice. As long as we are honest with our customers (in the event of a mix-up etc) then they know they can trust us to call them if we do have a problem. It does become harder to spend as long with each customer when serving instinct is to serve and go onto the next one – but in quiet periods we will chat more with the customer. We find that most people expect this and wouldn’t want to be the ones waiting in the queue if we were chatting.”

Matt Janes, DoingSomething:

“We don’t hire any staff to help with the peak of activity, and because the site functions really well there is no need to improve customer service levels over Valentine’s Day.”

Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers:

“Not usually – we continue to use our experienced team which enables us to maintain good quality control and customer service levels. Our staff work extra hours and have time off in lieu to compensate.”

Anne Reeves, Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“It’s similar for us, we just work a bit harder. I’m thinking about taking on a new recruit. At the moment it’s just me and my assistant Kate. Because of what I do there’s an awful lot of silver lying around, so I wouldn’t take on temporary staff.”

How does your product or service mix change in the run-up? Do you run special offers, promotions, or gifts?

Matt Janes, DoingSomething:

“We do a mixture of promotions, some for existing members, such as voucher codes, and some for new members. For new members we offer sign-up deals such as buy three months for one month’s fee.”

Anne Reeves, Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“The websites – notonthehighstreet.com, Amazon, DorothyandTheodore.com – I sell on tend to do their own promotions and have Valentine’s categories. That has worked as it’s really peaked. I’m more likely to do promotions at quiet times of the year.”

Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers:

“We have special Valentine’s bouquets and have also offered free chocolates (worth £10) when you pre-order this year which has worked well.”

Debbie Noon, The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We change our products to reflect the event as well as keep the standard products. We run special offers to encourage sales.”

How do you make your business stand out against everyone else competing for attention this week?

Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers:

“Our flowers are all British and so quite unusual. We also campaign for British Flowers – less flower miles and great for birds, bugs, bees and butterflies too. We continue to push this message which helps us to stand out.”

Debbie Noon, The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We use social networking to promote our items and try and inject a bit of fun – for example we are offering giant bunnies with a chocolate heart so we put the bunnies on chairs in the window looking as though they were having a coffee and posted it on Facebook – within an hour we had a couple of calls selling two immediately

Anne Reeves, Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“We’ve employed a PR company to promote the business. We try to push the fact that it’s a UK business. A lot of items are made bespoke and to order. We do a lot of personalized jewellery. I’ve been doing quite a lot of advertising in national magazines for my horse, cat, and dog ranges, which are very popular.

Matt Janes, DoingSomething:

“As we hosted such an extravagant event, we carried out PR activity to boost ticket sales, although the tickets sold out at an extremely rapid rate.”

What mistakes have you made in the past – under-ordering, over-ordering, not being prepared for a traffic spike?

Anne Reeves, Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“There were designs I thought would be popular and I bought in lots of castings only to find they weren’t as popular as I’d hoped. Sales forecasting is a bit of a guessing game and you’ll make mistakes both ways, so I just look at growth levels and trajectories of the previous year and estimate. You just have to test the market.”

Debbie Noon, The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We didn’t increase our stock levels fast enough to cope with Christmas as we had been so busy making Halloween and Diwali products – we are lucky we can melt chocolate down and remould it so overproducing products isn’t a problem.”

Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers:

“We have over-ordered by mistake which was painful, but we did offers after the busy period. It’s quite difficult to forecast the orders so we also stopped taking orders so early on some occasions as British Flowers are more difficult to source. Our Growth Coach at GrowthAccelerator has helped us work on how we overcome some of these hurdles and how we can take advantage of the spike in sales.”

Matt Janes, DoingSomething:

“One thing I’ve learnt is that you can never predict how quickly these events will sell out. We’ve done all sorts of crazy stuff – from Ping Pong on top of The O2 to an Igloo at the top of the Shard. The Igloo one sold out immediately – our quickest ever. But you never know until they go on sale….”

When it’s over, what’s next and when do you start getting ready for that?

Anne Reeves, Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“Mother’s Day. I do better then than Valentine’s Day. Flowers, hearts, and animal ranges – with gift items people play it safe. The more abstract and edgy you wouldn’t necessarily choose if buying for somebody else.”

Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers:

“Mothering Sunday on March 29 for us too. We will do 100 times the normal week’s worth of orders!”

Debbie Noon, The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We are already preparing Easter Eggs and promotions – we have to be a least two months ahead.”

Matt Janes, DoingSomething:

“We will start planning for next year’s Valentine’s Day on Monday 15th February.”

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