Many small businesses experience sales increases and decreases based on the seasons.
In this episode, John Horne, CEO of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurant group, Dylan Bower, General Manager of the Holiday Inn Sarasota Airport, and Stefan Sommerfield, a SCORE mentor with 40 years of experience in retail management, including clients such as Sax Fifth Avenue, Gimbel’s and Target, discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by seasonal business. Hosting this session are Bob Melberth, SCORE vice-chair, and Chelsea Baker, Information Services Librarian of the Manatee County Central Library.
SCORE thanks the Manatee Public Library and the Economic Development Division for its assistance in the production of this podcast.
View Dennis Zink’s Herald-Tribune article on this subject here.
Published: Monday, June 5, 2017
Well, it’s that slow time of the year. To help local businesses cope with the slow summer season, Manasota SCORE sponsored a panel discussion on the topic of business seasonality and what a small-business owner can do to mitigate the damage.
Manasota SCORE’s Success Strategies for Business Owners’ MeetUp.com, the Manatee County Public Library and the Manatee County Economic Development Division sponsored the event as one of a four-part education series.
The three seasonality panelists were John Horne, the CEO of Anna Maria Oyster Bar’s four local restaurants; Dylan Bower, manager of the Holiday Inn Sarasota Airport; and Stefan Sommerfield, who worked 40 years in retail store management and merchandising in the clothing industry for Saks Fifth Avenue, Gimbels, Izod and big box retailers such as Target, Burlington Coat Factory and Dick’s Sporting Goods. The panel discussion was moderated by Bob Melberth, vice chairman of Manasota SCORE, and Chelsea Baker, information services librarian.
Make decisions based on reliable information and planning.
Seasonality is the nature of all retailers. “If you are not constantly evaluating where you are in your planning process,” Sommerfield said, “the surprises will kill you in the marketing and in the handling of merchandise. When you buy something, have a plan to liquidate it.”
Make the money last; have a budget.
This holds true for both the business and its employees. “We make a lot of money in season and we try not to spend it all in the off-season,” Horne said.
During the first quarter of the year (January-March), Anna Maria Oyster Bar does 35 percent of its annual sales. Contrast that with the four months of June, July, August and September that account for less than 25 percent. Locally, September is horrible, and a lot of restaurants close for a week, two or even four weeks. September is a good time to tweak the menu, remodel and fix or replace equipment. It’s a great time for staff to take vacations. Business comes to a screeching halt June 1.
Focus on service.
“January, February, March and half of April are peak season for our Holiday Inn and we run 100 percent occupancy seven days a week,” Bower said. “We can literally pick and choose the business that we want to place in our hotel to maximize every dollar we can on every room.
“My whole focus is service,” he said. “You want employees who have the passion to make a situation right. Those are the people you want in your business. The people who will serve your guests first but protect your business a close second are the people who will keep you successful. Service will sell. Your product is what it is. If you provide the service that makes people feel special, makes them feel welcome, they will continue to be excited to come back to your property. “On the hotel side,” Bower added, “accommodation and occupancy trends are pretty much, year-to-year, the same. Other than some minor tweaks like weather (up north) and when holidays like Easter fall, we can pretty much tell what our occupancy is going to be.”
“We make sure that we are strategically priced according to the market, to ensure that we are maximizing revenue. But the hotel restaurant day to day is much more difficult.
Do I have enough staff in case we get busy or do I have too much staff?”
Strategies to manage existing customers.
At Anna Maria Oyster Bar, “We do special things in the summer to encourage people to come in, and we try to keep our locals engaged,” Horne said. “We do ‘Lunch Bunch’, where you buy so many and then you get a free lunch. We use our e-blast (email list) and reach out for birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions.
“The credit card companies can act as a quasi-loyalty card,” he said. “They can send out an email to guests who haven’t been in for X months or provide a $10 credit on a credit card statement if they come back within two weeks. The technology is phenomenal on what you can do to bring people in.” “We are doing a summer reading program, “Camp Rise,” where we have 50 guests with 100 children and have the guests reading to the kids. We teach them how to eat a healthy breakfast. Rising second and third graders help them read. It endears our guests because we are helping our community.”
Well, the snowbirds have flocked north until fall. Restaurant wait times have ceased, the traffic has eased and our diverging diamond is now open. Perhaps our new tourist ad campaign should be: “Florida, it’s a hot market in season and even hotter in the summer. C’mon down.”