The start of 2016 and your busy selling season is closer around the corner than you’d like to think – but don’t panic! Instead follow our easy-to-use checklist to ensure you spend this quieter time wisely: preparing for the busy months ahead.
    After all, first impressions are paramount and the more prepared you are, the easier it is to put your best foot forward with your customers. Feeling overwhelmed? Check off two or three items on this list every day and you’ll be well on your way to your best selling season ever!

Your website
o    Are your store hours correct?
o    Are your phone number, e-mail address and physical address current?
o    Do you have a map and/or directions displayed so potential customers can find you?
o    Do all staff listed still work with you?
o    Do you still carry all the lines you describe?
o    Have you added any new lines or products that need to be listed?
o    Do all links on your website work? Click each one to make certain it’s taking visitors exactly where you want them to go.
o    Are social-media icons displayed prominently on your home page?
o    Is your About section relevant and updated?
o    Does your website (briefly!) tell your salon’s story to customers?
o    Is your site mobile friendly (aka responsive web design)? To check view it from a smart phone. If it appears just like the desktop version, only smaller and harder to read, the answer is NO.
    In that case, contact your web developer and have them switch to a mobile-friendly site. This is of paramount importance for all retailers in the digital age.

Social media
o    Do you still use all the social-media sites you set up accounts on? If not, delete them. It’s far better to not be on a site at all than to have an ignored, outdated presence.
o    Do all sites feature current posts? As a rule of thumb, you don’t want more than a week to lapse without a fresh Facebook or Instagram post. Twitter should be updated every 48 hours, minimum.
o    Browse through your photo albums on Facebook. Does anything need to be deleted? Old lines? Former employees? Outdated store décor?
o    Look through your Twitter followers. Is there anyone you should be following back?
o    Check out your Pinterest page. Are all boards current? Are there any that need to be added? Is your biography at the top of the page still relevant?
o    Now turn your attention to Instagram. Any photos that need to be deleted? Any comments you should reply to? Any new followers you want to follow back?
o    Make certain you are “liking” or “following” the social-media accounts of all designers and manufacturers carried in your store.
o    “Like” VOWS on vowsmagazine. Often times we post story queries on the site or solicit feedback for reader dilemmas. A valuable resource!
o    Follow VOWS on our new Instagram account: @vowsmagazine
o    Follow editor Shannon Hurd on Twitter: @VOWSeditor
o    Are there any social-media sites that you still need to sign up for? Now’s the time to open that new account. . . right before the prime selling season!

Other online details
o    Analyze your store’s online reviews on sites like Yelp. If there is a poor review with merit, acknowledge the complaint publicly and provide your contact information to the reviewer, inviting him or her to get in touch to work out a solution.
o    Look into the possibility of using a program like Constant Contact or MailChimp to organize your mailing lists. They can give you robust analytics such as who opened your e-mail, whether they forwarded it and which promotions worked.
o    Check out Google Analytics to analyze your website traffic.
o    Use Google AdWords to find out which words people are using to search for bridal. Ensure your web content uses those words as many times as relevantly possible to help your page move up in Google listings.

Old-school marketing
o    Survey your customers. Before planning any extensive new marketing campaigns, find out what your customers want and need. Is there anything you can do to make their shopping experience more enjoyable?
o    Plan out any direct mail flyers you’ll be using for the upcoming selling season and, if possible, have them printed and ready to mail.
o    Is all information on your business cards still correct? Do you have anything to add such as social-media handles?
o    Ensure you have a sufficient number of business cards printed.
o    Display your business cards in cute holders around the store.
o    Plan a general outline of window displays for the year, including the frequency at which they will be changed and general themes.
o    If you don’t use radio, look into your local NPR station, which is a great source for inexpensive sponsorship and an easy way to test radio.

Physical store
o    Dust every horizontal surface – shelves, cabinet tops, tables, windowsills, doorframes, window frames. Don’t forget to dust the tops of walls and doors, too, where cobwebs tend to gather, and the bottoms of fixtures.
o    Dust objects – your computer, display pieces, furniture and lamps.
o    Move every piece of furniture and vacuum where it’s been. Get every nook and cranny.
o    Launder what needs to be washed – fitting room curtains, window drapes, cushions.
o    Wash your windows (inside and out), mirrors and doors.
o    Clean hardwood floors.
o    Go through your coat hangers – are any broken, battered, or with dangerous spikes sticking out? Discard them.
o    Do you have books and magazines for waiting moms and bridesmaids to read? Make sure they’re relatively current and in good shape. Are there pages missing? Torn? Scribbled on? If so, discard and replace.
o    Do you have toys for children who may come in? Wipe down hard toys, including board books, and toss washable ones into the washing machine.
o    Check your furniture. Do chairs wobble? Is a table scratched? Fix these items, which can detract from your store.
o    Do all of your lights work? Ensure you have enough extra light bulbs on hand to replace instantly.
o    Do you have a working fire extinguisher?
o    Is every area of your store well-lit so customers can see the merchandise?
o    Do you have enough paper for receipts, pens, scissors, pins?
o    Does your store need painting outside?
o    Look at the window from outside: Does it have too much clutter? Is it dusty? Is it eye-catching?
o    Is your door easy to open and close?
o    Does your doorbell work (if applicable) so you know when there’s a new customer in the store?
o    Is your merchandise grouped in a way that makes sense – are all tiaras together, all stockings hung on the same rack?
o    Does your sound system work flawlessly or are any speakers non-functioning?
o    Check the floor for pins.
o    Ensure you have enough bags at the checkout counter for small purchases.

