‘Tis the Season to be Strategic: Holiday Buying

The holiday season isn't just a time for joyous celebrations; it's a crucial period for retailers to shine. With our industry focus on gifting, this is one season where you need a solid plan in place to sleigh your sales goals!

We talked with two experienced buyers to unwrap insights and ideas that can help you improve your planning for next year – whether you are building your plan from scratch, or you are just looking for a little inspiration to take you to the next level.

  • David Olson is the Senior Buyer for Holiday & Seasonal Gift at Bachman’s, a multi-location Floral, Home, and Garden Center chain in Minnesota. He's been in his current role for 15 years, and has over 40 years total in retail sales. He's also got a background in design and he's a trained florist!

  • Tom Konopacki is the Owner and Buyer for CR Goodfinds, a general store concept selling apparel and accessories, home accents and seasonal decor, gourmet foods, and gifts, all in the beautiful Lake Geneva, WI area. He's worked retail his entire career, ranging from store management to buying roles, and opened his first store more than 20 years ago.

‘Tis the Season to be Strategic!

In the fall season you may feel stretched thin just trying to prepare for this year’s holiday merriment – but according to both David and Tom, now is the time to be paying attention for next year. From spotting emerging trends that aren’t quite fleshed out fully this year, to noting what sells and what doesn’t throughout this season and determining creative ways to incorporate this year’s leftovers into next year’s themed displays, planning starts early.

David notes that he also keeps an eye on what is happening on the ‘everyday’ side of Bachman’s sales, because many times the same trends will show up soon in holiday styles.

By the Numbers

Sales history. That’s where it all starts. Knowing what inventory moved, when it moved, and at what price, provides the solid foundation needed for planning a successful buying strategy for next year.

"I do my homework and analyze my sales history. If your POS system doesn't give you detailed reports, you are missing out on an important aspect of running your business." ~Tom K.

Once you have a solid idea of what has worked well in the past based on the data you have, then you can start to look forward. Tom merges his data with his store layout and an understanding of how much merchandise his store can physically handle, which he uses to keep himself on track as he plans where things will go when he buys. He also takes his sales reports with him to the Atlanta Market to help buy the correct quantities. “You can never be perfect, and you will over buy or fall short, but hopefully you can come close,” he says.

Trend vs Tradition

Knowing what has worked – and what hasn’t - in the past gives you the right foundation. But what is coming a year from now? What will the trends be, what will consumer demand and desire to spend be like, and a million other questions might plague you, causing you to doubt your decisions.

Ultimately, the direction you take will be somewhat determined by the nature of your store – what are you known for? How big is your budget, and where can you afford to take chances? And some of it will come down to experience. Bachman’s and CR Goodfinds are two great examples of success with very different strategies.

  • Tom’s plan for CR Goodfinds revolves around three themed tree displays every year for the store – one woodsy and snowy, one retro/vintage in nature, and one traditional. The key to keeping it fresh for his customers is changing up the color themes each year. He operates on the mindset that “people are buying holiday décor to enhance what they already have,” which then drives the choices he makes within each theme.

  • David’s approach is a little different across the scope of the many locations he is buying for. He chooses a mix of traditional and trendy, while keeping around 10% of his holiday buy as “unexpected” merchandise options to keep things fresh and surprising for his shoppers, and it also serves as a way to set the Bachman’s stores apart from competitors.

Trust Your Instincts

When it comes to the “new” items that you run across during the buying cycle, both of these experienced buyers say it comes down to trusting your gut instinct. Sometimes you will run across something and just know it is going to sell. Or you can apply the logic of “where will it fit in my store”, and “will it price at a level my shoppers are willing to pay”, and can solve both of those but still be uncertain – at which point it may be time to walk away and look for something else.

Tom says, “My motto is "when in doubt, leave it out". When it takes you too long to justify the purchase, or you try too hard to convince yourself that it might work, it usually doesn't. Trust your gut.”

“Price, availability, and honestly my intuition,” are what David relies on when evaluating new products to feature. “Just don’t swing the pendulum too far” in case it doesn’t work, he says!

A Short Window

The holiday season is short, with little time for changes once it is underway. Striking the right balance between overstocking and running low can be a difficult thing to manage. Crafting your plan with a good mixture of products can help you ride out the spikes in individual product sales, as re-orders mid-season may result in leftover merchandise if they arrive late, or the line has lost steam.

“Generally I’m OK increasing quantities on a few key items if the cost is right, I can get a good margin, and I am confident that it will sell through at even the first markdown of the season.” ~David O

Once his store is set at the start of the season, Tom hopes for the best and rides it out, knowing he has done his homework and has a solid plan, and that he has a store full of other merchandise for customers to buy. “My customers have learned through the years to buy it when they see it because it will probably sell out,” he says.

Planning Today for Tomorrow’s Festivities

The holiday season is not just a sprint; it's a marathon that requires meticulous planning all year long. We hope the lessons to be learned from these seasoned buyers are helpful in your holiday journey. Making your decisions with a combination of foundational data, a mix of trends and traditions, and a touch of pure instinct can help you create a shopping experience that will set your store up for success and make you stand out from the crowd.


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