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Episode 22: The holidays are coming – how can you profit?

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All Xero Gravity episodes

Hosted by Elizabeth Ü and Gene Marks

Are you ready for the holiday shopping season? Have you thought about what’s in store after January 1st? Can you extend the holiday sales cheer throughout the new year?

Tune in to Xero Gravity #22, as Elizabeth and Gene welcome in a couple of retail experts who believe you can. The two, successful startup entrepreneurs Kelly Barker, founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Prep Cosmetics, and Clint Bowers, founder and CEO of Smart Business Concepts, share their insights and tips to help you keep those products flying off the store and/or e-commerce shelves.

You’ll learn the importance (and some keys) to not putting all your eggs in one basket, wrapped up in the holiday season that you forget the larger picture, which includes seasonal staffing levels, inventory ordering, branding and social media, and cultivating repeat customers from holiday promotions.

Episode transcript

Hosts:        Gene Marks [GM] & Elizabeth Ü [EÜ]

Guests:      Kelly Barker [KB] and Clint Bowers [CB]

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XG Opening

You’ve just tuned into Xero Gravity: a podcast for small business leaders and entrepreneurs across America. Now to your hosts, Gene Marks and Elizabeth Ü.

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GM Hey everybody and welcome to Xero Gravity. We’re a weekly podcast for small business leaders and entrepreneurs. My name is Gene Marks, and I am with my friend and co-host, Elizabeth Ü. Elizabeth, say hello.

EÜ Hello everyone.

GM Hey I failed to ask you — we were speaking earlier Elizabeth — what are your plans for the holidays?  Do you go home or do you leisurely just chill out?

EÜ Oh, well, I was born and raised and my family is still in the San Francisco area.  So I don’t have to go anywhere to visit my family, but this year I’m actually traveling with my boyfriend’s family to the Dominican Republic.  I’ve never been there. I did spend some great time with their family last year. I’m very much looking forward to that adventure.

GM That is awesome!

EÜ Looking forward to sitting out in the sun.

GM Yeah, I’ve never done that before over Christmas time, to actually go to some place - a lot of our friends do — we always seem to be sort of hunkered down and catching up on videos.  So hey look, we have a lot to talk about.

If you’re running a store, you’re a merchant, and you’re interested in growing your business during the holiday season, you’re going to want to listen to this episode because we’re talking to two really great guests.

Kelly Barker is the founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of a company called Prep

Cosmetics. She sells online and through stores some really cool cosmetic products through the retail channel, primarily geared towards the teenage market. And Clint Bowers is a CPA who advises Kelly, and also has a bunch of clients in the retail space, in the market for selling and increasing their business. That’s what we’re going to be discussing because it’s a hugely important topic.

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Guest Soundbites

KB “You know, we don’t want to just sell them a product, we really want to sell them a Brand, and we really want them coming back for more information.”

CB “You want to take advantage of all of these different consumers looking for something new.”

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GM We’re here in the fall right now and Elizabeth, you know yourself, from the retailers that are in Xero’s customer base, how important the holiday season is, right?

EÜ We see a lot of people bringing in a lot of their sales; a huge proportion of their sales for the entire year coming in in these few weeks. So, very important time of year.

GM Yeah, and people tend to get all wrapped up with the holiday season, and a lot of those people make mistakes. They make staffing mistakes, they don’t choose the right technologies, they don’t think ahead as to what they’re going to do. These are the kinds of things that we want to make sure that you avoid when it comes time to planning out your holiday season. Elizabeth, what do you think is the biggest mistake that retailers make during the holiday season? Do you see anything in particular that people kind of goof up on that they should be doing better?

EÜ I think probably the biggest mistake is that people don’t plan far enough ahead for the holiday season. If you’re really just getting started right now, it’s probably too late, although there are some things that you can do as far as a last minute marketing push. But if for instance, you haven’t spent time thinking about building up your inventory, it’s not going to help you much to think about it now.

GM Yeah, that’s a really good point. I totally agree with that. The other mistake that I always do with my client base is that, you know, people get so wrapped up into sales and discounts and promotion. It’s the holidays. They make the holiday sales and holiday year ends and I always think to myself, what about the rest of the year?

I mean you always hear in retail that the first quarter of the next year has a big drop off.  And when it has a drop off, it impacts your year so significantly. I always think to myself, does it have to be that way? Is there anything you could be doing during the holiday season to increase your sales throughout the rest of the year? That’s going to be something I’m going to ask about in this interview as well, because I’m curious to hear what people’s thoughts are.

