Last week’s article discussed ways Richmond advertisers jumping on the Virginia Back-to-School sales tax holiday were missing opportunities. Marketing strategist Ellen Sorstokke agrees, particularly with the point about short-sightedness – and as one of Jonathan Salem Baskin’s sources, she should know. The very substantive and thoughtful comments she e-mailed are well worth sharing:


Constantly building future customers, including repeat traffic, is at least as important as selling a particular widget today. Granted, this is marketing thinking not salesman thinking, but without long-term product development [think of your business as a product] the “today” sales won’t happen.

Wholesalers (all kinds) who sell products that have “retail seasonality” (any kind) need to build demand by routinely reminding their retail dealers of products/services they make available. The year-round messages need to bring your business to mind as their first-choice supplier. Further, it pays to offer off-season deals (including one-piece “sample” order requirements) to retailers so they can do a touchy-feely in their store environment.

Since there are still quite a few mom-and-pop retailers who probably don’t make it to every trade show and may or may not have road reps calling on them, this method gets the product into the dealers’ hands at minimal cost to everyone. The retailer pays for the product and can show it to customers, treating it initially as a “what do you think?” or “this is something new” type of item.

Assuming the product isn’t complete junk, the dealers will sell them – if not immediately, then when the season arrives; people who have seen it in their stores and/or heard about it from someone who has are likely to remember it and come back for it — especially if there is some kind of promotion before and during the “season.”

How Retail Advertisers Can Stop Missing Seasonal Opportunities
How Retail Advertisers Can Stop Missing Seasonal Opportunities

Retailers need the ability to build seasonal inventory (and customer demand) without using every penny of their credit lines or getting trapped into high-interest payment plans. Spreading out purchases/deliveries whenever possible is one way to help them do this. Another is for everyone who wants to minimize the seasonal product-handling (shipping/receiving/display) crunch in their warehouses/stores, to front-load with extended advance promotions, months before the last-minute seasonal business. (Admittedly, this can be all but impossible for some types of products, especially those having fashionable whims as a key selling factor.)

Note that this applies to “seasons” with some overlap. In this instance, back-to-school [BTS] and Christmas can be viewed as all one thing. The retailer needs to have some Christmas items on display before the BTS shopping starts. BTS shopping, which nearly always involves a lot of “no,” can still give the shoppers Christmas ideas. A 10-year-old gets a trumpet for the school band and the younger siblings want something, too. They might get a kazoo today, but how about a ukulele for Christmas? Ukes are very affordable (stocking-stuffer range), involve transferable skills and are age-appropriate down to about 2 years old (through adults). If the trumpet student is doing well, convert the rental to a purchase at Christmas.

Customers have usually been in a retailer’s establishment (or “shopping” on their website or viewing catalogs/magazines or seeing/hearing TV/radio commercials) at some point prior to the actual purchase. Note that “shopping” is not synonymous with “buying,” especially where kids and/or higher-priced items are concerned.

Kids may know they have no chance of persuading their parents to buy a particular item prior to a set time period, but that doesn’t keep them from determining exactly which item they want and why. If you think kids don’t work on their parents to get that item, you’ve either never had/been around kids or you’ve forgotten your own youthful behavior.

Kids can be very sophisticated shoppers. Smart sellers treat them as if they had the cash to pay today. Actual purchase may be minutes or years away, but the kid remembers how he was treated and will want to go back to that store — hopefully for all subsequent purchases as well.