Your bathroom
o    Clean the toilet and sink thoroughly.
Do both work properly or do you need to hire a plumber?
o    Scrub the floor.
o    Check you have supplies to last for months – toilet paper, soap, paper towels.
o    Is your bathroom easy to use? Do you have a hook for a purse and a table or chair for other bags or packages?
o    If you have a hot air hand dryer, does it work?
o    Do the lock and handle to the door work?
o    Do the walls need painting or re-wallpapering?
o    Do all lights work?

Your merchandise
o    Are all your dresses current season?
o    Are all dresses clean with no rips, stains or other unsightly areas?
o    Organize all your racks by designer, size, style or however you prefer.
o    Check to see that every single item has a tag and a price.
o    Analyze your sales figures and mark down those items rarely sold, overbought or dated.
o    Analyze your POS data and eliminate anything that’s not selling.

o    Is your payroll up to date?
o    Make sure your pricing is current.
o    Do you need any new computer programs or apps? If so, think about buying them now.
o    Do you need to buy any new technology – POS, computer, phone? Doing so before December 31 will give you a tax break for the coming year.
o    Organize your physical back of house. Make sure all boxes are marked and stacked where they should be.
o    If you have an office, clean it, tidy it, dust it.
o    If you have an employee break room, clean all surfaces, check the cupboards.
o    Make sure you have enough coffee and tea, and if you have anything edible check it’s within its sell-by date.
o    Clean your fridge and freezer and defrost the latter if needed.
o    Organize hangers, pricing guns, tagging guns and all other store supplies.
o    File all paperwork including invoices.
o    Ensure your computer/iPad/phone are completely backed up, preferably off-site.

Emergency preparedness
o    Do you have a written emergency preparedness plan that all your employees can read?
o    Have you thought through and talked to all employees about what you’d do in the case of an emergency, be it a hurricane, earthquake or severe weather?
o    Do you have items on hand in case of an emergency (flashlight, blankets, first aid kit)?
o    Check your insurance is up-to-date. Is there anything you need to add or remove?
o    If your store is in an area that may be hit by a natural disaster, do you have food and drink to see you through a few days?
o    Do you know how to turn off the gas, electricity and water?
o    Make sure all exits are clear and not blocked by boxes or other items.

Staff education/training
o    Read through your employee handbook and ensure it’s up-to-date.
o    Consider having a legal expert read it through to ensure you have everything covered.
o    Does it resonate with your employees or is it too wordy? Get your employees’ feedback and ask them what they’d change.
o    Are your harassment policies clear to employees – whether it’s concerning race, gender, age or sexuality? Ensure they know the consequences of veering from your policy.
o    Make a list of skills you’d like to train or refresh employees on throughout the year.
o    Create a schedule for regular staff meetings. Tentatively decide which skill(s) you will work on at each.

Trade shows
o    Plan all the trade shows you will attend for the year.
o    Book flights for as many as you can to take advantage of early bird prices.
o    Book as many hotels as possible.
o    If participating in a bridal show, work on your booth design.
o    Plan for any open houses you’ll hold afterward so you have the dates secured. Make sure the dates don’t conflict with school holidays or other local goings-on such as church or sporting events.
o    Check the attendee and exhibitor list, if it’s available in advance, and draw up a list of whom you want to see and make sure it’s manageable. Organize your list into ‘must see’ and ‘want to see’ people.
o    Book time with exhibitors you want to see as far in advance as possible.
o    Plan for any employees you are taking with you, so they cover different things than you.
o    Have a short ‘elevator speech’ prepared so you can introduce yourself and your business to a new person in two or three sentences.
o    Plan your social life, too, to maximize your networking.
o    Set your show budget.
o    Design your banner and handouts.
o    Plan your giveaways (business-related items are best).
o    Pre-order and pay for all needed show services.

The rest
o    Know when your slow season will be so you can make use of that time. Plan open houses; have themed discounts; do social-media contests or participate in a wedding giveaway – prepare different ways to market yourself so when it’s your slow season you have other projects in the works.
o    Update your playlists so you have music that appeals to today’s brides (and their entourages).
o    Ensure your business plan is up-to-date.
o    Cement your relationships with other wedding-related businesses such as photographers, caterers and florists. Ask them for samples and talk to them about the industry so you are a great all-round resource for your customers.
o    Sit back, relax and enjoy the holiday season! The busy selling season is just around the corner. But if you’ve followed this common-sense checklist, you’ll be in great shape to meet it head on!