Stocking Up for the Holidays: Your Small Business Shopping List

by Carolyn Evans, Staples® Contributing Writer

As a child, I wondered how Santa did it — making sure the elves had everything they needed to make all those toys, keeping the workshop breakroom fully stocked, and getting everything delivered on time.

Now that I’m older, I’ve come to accept two things about Christmas: reindeer don’t fly, and you can’t do it all in one night. But one thing I did learn from Santa: to be successful, you have to start with a really good list, whether it’s for gift-giving or business provisioning. To ensure your office, store or workshop is well stocked for the holiday season, here are a few items to put on your shopping list.

Holiday Basics

1.    Holiday Cards: It’s never too early to order business holiday cards. If you’re sending paper cards, Melinda Emerson, publisher of SucceedasYourOwnBoss.com in Drexel, PA, recommends mailing them by December 1 to avoid the deluge of other cards, or even sending Thanksgiving cards if time permits.

2.    Corporate Gifts: Considering sending a gift to a top-tier client or vendor? Check the recipient’s gift policy first. Larger corporations likely have strict guidelines on employees receiving gifts from vendors, suppliers and partners. Once you have that information, make your list and order early to ensure timely delivery. Look for retailers that offer free shipping so you don’t end up with another “to-do” on your list and more cash out of your pocket.

3.    Gift Cards: According to data from the National Retail Federation, gift cards are the most requested gift item — for the eighth year in a row. Capitalize on this trend by offering your customers the option to “gift” from your business. Lourdes Gard, office manager at Walker Road Chiropractic in Beaverton, OR, lists gift cards as one of her holiday must-haves. She creates them for clients who want to give a massage or therapeutic treatment as presents. Offer the same option with professionally printed paper gift certificates or a professionally designed eGift coupon. Another idea: give cards to specialty retailers frequented by your clientele.

4.    Ribbons, Wraps, Bags & Boxes: PeraDice Cards & Gifts in Sacramento, CA, always has gift wrapping supplies on hand. But during the holidays, owner Jimmy Wagner makes sure he has a lot more of it, and that ”we add some holiday color.” Investigate the cost savings and convenience of buying in bulk, and be sure to include everything you need, such as tape, tags and scissors to go with your paper, bags and bows. Consider selecting a single wrapping paper pattern and ribbon combination, which streamlines the wrapping process and gives packages a branded look for your business. Add custom-printed stickers bearing your business’s logo to finish it off. For really hot sellers, consider pre-wrapping a few for display and placing a SKU tag on the outside for a convenient grab-and-go gift.

5.    Shipping Supplies: Even if your business doesn’t regularly do shipping, chances are you’ll need to ship something during the holiday season. “You may be a local retailer, but if you have a Web site or Facebook page, you’re now marketing nationally,” says Cammy Hodges, gift and gourmet sales consultant for SBH Consulting in Rocky Mount, NC. “With a little preparation it’s easy to service requests from outside of the area, or ship gifts for your local special customers.” Make the task a simple one by stocking a supply of shipping materials like boxes, Bubble Wrap® or peanuts, shipping tape and labels. And make life easier by looking for vendors you already work with that might also offer convenient shipping options. The more you can do at places you already go, the better for your time management.

6.   Decorations: Show your holiday spirit by decorating inside and outside your business. “It welcomes our patients in and creates a warm feeling during a time that can be stressful and difficult,” says Gard. But consider your space and traffic when choosing decorations. Hodges recalls treating the office to the joy of a live tree with fancy ornaments one year. “Right after I’d finished decorating, it fell over and smashed all of the ornaments, and water spilled everywhere.” She now recommends going for an artificial, pre-lit model with durable ornaments. And remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas; your decorations can be inclusive of other holidays without losing any festive spirit.

Back Room & Breakroom Basics

Your employees feel the pressure of the holiday season, too. Stock up on breakroom and back room supplies to increase their comfort and productivity:

1.    Snacks, Coffee and Water: “It’s important to keep your staff happy, unstressed and motivated,” says Hodges. “Supply them with good food and beverages.” For a special treat, she recommends ordering in lunches on particularly busy days.

2.    Hand Sanitizer and Wipes: Unfortunately, the holiday season coincides with flu season. Keep plenty of hand sanitizer and wipes close by so your employees stay healthy and productive.

Business Basics

“Everyone thinks folks don’t work over the holiday season, and that’s a mistake,” warns Emerson. “Try to consider business that can be done during the holiday, and work on lining up new business for Q1 2015 and beyond.”

1.    High-Use Office Supplies: The last thing you need is to run out of critical supplies like cash register tape or paper for the copier. Take inventory now of the supplies you use the most and stock a little more than usual to be on the safe side.

2.    Technology Upgrades: If the holidays aren’t your busy season, they can be the perfect time to upgrade office technology like printers, computers, tablets and cell phones. The lower work volume means problems, bugs and delays will have less impact on your operation.

3.    Updated Accounting & Tax Software: Chances are good there are changes to the tax laws for the coming year. Hodges recommends purchasing up-to-date tax and accounting software before the start of the new year to ensure a fluid transition.

Some thoughtful planning and a good shopping list will keep you from running out of the critical supplies that keep your business going.

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