Markup & Profit

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

'tis the Season - Avoiding Those Holiday Hang-Ups

We are taking a break from our usual Sales newsletter to discuss a timely issue - business planning for the holidays. Tisha A. Kuntz is our guest writer, and we appreciate her offering this article for your benefit.
Tisha is an interior designer and construction manager, owner of Verdugo Hills Interiors. Her Burbank, California-based company's work has been featured on episodes of HGTV's "Designers' Challenge" and "Outer Spaces." Her work in the design/build industry includes consulting for TV production companies on home improvement pilot episodes. She's proud to say that many of her clients consider her "family".

Avoiding Those Holiday Hang-Ups
by Tisha A. Kuntz

The time is upon us, friends, that brings consternation about so many things - gift giving, receiving gifts graciously, whether the holidays should be used as a marketing opportunity, and more. Couple the confusion with all the personal stresses at this time of year, and you can see why many opportunities are missed for bringing good tidings to clients and co-workers alike.To help foster holiday cheer and make things a bit easier for you, here are some suggestions in quick Q&A format, taken from years of experience in being asked about professional gift giving. Here's how to give, how to get, and - best of all - how to get your business noticed during "the most wonderful time of the year":

Q: Isn't it a bit awkward to use the holidays as a marketing opportunity? Seems a bit cold-hearted to capitalize on Christmas and New Year, just to get our name in front of clients and potential clients.

A: You're not "capitalizing" on the holidays if your marketing is done tastefully and in the spirit of the season. Think of all the companies you hear from during Thanksgiving through New Year's - everyone from your local grocery store to the folks who change your oil. What makes their marketing memorable? The context they use to garner your attention and keep it, while conveying a sense of warmth. Some very effective ways of keeping your company name in front of your clients' eyes include:

Professionally-printed Greeting Cards

There are a plethora of catalogs sent to your door every year from companies that will, for a price, print sharp-looking professional greeting cards for you.
Many will tailor their greetings to say exactly what you want, of which we prefer the universally accepted "Season's Greetings and a Joyous New Year," and the cards will often come with your return address pre-printed on the envelopes. This saves time, allowing you to simply send the cards, sign the cards personally, or add a simple message if you wish.


Not the full-sized calendars that are expensive to produce and leave your client wondering where to hang it - rather, the small calendars that are professionally printed and fit nicely into greeting cards. Some companies prefer the smaller calendars attached to a magnet that contains their logo and contact information. While these can be a bit on the pricey side, they are very effective and worth the investment. Best of all, they slip neatly into a greeting card and can be a constant reminder to the client, keeping your company's name ahead of the competition.

Note Pads and Post-It Notes

If you see your clients during the holidays, keep a supply of custom-printed notepads and pads of customized "Post-It" notes handy. These may not seem like gifts, but when you see clients and subcontractors, they're practical items that people appreciate and use. Each time they use that note pad or Post-It note, they'll think of you - and not someone else.

Do you live in a small town where you see many of your clients during the holidays? Are you finishing jobs and getting ready to complete pre-holiday walk-throughs and punch-lists? Here are some possibilities for nifty gifts you or your site supervisor can hand to the clients in person:
Keep a supply of boxed holiday ornaments in red, green, blue, gold and silver on hand in your truck(s) or sales vehicle(s). These inexpensive ornaments make a stellar impression on clients and sub-contractors alike; when they hang that ornament on their tree each year, they'll be thinking of you and your company's kindness.

Boxed and wrapped coffee mugs are still good options to have on hand, but please, never send out an empty mug. Always make sure you've included an individual sized coffee or some tea bags (nestled into the mug before it's wrapped) to soften the look of yet another advertising mug.

Customized golf balls are a much-appreciated option for those clients who like to hit the links.
Gifts to avoid include plants, because some people will be allergic or will have pets that tend to think of plants as "food." Seasonal arrangements, while beautiful and often cost-effective, can cause more worry than warmth.

As much as you may be tempted, please remember that using advertising pens as gifts are completely passé, and are to be used mainly by your sales staff in conjunction with business cards at the close of a contract.

Q: My company doesn't have money for those fancy pre-printed cards and little magnetic calendars. Any ideas for smaller companies that have a next-to-nothing marketing budget?

