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Prepare Your Store for the Holidays

The anticipation of the holiday shopping season brings mixed feelings for retailers. On one hand, you can hear that cash register ringing, and that's a sweeter sound than any carolers you've ever heard. On the other hand, it's kind of a pain—the crowds, the inventory management, the long hours and the endless loop of the same saccharine holiday tunes we've been hearing for decades. If you think about it too much, the anticipatory cringe can make a Scrooge out of the most mild-mannered shopkeeper in the world.

But here's the thing: It's always going to be tough, but it doesn't have to be terrible. Not all of the extra holiday irritation can be avoided, but if you can get started with your planning and preparation now, heading off the worst of the holiday retail season is entirely possible.

Deck the Halls with All Hands on Deck

When your customer volumes double (or triple) and more lines start snaking around the store, everyone is miserable. Staff members get tired and resentful, and customers get impatient and irritable. There are two ways to combat the over-crowded and under-served issue.

The first is layout. You may be constrained by merchandising, but take a look at historically congested areas, bottlenecks and pain points. You have got to decorate the store to begin with, so combine the task with a bit of a redesign. Sometimes just shifting a rack or shelving unit can ease movement around the store or at least change sightlines to reduce frustration.

Next, there's staffing. You know you are going to need more people, but see if there are new ways you can use staff that will make everyone's lives easier. You want all the registers open—that's a no-brainer—but when you are facing a rush, it's all the little jobs around the store that can quickly escalate to Nightmare Before Christmas levels. Restocking from the changing rooms and rearranging the disaster that customers make of your carefully merchandised displays are just two examples. Whoever you hire, get them in early. Trying to train people when you are all overwhelmed is a recipe for a full-on Grinchfest.

Holiday Shopping Safety Tips

Nothing ruins the holiday spirit (or an insurance premium) quite like accidents and security incidents. Keeping everyone alive and well while you weather the holiday shopping storm must be your number one priority.

If the weather gets icy where you are, you know the slushy misery of the gray melting mess that a thousand pairs of boots can leave behind. It's not just ugly; it's dangerous. You can salt outside the door to keep away the ice patches, but if you have puddles inside, someone is still at risk of an accident. Throw down some extra mats and get one of those extra employees you've hired to do a regular mop check.

It doesn't matter what your price points are; it's a great idea to have extra security at high-volume times. It's hard to keep an eye on a packed shop. And even an attempt to do so can leave you feeling frazzled and bitter. Extending your opening hours for late-night shopping is great for customers but can be tough on employees who have to leave work late on the cold, dark nights. Having security available to walk people to their cars will keep everyone feeling cared for and safe. It's where "and to all a good night!" really matters.

You can do all the pre-ordering, window dressing, stock checking and hustling you like, but the bottom line is that if you can reduce stress for yourself and your employees, the holiday season just might stay joyful for you all. That is really the best way to prepare your business for the holidays. Good morale really does boost efficiency and sales, and it just makes getting through the holiday grind easier. Streamline wherever possible, and don't skimp on the staff party!

Krista Wolfe is a marketing project manager for Quill.com where she writes to help small businesses, teachers and healthcare professionals make more informed decisions on office essentials. She also writes on our new community blog, Café Quill, about a wide range of business matters such as leadership, productivity and work-life balancing. Krista lives in Chicago, and you can find her on Google+ or LinkedIN.

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