Got a Seasonal Business? 9 Tips to Manage Peaks and Valleys

Got a Christmas tree farm? Ski resort? Summer beach rental? If you operate a seasonal business, managing the off-seasons can be tricky. But no need to focus simply on how to make your business survive during slow season—make it thrive by using these proven tactics as part of your seasonality strategy.  

What Is a Seasonal Business?

A seasonal business generates most of its sales during a particular time of the year. Think of an accounting business around tax time, or a Christmas tree lot in December. Other businesses where a seasonality strategy comes into play include snow removal services, ski resorts, lawn care companies, and vacation destinations. While seasonal businesses can be exceptionally profitable during their peak seasons, it can also be very challenging to manage the off-season sales. 

Did You Know? Contrary to what you might think, farming is not technically a seasonal business. This is because in the case of farming, crops are rotated throughout the year based upon weather and soil conditions. For instance, the rice-crawfish-rice rotation takes advantage of the seasonality (in this case, meaning weather conditions) of each crop. Rice is grown during the summer, and crawfish grow during autumn, winter and spring. When farmers aren’t growing or harvesting, they are preparing the soil for the upcoming season. 

What Does Off-Season Mean?

The off-season for a seasonal business is the period of time when sales are typically lower than during the peak season. This can be due to a number of factors, such as changes in weather (like ski season), seasonality (a bathing suit boutique in summer), or holidays (demand for flowers around Mother’s Day). A perfect example is a Christmas tree farm or lot, which experiences an off-season during the summer months, when there is no demand for Christmas trees. The off-season can be a challenge for seasonal businesses, as owners need to find ways to maintain revenue and keep business going.  

How Can I Manage the On-Peak Mayhem and Off-Season Sluggishness of My Seasonal Business?

There are a number of tactics that can be included in a seasonality strategy that help to weather the storm of the on season and the sometimes concerning calm of the off-season. Following are 9 of our best tips for marketing a seasonal business to encourage off-peak sales and predict peak-season demand more accurately: 

1. On-Peak Means Open Early (and Late): When you ARE in peak season, encourage sales by opening earlier and closing later. 

2. Early Bird Discounts: Use discounts or BOGO offers to encourage customers to buy early, book early, and in general plan ahead (so you can do the same!). Want a stainless steel tumbler with your tax return? Come in before March 15!  

3. Off-Season Discounts: It’s about to rain and the car wash line is non-existent. Make it “a thing” by offering a “Rain Drop Discount” and throw in extra coat of wax to keep the weather from ruining the wash.  

4. Memberships Matter: Use frequent shopper programs, VIP programs, and other forms of membership to encourage repeat customers and early bookings. If you run a B&B, ask customers to book their next summer’s stay (free cancellation as an incentive) so you can plan ahead and they can start envisioning their next unforgettable vacation with YOU. 

5. Prepare to Pivot: Leverage existing skill sets and suppliers to offer off-season products and services. If you’re a snow plow company, offer landscaping or lawn maintenance on the off-season. If you’re a Christmas-themed shop, pivot to the next holiday (Valentine’s Day, Easter) once the Santa/Sleigh hubbub has passed. 

6. Keep in Touch with Customers: Be sure you capture customer email addresses when possible, and maintain a social media presence. Don’t overdo it with too many off-season communiques, but DO let your customers know you’re out there, and getting ready for them to return when it’s time. 

  • Stay in Touch Off-Season: Make sure they know you’re out there and looking forward to seeing them again next year/summer/snow fall. If you’re a ski resort, send a card in the summer wishing visitors fun in the water until it turns to snow and you see them again. (Also, remind them the slopes are a great place for family hikes and warm weekend getaways off season.)
  • Give Gifts that Keep Your Name Top of Mind: If you manage a B&B, short-term rental, or cabin in the woods, send a fridge magnet shaped like a house that says, “See you next year!” With every Christmas tree you sell at your Christmas tree farm or local nursery, include a customized seed flower pack for spring planting to encourage return visits and gardening consultations between gift giving seasons. Direct mail a personalized wall calendar to keep your name top of mind as peak season approaches.

7. Stay Active in the Community: Especially with seasonal business, customers like to know they are supporting a local business that cares about their community. Sponsor kids’ sports, the local library, fun runs, and more. Community engagement keeps your name top of mind and brings an emotional engagement that’s critical for year over year customer retention.  

8. Employees Matter Most: Make sure seasonal employees feel like rock stars. Welcome them back with customized gifts and perks like a team lunch or employee discounts. Your customers have fond memories of stepping into your business, and seeing familiar faces goes a long way toward letting customers feel they’re coming home when they come to your business year after year for holiday gifts, tax preparation, their annual summer vacation or winter ski trip.   

9. Pick Suppliers You Can Count On: Nurture strong relationships with your suppliers. Especially with seasonal business, where customers and merchants are seeing supply bottlenecks, you can predict more accurately and maintain more customer retention by coming through without exception. Work with suppliers so you get first dibs on new inventory.    

Photo by cmophoto.net on Unsplash

My Seasonal Business: Why Am I Doing This, Again?

As you develop your seasonality strategy, while perhaps scratching your head at the innate insanity of the business cycle you signed up for, remind yourself what you love (yes, you love it!) about your seasonal business:  

  • Reduced Overhead: You may only need to rent space and hire employees for a specific season or peak period.
  • Flexibility: Want to hide out in Hawaii after your last tax return is filed? Go skeleton staff, put on the out of office settings, and set yourself under an umbrella with a fruity drink.
  • Excitement: Come one, come all, come right now…. Now leave! Some of us really do enjoy the work hard/play hard approach to life, and a seasonal business does bring out the best in the adrenalin-driven among us.

By using the tips above to help manage peaks and valleys, your seasonal business (and you!) can feel alive during busy season and enjoy chill vibes during slow season. You’re on a roller coaster but it’s well built and you designed the ride!  

Karleen Wise Andersen

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

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