Visions of sugar plums … and pumpkins?

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Good grief, it’s not even Halloween, and what am I seeing in stores, from Home Depot to CVS? Christmas stuff!

And while it might seem early, Jon McDonald, who manages a successful Kmart in St. Petersburg, Fla., says, “We already have everything Christmas out on display except the candy, and that’s ready to go out right after Halloween.

“We want to ensure we get our share of this year’s holiday consumer spending,” he says, “so it means we must begin early or be left out. Our Christmas results have been very good that last couple of years, and that’s where we plan to be again.”

Granted, Kmart isn’t a boat dealership, but adopting some of McDonald’s marketing strategy to land a share of the expected consumer spending can translate to some extra off-boating-season cash for aggressive dealers. And now’s the time to take a cue from McDonald and finalize your plans to begin.

What can we expect this holiday season? There’s pretty good news for retailers, according to the National Retail Federation. Predictions are that holiday retail sales in November and December will grow 3.8 to 4.2 percent over last year, or $727.9 billion to $730.7 billion.

According to NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz, “current economic data shows we can expect a much stronger holiday season than last year.” Referring to news stories about possible negative impacts from tariffs and trade issues, Kleinhenz says, the “effect of tariffs on holiday spending — either directly or through consumer confidence — remains to be seen.”

So how do you cash in? As I heard the late Zig Ziglar, my favorite author, business coach and speaker, once say: “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” So it’s clear you need targets and products that fit.

First, study your current customer list. They are most likely to respond. If you’ve been attentive to these customers, you have some idea of how they enjoy their boats, their family makeup and so on. It’s called preparing a segment-specific email list. Customer knowledge will guide you in making special Christmas offers that could have your holiday sales bells ringing. If they’re water sports oriented, specials might be the latest applicable accessories that would fit their Christmas-giving list; fishing families could be enticed to buy gifts for the anglers in their midst, and so on.

Offering gift certificates for the dealership can be a successful idea. My kids never know what to give their dad for Christmas, so I’ll bet right now I’ll be receiving gift certificates to a marine retailer or tackle store — and I’ll love them (the kids and the certificates).

Timing is everything, so dealers should create a series of offers for customers that begin no later than Nov. 1 and go well into December. In fact, 45 percent of Americans say they plan to start shopping by Nov. 1. It’s reason enough for McDonald to have all the Christmas stuff out on the shelves in his Kmart now. So, in today’s world, offering customers Christmas deals starts well before Thanksgiving.

Why do virtually all retailers push special sales during the holiday season? Because they work. Consider kicking off your “Christmas Sales Time” by the end of October. Be creative. Perhaps offer a few selected specials each week or even some for just a weekend splash sale. A significant discount on popular items will draw shoppers from within your existing customer base. In addition, reward loyal customers with special offers, such as discounts not available to the public. It indicates that customers are special, and experts say that message is difficult to resist.

Perhaps you can hold a holiday in-store event. I’ve shared this story before, but it’s worth repeating. I recall a dealer in northern Ohio who traditionally had a three-day Thanksgiving weekend holiday party, with great success. It drew heavily from the existing customer base and actually sold some boats and lots of accessories. The showroom was brightly decorated with Christmas music playing, refreshments, even a few speakers presenting fishing and cruising topics.

Finally, promoting on social media is nice, but email remains the most effective way to impact customers. That’s because 91 percent of U.S. consumers still use e-mail daily, and you can segment customers email lists based on a variety of factors. According to McKinsey and Co., marketing with email is three times more effective than social media, and the average customer order is 17 percent higher.

Again, reward loyal customers with special offers. It indicates that customers are special, and experts say that message is difficult to resist. The more personal the email, the better the rate of return.

Sugar plums dancing in your head is way overrated. Go for bucks building your jolly bank account this Christmas.

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