Embrace the Seasons Set Yourself up for Strong Sales

November 2023, by Scott Obernberger

Twice Baked Pottery, Scott Obernberger’s store in Jefferson, Wisconsin, is ready for the holiday season. Photos courtesy of Scott Obernberger 

The fall and Christmas/holiday seasons are here. And for many of us, this is when we have our best sales.  

Too often, fall and holiday shows are viewed by artists as being second tier when in fact they can provide your best opportunity of the year for strong sales, building lasting customer connections, and putting your business in a strong position to withstand what are often the quiet winter months.  

The key to turning this time of year into a business boom is to know your audience, listen to it, and provide customers with great gift options. So, grab your sleigh bells, a cup of cocoa, and your Christmas cheer, because this issue, we are talking about what it takes to maximize the opportunity of what is the strongest 60 days of the retail year. 

It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas 

Starting in September, I have more and more customers who verbalize they are looking for Christmas and holiday presents. People start early, and if you do not prepare for this, you will lose many sales opportunities.  

For my business, the best shows of the season start in September. Fall is in the air, children are back in school, and people’s attention begins to turn toward getting ready for Christmas. Lists have been started, and many people want to get ahead of what they know will be a busy time. 

For us artists and makers, it is an important time to take a serious look at our inventory. What do we have in stock? Do we have enough of our best sellers, the popular colors or sizes, a good variety of price points, etc.? If my inventory is lacking in a particular item, now is the time for me to beef up production, so I have enough for the November/December rush.  

How significant are fall and Christmas sales? Statistics show most brick-and-mortar retail stores literally have 30% to 40% of all store sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas. My experiences with my store have shown this to be true.  

The importance of this sales season cannot be overstated. For me, this trend is also demonstrated at the shows I participate in between September and November. Sales at these shows tend to be about 35% better than my summer shows. The key is to be prepared for what people want and ready to provide it for them.  

As small-business owners, we are not only the production department but also the marketing, shipping, customer service, and sales departments. Each of us has the unique opportunity (and one that big corporations can never fully replicate) of having all this information from our firsthand experiences and being able to analyze it ourselves.  

The data does not go through three different focus groups, seven different departments, four committees, and six consultants like it does in most large businesses. It goes through your most valuable tool — your brain.  

No one tells you what they observed. You observed it yourself. No committee tells you what studies conducted by third parties show. You saw it yourself.  

This means no one else is interpreting data for you. Instead, you see and analyze the unvarnished truth for yourself. This puts us, as small-business owners, ahead of the game.  

If something does not sell well, you know it right away. When you are at a show, you can observe how people react to your different products.  

You do not need to wait six months to see what the focus group says or what the marketing department concludes. You see it firsthand and can make changes instantly. Think about what you observed throughout the year and focus your attention on making sure you have lots of the things everyone seemed to gravitate toward.  

Look at your price points. Sure, it does wonders for the bank account when you sell that expensive piece. But ask yourself, how many smaller pieces do you sell for each expensive one? I have found most of my sales are under $50.  

Most people give gifts in that price range. Be sure to have a good selection of items at prices people gravitate toward, so your holiday sales can be maximized.  

Selling 50 items at $50 each puts you way ahead of selling one $1,000 item. Those smaller items often give you the financial resources so you can afford the extra time and effort it takes to make your masterpiece. Remember, successful businesses always try to give their customers what they want.  

By helping customers mark off items on their Christmas lists, you are not just getting the short-term benefit of the immediate sale. You are also potentially building a life-long customer.  

While it is a joyous time for many, it is also a stressful time. The easier you make your customers’ lives by having what they want and by helping them check off things on their to-do list, the more likely they will remember you when it comes time to buy their next gift(s). 

Give your space, whether it is a store or a booth at an art show, a festive feeling. Photos courtesy of Scott Obernberger 

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year 

So, you are ready for the rush, but now what? Be Christmas. Focus on creating an experience. Our customers want to have fun. They want to make memories. They want life to be simpler, but they also want to feel the joys of the Christmas holiday season. So, give them what they want!  

No matter what type of space you are selling from (a store, a long-term booth in a market, or a short-term booth at a show), make it joyful and special. There is a reason why stores decorate extensively for Christmas. It puts people in the mood. It gets them thinking about happy memories and loved ones. It gets people thinking about buying their loved ones presents.  

Take advantage of this opportunity and do not be afraid to spend time making your space more festive. Not only does it affect your customer’s mood, but it also affects yours.  

When you are more upbeat and interactive, both you and your customers will have a better time. Make the experience fun and memorable, and you might soon find you have become an annual destination for your customers. 

If you can, put on Christmas music to help create an atmosphere. There are certain songs that always trigger memories for people. Memories are not just triggered by visual stimuli. Auditory stimuli can sometimes be just as powerful. 

For that matter, smells work wonders as well. On special days during the season, we often have hot wassail (spiced apple cider) available in the shop. The smell is great, and people always love a warm drink on cold winter days. Try to bring people the full Christmas experience, and you will find it is not just good for business but for your heart as well. 

Lastly, interact with your customers. This is something all of us should do year-round. Engaging your customers, talking with them, laughing with them, and helping them find the perfect gifts are critical. When you take the time to show you care about your customers, it leaves an impression. 

How often do you go into a store and the employees look like they just had a root canal and are about to have another in the next 10 minutes? What impression does it leave on you when the employee grudgingly responds to you and seems to be trying to escape? Remember this when you are working in your sales space. 

Greet your customers. Make small talk where appropriate. Ask if you can help them find anything. Let them know you have other options — colors, styles, etc. 

When your customer knows you want to help them find the right gift, it shows them you care. You want them to be pleased with the purchase, and you want their friend or family member to feel special as well. When you take the time to help your customers, you are transforming the experience into a good memory for them and for you. 

Winter Wonderland 

Once the whirlwind of Christmas is over and the decorations are down, it is easy to get the blues. So much anticipation, preparation, and work. All done. And it is 3 degrees outside and snowing again. 

And yet this quiet time also offers many great opportunities. Getting the studio cleaned out in anticipation of the next round of production. Getting back into the art we love to create so we can build up our inventory. Planning out the year so everything can run as smoothly as possible. All these things can be rejuvenating and help us build excitement for the year to come. 

Even during this quiet time, there are shows many of us can attend. Some travel south for the winter show season and the opportunities available there. People who are on vacation like to bring unique things home that remind them of their trip. We can provide those things. 

For those of us who do not travel quite that far, investigate different sales opportunities close by. Some stores invite artists to have a booth to help generate interest and store traffic. Try approaching your local gift shop to see if this might be a possibility. 

Find out if there are any indoor art fairs happening in the area. Work with show promoters to see what else might be out there. While this may be a quiet season, it does not mean everything comes to a stop. Use the time to your best advantage and have fun getting ready for the coming year. 

Well, I have a ton of glazing I need to get back to as I prepare for the rush. Good luck and have fun as you get ready for a joyous — and hopefully very happy — Christmas and holiday season! 


Scott Obernberger runs Twice Baked Pottery in Jefferson, Wisconsin. The former attorney discusses his creative journey and the lessons he learns along the way in this column for Sunshine Artist. Learn more about Scott and his business at www.twicebakedpottery.com.