So look, we’re going to be back soon; we’re going to be talking about retail sales and how to increase your sales in your shop.  Join us in just a few minutes.

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GM We’re part of the Xero Podcast Network and we’d love you to subscribe to the show in iTunes.

EÜ And leave us a review: the link is in today’s show notes on xero.com/podcasts.

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GM We have two really great people that we’re going to be talking to today. The first is Kelly Barker.  Kelly is the founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Prep Cosmetics LLC, and Clint Bowers, who is the founder and CEO of Smart Business Concepts. Kelly and Clint, thank you so much for joining us.

KB Hi.

CB Thank you.

GM You’re welcome. So hey Kelly, let me start with you. First of all, just to get a little bit of background: tell me about Prep Cosmetics. When did you start up the company? How long have you been doing this?

KB Sure, so we actually came up with the concept in August 2013, and my co-founder is a dermatologist. We are an all-natural skin care line for tween and teen girls to really teach them at a young age, to take ownership of their skin (and acne), and to also understand all about sun protection and sun damage.  

Because we are considered an over-the-counter sunscreen drug, we are heavily under the FDA. So it took a long time to do testing and formulation and all that good stuff.  So we actually just launched in January of this year. And we are really excited; it’s been great feedback, just a lot of hard work and as you know as a small business, lots of different challenges that we face.

GM That’s fantastic! And being a startup I guess, in this age of startups, I’m assuming your company is worth a billion dollars by now, is that correct?

KB Oh sure!

GM Yeah, yeah.

KB Well why not make it two!  [Laughs]

GM Right, it seems like every startup that I read about, everybody’s worth a billion dollars at this point. And Clint, you met Kelly at a technology event, and you’re advising her,

correct? On the financial side?

CB Yes, that is right. We met earlier this year over the summer. She was looking for some solutions on, you know, integrating her backend processes and we were able to help and still work with her.

GM And your business, Smart Business Concepts, has been around for how long?

CB Oh, 15 years — no I’m just kidding!  We launched in January of this year as well.

GM So, yeah, you guys are both startup companies, right?  I mean it’s January, and we’re still under a year old.

KB That’s right.

CB That’s right.

GM Hey, you know, Clint, I mean Kelly is talking about planning her campaigns and this is startup year, so I’m assuming there’s not a lot of data here, right?  So what do you advise a client as far as spending money on a holiday marketing campaign. I mean are you the kind of person to say, you know, go for broke? Or do you have certain guidelines as to what you tell your clients to spend when it comes to marketing?

CB So if I told all my clients to go for broke, I probably wouldn’t have many clients. They’d all be broke. But, no, you know, I think each one is an individual circumstance. So, for Kelly’s perspective, you put up a budget and you say here’s what I can spend, because, you know, January is going to roll around and you’re still going to have payroll that you’re going to need to make.

But you want take advantage of all of these different consumers looking for something new. So, you kind of look at another thing — which is building up inventory. Do you have the capital to build up that inventory, and sell it maybe at a discounted price? So I think each one is individual, but there’s a definitely a lot of opportunity this time of year for retailers.

KB Right, so what we have done just to really mitigate our exposures, we have two different manufacturers. So as we know with any sort of consumable product, especially with sunscreen or acne, it takes time to gather all the ingredients, have it all mixed up, have it, you know, filled in the tubes and sealed. So we really have to be a little bit careful.

What we do now is we fill at 5,000 quantity for each sku that we have, and then we kind of benchmark and see our projections of how fast are we moving the product, how slow we are moving product, because the product does expire over time. And, you know, one of the challenges — it will be a great challenge — is once we start moving into some of the bigger box retailers is to see how they forecast their projections. What you don’t want to do is you don’t want to run out of product and then have a lead time of six weeks.

EÜ And so far as increasing sales goes, I know that you’re probably both very excited about the upcoming holiday rush.  So did you come up with any specific strategies to take advantage of this?

KB  So what we’re doing is we have actually partnered with a business who has a very similar demographic as Prep, and we shipped them product, and they shipped us some product. So anytime a consumer buys between November the 2nd and the end of the holiday season, we will actually do a gift with purchase. So if they spend a minimum of $50 in store then they get the product from the other retailer. Which is great because we’re doing some cross-promotion to see does that work, how does it work, does it entice people to spend a little bit more money in the store in order to receive the free product? So we’ll see how that goes.

The other thing that we are doing is we are partnering up with a business on the east coast, and we are doing a social media contest.  So as we know, especially for our demographic for Prep Cosmetics, it’s all a younger generation. So it’s anywhere from nine years old to 20 years old, and for them they are heavily on social media. So we are running a campaign, a contest to really get people engaged, tagging their best friend, tagging, you know, their sister, doing all that kind of stuff just to really cross promote each retailer that we’re working with.  

