As we are in the middle of the fourth quarter, one thing is on the minds of many independent retailers: building strong sales to finish the year successfully. As online giants and big-box stores continue to push their holiday marketing earlier each year, it’s becoming more difficult for independent retailers to maintain or grow their share of the market. As I write this article in late September, there are already holiday sale ads on TV and social media. Department stores have signs mentioning “free layaway” and “stocking stuffers.” In fact, I’ve been seeing these ads for nearly a month as of this writing.

At 30 years old, I haven’t been around that long, but I can remember when fourth-quarter marketing started toward the beginning of November. Those days are long gone. If you want to be competitive in sales, you have to get the word out early and effectively. Shoppers today are looking to buy as quickly and as conveniently as possible. This year’s success could come down to convenience and time. Waiting until Black Friday may be too late.

I’ve spoken with retailers that don’t get involved in Black Friday sales. Some retailers don’t even open on Black Friday. This is one of the largest-grossing days of sales each year in our country. Why on earth would you not get involved? If you’ve tried Black Friday sales in the past and they weren’t successful, try changing your approach. Piggyback off the millions of marketing dollars that big businesses spend each year and find your niche. Involve your team to plan and get creative. Try something unique and innovative that excites your customer base. Once you develop your plan, market your products heavily and early in the season. The key is to get in front of your customers’ faces as early as possible. Observe what the “big guys” are doing and take action for your business.

One idea is to try running a “Black Friday Sales Every Friday in November” sale. There are a few reasons for trying an approach like this. If you wait until Black Friday comes around to offer sales and specials, chances are good that you will miss opportunities. Again, consumers are purchasing retail earlier in the season these days. Another reason to offer sales earlier in the year is to secure one inventory turn, and open opportunities for more turns before the end of the year. If you can turn a new drum set at the beginning of November, you now have nearly two months to market add-ons to your customer. You can now market directly to that customer with drum stick packs, cymbal polish and drum lessons. Experiment with offering a follow-up discount on retail that expires at the end of the year and a lesson package discount that expires at the end of January. The options for future sales multiply as a result of one sale early in the season.

After nailing down your sales window, it’s time to think about convenience. Your customers are busier than ever between work and home life. In these times of social media, Amazon Prime and Apple Pay, we have become a society that demands convenience. Look for opportunities to give your customers more convenience than they can receive elsewhere. Offer free gift wrapping. Make gift wrapping a spiff for your sales staff by creating incentives for the staff member that wraps the most presents before Christmas. Offer call-in or order online and pickup options on purchases. Starbucks, grocery stores and home improvement stores are investing heavily in this. Try coupling pickup orders with free gift wrapping. If a customer lives or works within a manageable area, offer free deliveries. Load up your company truck or van and go on a gift delivery trip once a week. If you want to make it fun for your customers and get extra free marketing, have the driver dress like Santa or an elf and give rewards to your customers if they post pictures and videos of the deliveries on their social media. Create a hashtag specifically for the season for your customers to use.

Above all, do your best to be unique this fourth quarter. Look for creative ways to reward your customers for giving you their business. Remember, early sale options and convenience are increasingly important in today’s culture. Music retail business is certainly not “dying” for independent retailers. We just have to begin thinking creatively about how we approach competition. We can either adapt and take the challenges head on or wait passively to see how the future unfolds. I hope the first option is your choice. Let’s make this the best fourth quarter in MI history!

If you have any ideas or questions regarding your fourth-quarter sales, I would love to hear them. You can reach me at

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