Tips to help manage seasonal demand

A big challenge for businesses is a sudden fluctuation in sales and cash flow due to seasonal cycles. Feast and famine times have both upsides and issues. In a busy time, there’s the risk a business can’t cope with demand. In a dry spell, there may not be enough cash flowing in to pay the bills. Creating seasonal marketing campaigns and a sales strategy around your business dynamics may be key to minimizing the downside of seasonal demand.

There could also be unpredictable demand, such as a crisis that cuts sales or a sudden boom that doubles your business overnight.

To help spread the impact of seasonality in your business consider these strategies:

Spread out demand over the year

Use your sales and marketing tactics to spread demand across the year by promoting outside peak times. This could potentially lower the chance you’ll lose customers because you’re too busy or the wait time is too long. If you can, encourage customers to bring their purchasing forward or deliver later to even out the sales bump.

During the troughs, you may want to encourage more customers to fill in the gap. Some potential tactics include:

  1. offering off-peak incentives with promotional pricing

  2. using the changing weather (winter/summer deals) to highlight promotions

  3. allowing customers to pre-purchase in exchange for a discount or free product

  4. setting up a yearly payment plan, if it makes sense for your products or services

Find alternative revenue streams

Determine if you can diversify what you deliver during quiet periods. Adding variety could provide additional opportunities to redirect resources and be more resilient to fluctuating demand across the year.

Ways to diversify could include:

  1. launch new products or services outside your peak sales period

  2. partner with non-seasonal businesses

  3. focus on non-seasonal products

  4. investigate becoming a supplier to non-seasonal businesses

Another approach is to flatten the demand curve to reduce the sharp ups and downs. Examples include:

  1. move parts of your business online to relieve pressure on in-person sales (click here to learn more about selling online)

  2. expand your market coverage to include regions that don't experience wild seasonal swings

  3. look into different ways of charging customers, such as monthly or annual online subscriptions that bring payment in during slower times

Consider searching the internet, subscribing to industry news, visiting business association sites and talking to suppliers, professionals and other experts about your ideas.

Take advantage of sudden demand

If it’s possible, take short-term advantage of anything that occurs out of the ordinary even if it’s only for a few days. Imagine your team is in the playoffs and you want to get the most out of the moment. Consider opening for longer during the day or for seven-day weeks if you need to. Other ideas to potentially extend your reach include:

  1. opening pop up stores in other regions to create more access points for sales

  2. approaching other businesses that are suddenly busy to see if you can partner with them by cross-promoting etc.

  3. asking for the event calendars of local sports, councils or cities to align and build a sales campaign

  4. creating your events in partnership with other businesses to reach a wider audience

As you explore, considering forming partnerships. If you find other businesses that have different seasonal cycles, or different industries, there may be a two-way street of opportunity to explore.

You'll want to think about having a plan to add people quickly when busy and reduce when you’re not.

Maintain excellence when busy

If you do find a sudden increase in demand, remember to expand or manage customer service levels. You won't want to risk your reputation by running out of product or creating unhappy customers with a long wait for delivery. If needed, identify and access surplus product or services to satisfy temporary high demand. To help do this, you could:

  1. arrange back-up suppliers in case your existing providers run short

  2. if it makes sense for your business, buy inventory or supplies in larger volume before any expected surge so you don’t run out

  3. consider using inventory management software linked to sales for up-to-date information

  4. be prepared to offload any spare product or materials at the end of the season

You'll want to think about having a plan to add people quickly when busy and reduce when you’re not. You could also investigate contracting out parts of your operation to other businesses if demand grows suddenly.

Shrink during the offseason

Think about what you can do to efficiently scale down for the expected drop in sales. This could mean closing down parts of the business (think ski fields in summer) and using the time to prepare for the next season. It’s not unusual for some businesses to have two separate parts to their business that open and close with the seasons.

Next steps

Almost every business has some form of seasonal demand. Highs and lows in volume can provide both opportunity and risk, but it doesn't need to spell disaster. How you plan, manage and respond in your business can help your business succeed.

If you want to talk about your business banking needs, feel free to contact your TD Account Manager or find an account manager near you.

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