Christmas in July might be a fun theme party, but it’s a hard sell when you’re a winter-holiday-themed business. Conversely, businesses that primarily serve a warm-weather clientele, from ice cream shops to roofing companies, often find their revenue streams frozen during the winter months.
Seasonally oriented businesses are literally the definition of feast or famine. When it’s their season to shine, they work nearly around the clock. But when the off-season hits, bank accounts can run low.
The most successful seasonal businesses have figured out ways how to earn revenue year-round. Here’s how they do it:
Diversify your products
Georgia pecan farm Willson Farming Co. and its online retail complement, Sunnyland Farms, ring up almost 80 percent of their sales in September and October, but their goal is to achieve a more balanced revenue stream throughout the year, says Alex Willson, vice president for business operations. To that end, he says they are exploring new avenues this year: Among their options are securing wholesale customers that need product all year long, creating new products, such as granola and energy bars that would sell well during the summer months, and offering promotions to spur sales in the off season, such as a “product of the month” aligning with a holiday, like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.
Offer complementary services
Small business owner Arnie Arsenault in Spencer, Mass., wanted to add an off-season component to his landscaping division and Weed Man lawn care franchise. He began offering Christmas Décor holiday lighting services, which now account for 33 percent of his business and also allows him to keep his crews busy during a traditionally slow period. “The best part is that the synergy between landscaping, Christmas lights, and outdoor lighting have led to referrals for all parts of my business,” he says. Similarly, landscape franchisee Ground Guys now offers snow and ice removal, making the winter anything but an off season.
Price your product right
“I've seen many businesses neglect to raise and lower prices consistent with demand,” says Jonathan Ceballas, who used this technique when he owned a surf shop in California, charging a premium for his surfboard rentals all summer. “If your business's seasonality is strictly tied to weather, you need to make sure your prices are as high as the market will bear when your product or service is in demand.”
Find other niches
Lee Farms in Tualatin, Ore., has always been known for its lush Pacific Northwest Christmas trees. But over the years, it has diversified into other activities to truly become a year-round farm with a more dependable stream of income. It now draws crowds for berry season in early summer, Strawberry Festival during Father’s Day weekend, Corn & Peach Festival during the last full weekend in August, a Fall Harvest Festival and Pumpkin Patch in October, and then its signature holiday festivities in November and December.
Decide if you’re going to be a “freezer” or a “roller”
Author John Vespasian believes companies have two main choices as they contemplate their seasonal business: the freezer and the roller. “First, you can freeze your assets during the low season by locking up your shop and employing your time and talents gainfully elsewhere,” he says. Or, he says, you can be a roller, which allows you to use your assets in a different way by changing your product mix from say, ice cream in warmer months, to lattes and grilled chicken in the colder months.
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