Social media is great because it’s free, but it also takes a lot of work. You’ve got to have a lot of thought behind it, you have to have really good imagery. So it’s not something you can just throw out there and hope that it works, you really have to have a campaign and a strategy behind it.

EÜ So Kelly, maybe you can tell us a little bit more about what you’re expecting as far as these partnerships that you have, both the gift with purchase program and the social media contest. When do you expect to see an increase in sales? I’m imagining you’re expecting to see an increase in sales on your online store.

KB Yes.

EÜ But when do you think you’ll be fulfilling those orders?

KB Sure, so we know that data shows that right after October, people do start shopping.  

My gut though is, and this just comes from me because this is the way I shop, is it’s right after Thanksgiving when the real big push starts where people are like, oh my gosh, I’ve got to get on the ball, I haven’t done anything. And, you know, Thanksgiving is a little bit later this year, so I think we lose about five days — kind of the retail Christmas space. But I’m really expecting that December will be our best month this year.

EÜ And these are all orders that you will ship prior to Christmas, for instance?

KB You know I think for most people, it just kind of falls off after, you know, call it December 22nd-23rd, and we will actually ship right up to the 22nd, because we can still get it there in time for Christmas.

EÜ And you at all concerned that you might have some challenges actually getting your products to people that close to the deadline?

KB No, not at all. We are ready for it.

EÜ And so who are some of the logistical solutions that you’re partnering with as far as getting products from point A to point B?

KB The good old post office, and also FedEx. We have actually found that Priority Now works really, really great for us. It’s two day. We have not had an issue with it at all. If we had to do some sort of FedEx we could, but, you know, right now the post office working great.

GM Mm, Clint, I’m going to ask when you’re talking to different clients, what do you see as being the biggest concern or biggest issue on people’s minds that they’re concerned about as they head into the holidays? And even as a follow up to that, what do you think your clients should be most concerned about as we head into the holiday season?

CB Yeah, that’s a good question. I do expect a lot of the clients start looking up at the end of the year and saying “Oh, how am I actually doing for the year?  Am I going to have to pay taxes, what can I do to avoid taxes?”  And then just getting all of the time scheduled and reviews done, to make sure that the client is, you know, really in the best place — the business owners in the best place to finish up the year.

GM It seems like managing cash flow is like a big, right…

CB Yeah, it absolutely is. But you can make end of year spending decisions based on possible tax implications. But once the 31st is done, you can’t go back and create a transaction. So looking at it from that perspective, is managing the cash flow if they want to pay bonuses, or they want to do additional incentives or, you know, they sell a whole lot but oh well, you know, 25% of it was returned the first week of January.

EÜ Mm’hm.

GM Yeah, well Elizabeth you’re asking all the questions, but I’ve got to ask you as well. You deal with a lot of customers at Xero, you know, and you have a big small business background yourself. What would you recommend to small business retailers as we head into the holiday season, to try and expand the business? Any tips on your mind?

EÜ Well, sure, I think one of the challenges that a lot of shoppers have at this time of year is they really just don’t know what their loved ones want, and so I know that a lot of small retailers are selling gift certificates. And if it’s the kind of retailer that wants to have their customers coming in the door regularly, then subscriptions can also be a great fit too.  

So maybe you have a coffee of the month club, but you have to come into the retail store to pick it up, and then maybe you’re also going to buy a dozen donuts while you’re there. That sort of thing. Different promotions. And I’m actually fascinated to hear from Clint how that might affect the books behind the scenes.

CB Yeah, it absolutely can. Those type of promotions, your gift cards, you know, that’s money in the bank. That’s cash that you get immediately, and you haven’t necessarily had to spend the capital on the product, which is quite useful for your cash balance.  You know, you’re thinking about, do I need to draw down on my line of credit and things like that?

GM Right, fair enough. Fair enough. Kelly I’m going to ask you as well, but I also have to throw in a piece of advice that I see from my client base: the people that I know, retailers that are doing it right for the holidays, are thinking beyond the holidays.  

I realize if you’re in retail, the holiday season is one of your biggest times of the year where you’re making your sales that could generate most of your profits for the year. But, you know, thinking ahead, how are you going to take advantage of the holidays and generate more sales throughout the year?