A: One of the best ways to make your marketing money stretch is to purchase cards at after-holiday sales, in advance for next year's season. You can find appropriate cards at 25% of their retail price, which slashes the costs sending greetings at year's end. Often, holiday postcards are available, which allow for a brief personal greeting and are mailed at a lower cost than conventional cards. Look for them on sale at year's end as well, because they're another way to really stretch your dollars. Don't be tempted to make cards on your computer, however. Unless you have a wizard in your office that knows how to use standard card stock and create beautiful custom cards, the expense of "print-it-yourself" cards is higher than you think. Not only are you paying more in ink costs; you're paying your staffer(s) more to create, print and assemble the cards. It's easier to pay one or two people to write a personal message and address cards you've purchased.Instead of sending a calendar, go to your local "big box" office supply store and purchase business card-sized magnets, which have an adhesive side to attach your business card. This is a very cost-conscious way to compete with the "bigger guys" while keeping your marketing costs to a minimum. The magnets slip into your greeting cards along with your warm wishes, and everything ships for the price of one postage stamp.

Q: When should I send cards? Is there a hard and fast rule, like before December 15th?

A: Being among the first, such as the day after Thanksgiving, usually means your card will get lost in the shuffle. After all, many people are thinking ahead to the busiest shopping day of the year, and the mail won't get as much attention as it deserves. However, please do keep in mind the guidelines set forth by the Postal Service, because even local mail will have delays during the season. An old marketing trick is to try and plan for your correspondence to arrive on a Tuesday, which seems to be a good day to get noticed. It's worked in the past for so many companies, though, that we tend to have "junk mail Tuesday" in our area. The best advice: Mail on a day that "feels right" to you, because you know your clients and the local marketplace best.It's also better to send cards late, rather than not at all. People are very forgiving when it comes to getting cards a few days late, usually thinking the Postal Service had more to do with the delay than you did. One year, I actually sent out a "Christmas in July" mailing and it worked well. You've probably seen those "Christmas in July" sales and chuckled at the thought, but it can be a very savvy marketing strategy for kitchens, baths and projects requiring a lot of lead-time. (Think about how long custom cabinetry takes, or special appliances, or, well, you know exactly what happens with lead-times.) With "Christmas in July," all of a sudden you'll hear from clients who want a new kitchen, bath or family room to be completed and decorated no later than the start of the holidays. By beginning in summer you can deliver on your promises and boost your sales goals as well!

Q: We did well enough this year to give our best clients small gifts, but we have no idea what would be most appropriate. What would you suggest?

A: Good news! Thinking "small" opens a variety of new opportunities, especially when it comes to gift giving. Here are some very effective ways to acknowledge your clients, while invoking the warmth of the season:
Turkey certificates from the local grocer, which can be tucked into a greeting card. Imagine the good tidings you'll bring by putting a beautiful bird (or country ham, roasting chicken or deluxe side dish) on their table. Food is a very powerful persuader; something unique will make sure you're remembered for a long time to come. Fruit baskets are almost always welcome, because of their universal appeal. Rather than pay a store to choose the fruit and assemble the baskets, delegate this or enlist some help from your staff. Here's a cost-conscious way to bring on the baskets: Choose smaller, inexpensive baskets from your local craft store or "big box" market.
Line each basket with tissue paper purchased in those huge bargain packages (red, green, gold, white, be creative). Add polished apples, pears and juicy oranges - or your favorite selection of fruit. For special effect, toss in a handful of holiday candies in bright wrappers.
Wrap the entire basket in colorful plastic wrap, and then top with a bargain bow.
Don't forget the card, thanking them for their business and wishing them a wonderful New Year!

Gift cards are always nice, especially for couples sharing similar tastes in music or books. Seasonal music CDs are another option, but that's a bit trickier because some prefer jazz versions, others purely classical, and so forth. Movie tickets are a welcome gift, because it offers a two-hour escape from the high-energy hassles of the holidays. Careful, though, because sometimes discount movie passes have strings attached like "blackout dates," that can frustrate rather than relax the recipients. While a box of chocolates may seem to be the way to go, unless you know for a fact that the clients are chocoholics, it's best to skip the candies. Not only is it passé to pass the truffles, it's also hard to know if the clients have health issues that prevent them from partaking.

Q: Should I invest in a case of premium liquor and gift my best clients with a bottle of something special? It seems like an easy route to take.

