January is Not a Slow Month

Every year, right around this time, Store Managers are trying to do the impossible…or very nearly impossible. That is making January schedules with the hours that they are allowed to use as directed by Head Office.

In fairness, I must say that this is not the case with every retailer. Some have learned the ‘right’ way to schedule for January.

Let’s begin by discussing the holiday season of many years ago. In November and December stores were jam packed with shoppers trying to find just the right gift for each of their friends and family members. The momentum built and built right up until the early afternoon of December 24th each year.

And then, a hush came over the stores, malls, parking lots….just about everywhere. People had gone home to their families or other festive seasonal celebrations.

They were finished shopping.

In fact, they were finished shopping for quite a lengthy period of time except for the big bargain hunter rush the few days following the 25th. After that, the stores and malls became so quiet it was barely worth opening the doors.

That’s what January used to look like.

Naturally, retailers reigned in their spending on labor just as customers reigned in spending on just about everything they didn’t need. It was time to pay off their credit card bills and get some money put aside in savings again.

But, gradually, all of that changed. Many shoppers waited until well into December to get out and shop, leaving retailers to wonder and worry if it was going to happen. January changed also. Some retailers have changed with the times, but some still have not.

January is no longer a super quiet month for retailers. They won’t necessarily make record breaking sales but, if they play their cards right, they will manage to hang on to a lot of the sales they made in December and gain some more besides.

This is where the Head Office people who are working with allowable hours have difficulty…particularly those who are not out in stores. What they see are low sales numbers, on paper, that simply don’t warrant high wage expenditures.

And the cycle continues. No hours, no sales. No sales, no hours.

Store Managers have been told that sales achieved in January of the prior year were very low so the Store Manager can only use a skeleton staff this year. The wage cost will be way too high, even at that. But, what those Head Office people do not see is how different things are now.

The stores are not empty. There are lots of people out spending gift cards. There are lots of people trying to return or exchange gifts. And there are many people just out and about to see what kind of bargains they can find.

Some may even say “It’s a zoo!!”

Now, the smart, experienced Store Manager will a) schedule to meet the needs of the business…meaning traffic in this case and b) will make sure that many of those hours are used to turn refunds into exchanges with upsells and add-ons to get even more dollars in the register and c) will make sure that many of those hours are used to actively sell to all of the people who are in the store trying to spend their gift cards or cash from Grandma!

Those people want help… product knowledge, location, sizes, color choices…all of the things that Sales Associates should be all too pleased to help them with.

Using a  small store – say 2500 square feet – as an example, some Managers will only have enough hours to schedule one person to open, another to come in for a three hour shift to cover lunch and then an evening shift. In bigger stores, just scale this up. The result is the same…too few people working in the store and customers are not being looked after.

The staff will be heads down at the cash register, probably processing return after return. Most of the customers might be open to exchanging their item but with no staff on the floor, they’ll just do the easier thing and bring it to the cash desk for a refund.

When the staff member does get out from behind the cash desk, s/he probably has to deal with a trashed store and the spiral just goes down, down, down.

And, all of those people who came in with the gift card or cash from Grandma didn’t have anyone to talk to or to sell to them…so they very likely either did not buy or did not buy as much as they would have if someone were engaged in a conversation with them…actively selling to them.

I experimented with this a few years ago when the trend was changing. I was the Regional Manager and told all of my Store Managers to schedule for nearly double their sales target, coming in at a respectable wage cost. The plan was to have enough floor coverage to beat target by a huge margin and come in with a lower wage cost. It worked.

Our advice to you regarding January is…schedule to have the stores well covered for the expected traffic level and for potential sales.

It’s not a free ticket to go crazy with hours and needs to be watched carefully but, it really does make sense.

All the Success!

Josephine Hill

DMSRetail Inc.



PS: We are currently giving away a 2016 Store Manager’s Organizer/Planner to everyone who signs up for the 7 day – $1.00 trial of the Retail Business Academy Platinum Membership. Check it out Retail Business Academy




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