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For specialty retailers, Memorial Day weekend means … Christmas?

- Kelly Sharp is the owner of the Heart of Iowa Market Place in historic Valley Junction

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer for most people. If you're a specialty retailer, it should also signal the official start of your Christmas holiday season.

Don't start unpacking the holiday ornaments and stringing the lights.
Instead, you need to sit down with a pencil and paper -- or, better yet, your computer and spreadsheet -- and put together your flow chart of holiday season tasks and deadlines.

Now is the time to decide what you're going to do differently this year from last. That includes getting rid of promotions and products that didn't work, of course, but it should also include some fresh, new ideas.  Get excited. Think big. Try something that will make your customers say, "Wow" and add to the unique experience that comes when they walk through your front door.

Make sure to cover all the routine bases, too.

I'm reworking the Heart of Iowa Market Place catalog. We've always offered gift baskets during the holiday season, but we've found we need to expand our catalog distribution on a year-round basis and share a broader range of product offering with customers. That approach will give them a better idea of what we're all about well before the holiday rush.

I'll also be taking time to review our operation.

Did we have the right number of people -- and the right people -- at the right times? What's the theme and scope of our marketing effort to welcome our loyal customers back and attract new shoppers?

What products will we definitely need and can we lock them in now at a better price for delivery in November? What new products should we introduce? (Really take some time to make sure something is the right fit before going overboard on purchasing.)

Whether the product line is existing or new, what can be done to add value for the customer without adding costs? As a specialty retailer, your goal isn't to deliver the cheapest product; it's to deliver the best value to customers.

I love it when customers say, "Wow, you made things so easy." Ask yourself what you can do to make things easy for your customers and you'll keep them coming back.

If you get on top of your holiday shopping season preparations now, you'll have plenty of time to unpack those ornaments and string those lights when the time is right. You'll feel less stressed and deliver a better customer experience.

That's a wonderful holiday gift for your customers, staff and yourself -- all because you recognized that the Christmas planning season comes before the first sweet corn of summer ever reaches your table.

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