A: Excuse me? You're a contractor and you'd like to do something the easy way? Are you sure you're a contractor? This is a situation where the "easy route" isn't the best route. (Sound familiar?) There are just too many variables on who drinks and who doesn't, who prefers vodka to another liquor, what brand is the best is any given category, and, well, you get the idea.
It makes much more of an impression to provide your best clients with something their entire family can enjoy. For the price of a bottle of premium liquor, you can instead purchase a gift card toward a "movie night," or an ice cream treat, or a small gift basket. They'll not only be grateful you thought of them, but they'll be impressed you gave them something they can enjoy together. Don't forget to slip that gift card into their holiday card, to add an element of presentation to your generosity.

Q: One of my best clients came in and presented me with a bottle of premium liquor. I've never been much of a Scotch aficionado but would have taken well to a bottle of Cuervo 1800, so I'm at a loss for what to do. I thanked him very kindly for his extreme generosity, but now what?

A: We all have our preferences when it comes to libations. Many of us keep something on hand at home, when folks visit who may enjoy a drop of something. Add the Scotch to your personal liquor cabinet, and mentally toast your client's good wishes each time you bring out the bottle for friends.

Q: We made a profit this year and would like to give a small gift to each employee. While we didn't do well enough to provide actual holiday bonuses, I wanted to do something special for everyone. Is money the only option?

A: Actually, there's a lot you can do to help your entire staff feel appreciated and cared for, and it's easier than you may think.
No big bucks for a catered holiday party or sit-down banquet? Have a "potluck" or "carry-in" lunch, where everyone brings in something. (Yes, even those guys in the field can stop by and pick up fried chicken or some potato salad!) This gives everyone a chance to see each other and exchange season's greetings in person, especially if your office staff only knows the rest of the team by reading their names on pay stubs.
It's relatively inexpensive for you to pick up some of the following: Gift cards to local merchants, a gift certificate for dessert at a fancier restaurant, Baskin-Robbins ice cream certificates, cards for music or books, coupons for a free pie at the local bakery, vouchers for a free turkey at the local butcher or store. You get the idea. These, combined, cost considerably less than giving employees a percentage of the profits that you cannot currently afford. And best of all, it lets you "personalize" the gift to the employee; especially if you know Suzie in payroll is an avid reader and you've got a gift card for her from Barnes & Noble.
It's not the monetary value of the gift that your team will think about. It's the fact that you genuinely wanted to acknowledge them, you appreciate them and you cared enough to find a way to make their season brighter. (Note from Michael: Be sure that it is clear to your employees that any bonuses or gifts given are based on merit and are at the owner's discretion. Do not base them on length of time on the job or the time of year. Your policy on bonuses should also be detailed in your employee manual. This issue can be used to cause legal problems for you by your employees if you aren't careful.)

Q: The guys on the site are giving me a hard time about "throwing my weight around." In this case, they mean donuts, so I'm cutting back on all sweets. What should I do with this two-pound box of handmade chocolates, given to me by a grateful client?

A: Since the guys were on you about being a bit broad in the beam, it goes not to them but to those hard-working folks in the office. However, if you park that box of "fat pills" on the desk of Gracie (otherwise known as "The Office Manager Who Is Watching Her Girlish Figure"), be prepared for her to turn cranky. To paraphrase some words of wisdom heard in a subcontractor's office, "If the Office Manager ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
No one likes to have temptation staring them down over a cup of coffee, so please place the chocolates (or cookies, cakes, etc) in a location available to all, but tempting to none. And don't forget that brief "Thank You" note to the client for thinking of you.

Q: Wouldn't it be quicker to just call my clients and wish them "Happy Holidays"? It would skip a lot of hassle of sending things, would probably be cheaper in the long run, and they'd get the personal touch of hearing my voice.

A: It's a thoughtful gesture to want to call your clients, however there's more time involved than you might realize. A card allows the entire family to enjoy your thoughtfulness, and it is genuinely is less expensive than you taking the time to try and reach everyone individually.
Unfortunately, it's also a legal issue. Nothing puts a damper on the holidays faster than a lawsuit, and if you call your clients your holiday cheer could be misconstrued as telemarketing. With the "Do Not Call List" and other telemarketing laws in place, it's better to contact your clients by mail. Otherwise, what you meant as a caring gesture could be twisted into a legal hassle that spoils the joys of the season.


Post a Comment

<< Home