Monday, December 17, 2012

The second stage of holiday grief

Our forecast board on December 17, 2012. We update it every day at 11:30.

The 3 Stages of Mail Order Holiday Grief
1. Hiring grief: will we get enough people
2. Order grief: will we get enough sales
3. Shipping grief: will we ship them all out the door on time

When we stop worrying about hiring enough people and start fretting about whether orders will come in we know we've left stage one and entered the second stage of holiday grief at Zingerman's Mail Order.

Half our year's sales arrive in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year that means about $5 million. The daily volume ramps up quickly. Where we're used to taking tens of thousands of dollars in orders a day we leap into taking hundreds of thousands a day in early December.

Because of a few factors — Thanksgiving's date, what day of the week Christmas falls on, how many weekends are in between each, when catalogs arrive in home — the flow of orders, or what we call "The Curve," is always different. That's true all year long, of course. It's just at this time of year small variations result in huge shifts of dollars. And huge shifts of stress.

This year's curve was great in December's first week, crappy in the second week, a little better in the third. Top that off with a whopper of a math miscalculation and we had a surge of holiday stress right around December 8th. We were off by 10 or 20% a day, which meant daily misses of up to $40,000.  By December 12th, when we discovered our math error, it had partly passed. On December 14th we had a $321,000 day, our second biggest ever — over half the sales of an entire month, typically — the grief was officially over.

On to stage 3.

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