Dealing with the Slow Season & Off Season Sales

In the 1975 movie Jaws, the people of Amity Island dug themselves out of a serious off-season and anticipated the arrival of tourists and their dollars. An extended scene in the movie shows people climbing off the boat that brought them there. The arrival of those people provides one of the key conflicts in the movie: the bureaucrats who want the tourist dollars for the economy to survive and the local sheriff who wants the tourists to leave so they will survive. In the short term, the bureaucrats won out. Amity Island, like every other business, needs its busy season to make up for the slow season.

The off season affects every business; and it affects every business differently. Retailers may see their incomes soar during the Christmas season. Tourist traps may see their incomes soar during the summer. Some businesses may burst at the seams when the school year starts. Others may burst at the seams during the short spring break in February or March.

When is your busy season? When is your off season? How do you survive the slowdown in business?

Here are five ways you can deal with the slow season and use it to help build your business and position yourself for growth.

  1. Follow up with old customers. Admit it: during the busy season, it’s not likely that you are able to spend a lot of time following up with customers. In fact, it’s not likely that you could spend a lot of time sleeping, vacationing, or doing anything else other than filling orders. Now that you’ve got the time, get into the habit of following up with customers. Even if it’s been six months or a year since they bought the product, give them a call or drop them an email and see how the product is functioning. Take the time to ask them about upcoming needs.
  2. Create a special. Consider trimming your profit margin slightly and creating a seasonal sale to take advantage of bargain hunters. Although sales are sometimes a great way to build business, be careful that they don’t become expected, or your busy season will become your slow season when all of your customers wait for your product to go on sale at the same time each year, “like clockwork.”
  3. Repackage your products. Sometimes, you can find your way out of an off season by changing your niche or your customer’s idea of your product. If you sell gardening tools and your off season is fall and winter, consider packaging those gardening tools together with soap, gloves, and seeds in a gift-wrapped basket and promote your repackaged product as the perfect Christmas gift for grandma.
  4. Test a new product. If you’ve been toying with an idea to add to your product line, now might be a good time to do it. Sales won’t be great for a little while, but it will give you time to test consumer reaction, potential defects, and marketing angles…all while you have the time and without having to stick a large amount of investment into inventory.
  5. Schedule future business now. There’s a famous story of an air conditioning company that got around their off season by offering customers a discount if they pre-paid for service they would receive later. Lawn care companies are well known for doing this, too. Unlike the special (#2), you’ll still end up doing the work later, during your busy time (so make sure you’re staffed for it), but its a great way to get an income without a lot of actual effort