It’s back to school time and I know this because there is a sprawling display of fake, carved pumpkins at my local grocery store.

Too early you guys, too early.

But early as it may be (IMHO), those pumpkin displays are an indicator that just around the corner we’re going to see busses toodling down the street, or kids walking in duos or trios, discussing…who knows what (Fortnight? Is that still A Thing?)…as they head toward their schools.

And obviously, back-to-school means one thing:

It’s time to get ready for the holidays.

For CPG, that is. (Not for the kiddos. Sheesh. They’re still celebrating/lamenting the teacher they got for this year.) Because late August/early September might signal schoolbooks and uniforms for the 18 and under set, but for CPG, it’s the kickoff to what can potentially be the most lucrative time of the year

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday retail sales can account for 20 percent of a retailer’s annual sales, and are expected to increase as much as 4.2 percent over 2018—impressive, as 2018 holiday sales broke records left and right, with $691 billion in sales. This year, much like last year, consumers are saying they’re ready to pull out their wallets for those must-have items, and expect to spend an average of $1,047, which is 4 percent more than last year. 

And in that regard, while we might be sweating our way through these last weeks of summer, suppliers and retailers should be ramping up their merriest, thanksgiving-est products and strategies. As the season begins, it’s a good time to check in with your company and update your strategy, to make sure you’re on track. And the sooner the better, because the way Thanksgiving falls this year, retailers have one less weekend of shopping to extend to consumers. Here are three things for suppliers and retailers to think about as you gear up for the holiday season:

1.     Have you checked your “seams”? “Good companies operate well in functions. Great companies operate well in the seams between functions,” writes Steven ZoBell in a recent Forbes article. What are the seams, you ask? It’s the place where you find and gather value for your business, and where you can make magic happen. It often requires changing the way you operate, but that’s not a bad thing—discovery can, and often does, happen when we change our point of view. The article cites McKinsey research that notes new work models with complementary digital platforms can help companies achieve a disruption that will benefit their business. “The implementation of digital tools and upgrading of processes, along with the development of a nimbler operating model—that is, the hard wiring of the organization—will support these changes,” the researchers state. 

And one new work model to consider? The post-cyber week, pre-holiday days where retailers can entice customers with, say free shipping, according to an article in AdWeek. “Circle Free Shipping Day (Dec. 17) on your calendar, and make the needed adjustments in your budgets and systems to meet customers’ expectations that day,” the article states. 

2.     Are you investing your resources correctly? And by correctly, I mean are you investing your resources in you? Give yourself the gift of trust this holiday season and put the time, effort, money and whatever else is needed toward making your company the best it can be. Do the research and the deep dives, and dig into the results—whether you like them or not—to help guide your business through the holiday season and beyond. No company is immune to self-investment. Just ask Wal-Mart, which invested billions of dollars over the past year to help it evolve, play to its strengths, and compete with the thorn in its side, aka Amazon.

3.     Is your packaging in order? No, not the ribbons and bows that festoon your products under the tree, or decorate your store. Is your product packaged in the best manner possible? For suppliers, that means reviewing the sustainability of the materials around your product, as an increasing number of consumers are taking up the charge for companies to reduce the amount of plastic they use. And retailers too for that matter. Trader Joe’s, for example, announced earlier this year plans to reduce the amount of plastic they use in their stores, which received a resounding cheer from its loyal consumers. So for those releasing special holiday editions of products, or showcasing them on your shelves, be mindful about how they’re packaged.

Whether we like it or not, accept it or not, we’re on the brink of the holiday frenzy, and the best way for the CPG industry to stay merry and bright is to have your business and your products in order, strategized, and ready to launch, just like Santa and his reindeer.

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