So I like Elizabeth’s idea about giving out coupons, maybe loyalty programs — that’s great. People that have CRM databases also really succeed, as customers are coming into your store. Kelly I’ll ask you, when you’re making sales to customers, you know, is there anything specific that you’re doing to have repeat sales from these customers? Because…

KB Sure.

GM …a teenage girl just doesn’t need this stuff during the holidays.

KB Right.

GM She’ll need it throughout the year. So what kind of stuff are you doing to keep the sales going throughout the year?

KB Sure, so we have a really great email campaign that we do, and we send it out weekly and it’s not just about pushing product, but it’s also about education. So we talk all about different types of skin and what you should be doing to your skin, and how to protect yourself from the sun. So it’s an ongoing, like you said, it’s not just a one and done — and that’s for the holiday season.  It’s great for us because we’re a consumable product.

GM Right.

KB So people do need to come back and get more of that, especially when you start talking about acne. And then they’re not even thinking about being proactive, but they’re really being reactive and saying, “Okay, I really want pretty skin and I want to get rid of my acne, how do I do that?”  So we were always pushing all the time not just the products, but also really education and awareness, to really add value to our clients.  We don’t want to just sell them a product, we really want to sell them a brand and we want them to keep coming back for more information.

 

GM We have different types of promotional days that are on their way in front of us. For example, Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Small Business Saturday — they’re all small business focused, retail focused, to generate sales on site and online as well. So Kelly, does this impact you at all before holidays?  Are you going to have a big Cyber Monday marketing push?

KB Yes, we are.

GM What are you doing?

KB I can’t tell you — it’s a secret! No, kidding! No, so we are doing some really fun things on each one of those days and really it’s just, you know, almost a flash sale.  It’s just for that day to really get people excited, and really to get sales moving, and to get the holiday kick-off, so to speak, going.

GM That’s very cool. So For our listeners, what would you tell a fellow startup business or a fellow retailer as you’re heading into the holidays; a couple of pieces of advice you would give for increasing sales in your business this holiday? Do you have a couple of takeaways?

KB I do, and this also can be applied in general, not just for holiday. Find a mentor. Find someone who has done what you’re trying to do and has been successful.  

I found someone who is in beauty. A different concept, but she has very similar challenges, and she’s been through it all. And like I said before, I don’t know what I don’t know, and she really helps bring that to life where I say, “How does this work?” or, “How do we get from A to B?”  And you know, Google is great for some answers. But really, finding someone who had walked the path before is just tremendous, to be able to get you that guidance.

You will be very surprised at how many people are more than willing to help. I’ve been really, really grateful from that point, where there’s been a lot of people who have been willing to help me, and they didn’t even know who I was. So find a mentor and they can help you during the holiday season, and they can help you all year long.

GM That is awesome. What about you, Clint?  I mean any advice, takeaways, for your clients that you’re telling them to prepare for the holidays?

CB I would say on starting a business, my number one thing is have a rock solid, have a really good support system. Someone that yes, maybe they know your business, but also just someone you can talk to, who hears you out because it can get pretty lonely. And then get out there and meet people. Kind of along the same lines that Kelly was talking about — there are a lot of people who will help you.

Get out there and meet people, and when you feel like things are coming in, or closing in, what I would always do is get out of the chair and just go walk outside. Just go take a walk. Breathe the fresh air — and I don’t want to be too dramatic about it, but — but really just get some perspective on what you’re trying to do and just take a breath.

And then the other, the very last thing is, it’s going to cost more than you think. Any little thing that you want to do, whether it be set up your email or get a website, it will cost more than you think — at least it did for me.  

EÜ Clint, especially as we’re looking into the holiday season, and as you’re talking about finding your community and finding your mentors: do you have any suggestions for ways that people can meet their mentors, whether in person or online perhaps?

CB There are a lot of Meetup groups that you can just go search for, talk to people and ask them what groups they’re in. And then you can either meet them online, you can go meet them for coffee. A lot of times maybe that’s someone who is also looking for a job, that has some time. You can help them and then whenever they get a job, they’ll likely help you. Just different things to help people. That was one thing that I always wanted to continue to do, was any time I was meeting somebody, not just asking for their help, but also trying to help them because they’ll remember that.

GM That’s great.

EÜ So maybe you need to start crashing various company holiday parties with promotions!

[Laughter]

KB Yeah, well you’ll be surprised. When I meet someone new in the industry I always ask them, “Who should I be talking to?” Who do you go to for guidance?”  And then I just jot the name down and ask, “Hey, can you do an introduction for me?” It’s surprising to see how many people are really, truly willing to help. It’s great, it’s really, really been great.

