It’s not too early to think about Christmas

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I couldn’t believe it. I was rounding the aisle in a Target store when there it was: a whole section of Christmas decorations. It made me stop and ask myself: what month is this? It’s only October and I haven’t even taken my grandsons trick-or-treating yet (and help them eat all be best candy they get).

Then it hit me. This is just like the marine industry when manufacturers slowly moved their summer dealer meetings earlier and earlier in order to be the first to sew up the dealers’ available credit line. Obviously, stores like Target must be vying to be the first to get the available “Christmas money” from shoppers. And that made me realize that marine dealers should be thinking the same way.

Here’s good news: the National Retail Federation is predicting holiday retail sales will grow 4.1 percent this year. That, incidentally, is the best prediction the group has issued in five years. But there’s a downside, too. Assuming the 4.1 percent is realized, it will actually be less than last year’s total holiday sales increase of 5.6 percent. Perhaps that’s the motive for the big boys to start pushing Christmas buying now as there might be slightly less spending to go around.

Presumably the retailers group has taken into account the uncertainty hanging over everyone’s head concerning the “fiscal cliff” and potential tax increases. Those, coupled with overall concerns about jobs, deficits and the looming elections, certainly account for the softer-than-last-year spending expectation. However, isn’t it also reasonable to think that if some of the uncertainty is removed (elections over, tax cuts extended, etc.) spending could top these predictions? Likely.

Whatever happens, the holiday shopping period, typically defined as November-December, is not very far away. So right now is the time to plan out some Christmas promotions and activities to tap into the available Christmas spending. Email blasts featuring weekly Christmas gift special ideas; a holiday open house; exclusive invitations to your best customers offering specially-priced products for gift-giving are just a couple of ideas.

Of course, there are always gift certificates and stocking stuffers. Just use your imagination and create fun promotions that will be attractive to your regular customers. I can tell you in the past my wife, Kay, has opened some great gifts from me, like a depth finder one time, a folding fighting chair another, matching Pursuit shirts in her stocking. OK, so maybe these weren’t on the top of her Christmas list, but I assure you they were among her gifts I bought during the Christmas season.

So if the bells are going to jingle, make it happen in your cash register. And don’t overlook pushing some gifts online through your website. That’s because online sales are also predicted to grow this holiday season by as much as 12 percent over last year. But since the holiday buying season is less than 30 days away now, determining what you’re going to do to get a share of the holiday spending should be happening right now.

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