GM That is great stuff, you know, partnering using social media.  And being a mentor as well as finding a mentor, networking, helping people out.  It’s all in the spirit of the holidays, isn’t it?  And…

KB That’s right.

GM …doing that also speaks practically, it’s not only good business, but it’s also just good people.  So, I’m glad. Guys, this was a great conversation. Wereally appreciate all of your advice. We’ve been speaking with Clint Bowers. He’s the founder and CEO of Smart Business Concepts, which helps out a lot of startups, including Kelly’s firm. Kelly Barker is the founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Prep Cosmetics. And Kelly has also shared with us some great, great advice for preparing and marketing during the holidays.  Thank you guys very much for joining us today. It was a great conversation. And we’ll be back shortly.

KB Thanks, happy holidays!

CB Thank you.

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EÜ tweet us at Xero using the hashtag #XeroGravity. Or text us your questions to
(415) 813-9878. We’ll answer them on next week’s show!

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GM So, Elizabeth, that was a great conversation, don’t you think?

EÜ Oh my gosh, what inspiring folks, Kelly and Clint.

GM Yeah they really are. They’re both startups — they started their businesses earlier this year. They’re less than a year old and here they are giving us advice.

EÜ You know, really good advice that I think will resonate with a lot of our listeners.

GM I agree, I agree. Was there anything in particular that stood out to you?

EÜ Oh, there’s so many things, particularly on what Kelly was saying. She definitely has a sense of where they are and what they’re doing. So for a brand that is tween and teen focused, she’s all over it with the social media contests, and gift with purchase; the partnership with her east coast partner.

I just loved how she was strategic enough in her thinking to plan a promotion that was essentially riding the coattails on the success of a, as she called it, a non-competing strategic partner. So someone that had the same target audience, but that didn’t have a competing product. I mean what a great plan.

GM I totally agree with that. And let’s give some props to Clint as well. He’s coming in from the financial side.  So he says, look, you need to keep an eye on your cash flow, you know, don’t spend it all at once.

If you are planning your marketing campaigns for the holiday season, it’s super important to have a financial person involved. My company sells a lot of sales and marketing software like CRM software. So we deal with sales and marketing guys, and they’re all very optimistic (which is great), but sometimes you need a little bit of levity, a little bit of reality. And I think Clint brought that to the conversation.

EÜ Oh he does. And I noticed, especially, when he was saying that it’s really important to make sure that you build up your inventory ahead of the season. And as Kelly mentioned, a couple of the add-on partners that she uses. Like Stitch, for instance, which plays well with Xero. And for those of you in the audience listening, who have more simple inventory management needs, Xero is able to handle inventory management for many of our small business subscribers, so do check out Xero U. That’s Xero U (the letter U). That’s where we have all of our educational resources, and under the resources for small business owners, we have a video for how to use Xero’s inventory management system. It’s built right into Xero, so you won’t have to go anywhere else. And again, we have several add-on partners as well for data integration.  

GM Elizabeth, what do you think about partnering and networking?  I mean for a small business, particularly a startup, it’s super important, right?

EÜ Oh, of course.  Of course. Not only for customers but also for suppliers, and again prospective partners, and we heard from Kelly and Clint that finding a good mentor, finding your community is so key. Not only for someone who can help provide advice for how to do things more effectively, but also someone who’s a helpful ear for when things aren’t going so well.  So really important…

GM Yeah.

EÜ …to put your feelers out just for your own moral support, if not for helping attract new customers.

GM Yeah, I agree, I agree.  I never asked: I was curious what your thoughts were as well,

Elizabeth; I didn’t have a chance to ask you about this whole Cyber Monday thing and Black Friday. Do you buy into those days?  Do you think they’re important for a small retailer?

EÜ Oh, I thought you were asking if I actually buy things on those days and…

GM Yeah, okay, I’ll ask you that — do you?

EÜ I’m a terrible shopper, so you can’t ask me from the customer’s perspective. But as far as a small business goes, I think it’s so easy to get just kind of lost in the noise that’s happening on those days.  So whatever it’s going to take for you to stand out from the crowd — that might be not focusing on putting all your resources into that day.

So often it’s who has the most resources to throw at the biggest ad spend, and that might not be the most efficient way for your particular team, or your particular set of resources, to work. So it’s something that really does require some thought.

GM Yeah, that makes sense. Well, look, we could talk about this all day, but I guess we’ve got to move on.  So thanks everyone for listening. You’ve been listening to Xero Gravity’s weekly podcast. This is Gene Marks, and with my co-host, Elizabeth Ü, we thank you very much for listening. We will see you next time.

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