Being a business owner is stressful on any given occasion, but during busy seasons, the pressure only grows, along with the number of orders.
After seeing how a local startup came under fire this year for buckling under the strain of Valentine’s Day, I wondered how other business owners have dealt with their respective seasonal rushes. To get answers, I reached out to some other local startups selling products that see spikes in demand during seasonal periods.
Launched in 2015, online florist BloomThis has experienced plenty of busy seasons. The most hectic periods for them include Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, where demand can go from double to ten times compared to regular days.
The first time the company experienced a peak season was when the business was still in its early days, which meant a lot of inefficiencies in the operations.
“Our digital and technical capabilities were at their infancy,” said Giden Lim, co-founder and CEO of BloomThis. “I must admit that we ran into some trouble during that time and weren’t able to completely cope with the demands during a peak season.”
However, it taught the team an early lesson on digitalisation and the adoption of technology.
Artisanal candle startup, Lilin+Co’s co-founder, Julie Yim, would agree on that. Investing in automation and machinery is one of her takeaways when it comes to coping with increased demands during the holidays.
Previously, to meet demands, she would just have to put in extra hours with her partner to make more candles. It was obviously not a sustainable approach in the long run once they decided to scale.
While Carmen Wong of KEJU by Carmen, a cheese platter business, had anticipated a spike in demand her first holiday season, she was still shocked by the extent of the rush.
“It was a madhouse, and back then we only had two people doing everything,” she shared.
Like Julie, she spent long hours daily during those periods, handling things from production to ordering stock from the supplier, and even contacting delivery riders one by one.
make hay, sunshine!, a startup that deals with premium gift boxes, didn’t even expect a sudden increase during festive seasons due to a lack of experience in the industry’s trends.
Although they didn’t envision it, make hay, sunshine! now sees between a 500% to 700% increase during peak days, and that’s after closing sales early due to hitting max capacity.
For online dessert shop Bake Creation, though it’s only about a year old, it’s already survived its busiest seasons, which include Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival.
Proper preparation is key
As Giden of BloomThis learnt, preparation and anticipation are key to ensuring smooth operations, especially during peak seasons.
Anticipating the busyness definitely helps the entrepreneurs make informed decisions such as setting up a pre-order system, which enabled BloomThis to plan and manage their operations better.
For Lilin+Co, being prepared for the madness means hiring more part-timers, setting a cut-off date for restock requests, and having a floor manager to help the walk-in crowd at their retail outlet.
Another way to prepare is standardisation. Carmen believes in standardising not just the product but also the fundamentals of the business.
“Your structure, processes, SOPs, and controls must be clearly defined and constantly improved,” she shared. “By having the proper controls in place, it helps us eliminate the risk of errors by at least 95%.”
On top of that, KEJU by Carmen puts extensive effort into the planning and delegation of tasks.
In busy seasons, their production team doubles or triples manpower while the procurement department puts in extra work to monitor the raw materials.
The logistics team also doubles down on tracking the orders to ensure customers have received their orders properly, which one might argue is one of the most crucial goals during gifting season.
Keep ambitions realistic
While it’s admirable to be ambitious, it’s important to still keep them realistic. As someone once told me, “You can do anything, but not everything.”
make hay, sunshine! has most definitely learnt that. During Chinese New Year in 2021, the team had to cancel multiple orders at once when hit with an influx of sales before they could close off new orders.
“As such, we limit daily orders every busy season and in fact limit it to below what we know is our max capacity,” co-founder Jarrod said. “While we definitely lose out on some percentage of sales, it does mean we give ourselves a tight grip on quality at all times.”
Bake Creation has experienced the same thing where it once received an enormous number of orders that it couldn’t cater to, resulting in regrettable cancellations.
“No doubt making the products via machine will definitely enable us to fulfil the orders,” said creative director Vivian, “However, we stay true to our principles of making the products via hands.”
It’s part of the artisan practice for many smaller-scale F&B startups, where individually crafted products make for more attractive gifts in the eyes of consumers. But it also means slower output, making proper planning and knowing their limitations all the more important.
“It is important to remember not to bite off more than you can chew,” Giden shared. “We always do our post mortems after every peak season to learn what we can improve in order to give our customers a better experience in the future.”
Finding workarounds to external factors
Alas, we could spend weeks and months planning in advance, but there will still be issues that crop up. Sometimes, they’re even out of our control, such as the flash floods last year that disrupted KEJU by Carmen’s operations.
Other than the weather, supply chains were also affected by the pandemic. Due to travel restrictions, BloomThis was short of flower supplies, particularly imported ones.
Thankfully, the company found a workaround by drawing out a more strategic communication flow with the local flower farms in Cameron Highlands.
Sometimes, the troubles stem from the customers themselves. Jarrod shared that once, they had a large seasonal corporate order going to many recipients of notes, but the delivery information provided was inaccurate.
“Many incorrect addresses, old contact numbers, and the like,” Jarrod listed. “This meant confused riders, failed deliveries, and damaged products. Our logistics cost with our delivery partner also went up dramatically, eating into our margins.”
From that experience, the team then knew to set clearer expectations for their clients. By limiting orders, the company’s logistics is now also well within its comfort zone. Jarrod believes this is crucial, especially as he’s noticed unfortunate incidents in the gifting industry with regards to overloaded logistics and fulfilment.
“Our heart goes out to them, we know how difficult it can be,” he expressed. “That being said, we wish to ensure we’re never in that position to begin with. Pushing production too far beyond the limits tends to spill over into other key divisions such as customer service too.”
Working smarter, not just harder
After experiencing the chaos of seasonal crazes, these entrepreneurs had some advice to share for the other business owners out there.
“Pace yourselves,” Jarrod said. “The most important lesson we can give is that consistency and quality will carry you further than any amount of extra orders over your limit during peak season.”
Julie shared that it’s also important to establish a rapport with reliable delivery partners and suppliers. For e-commerce businesses in particular, she suggests investing in automation.
And though setting short-term and long-term goals are a given on any regular day, Giden believes that they could further motivate businesses during difficult seasons.
“Most important is to remember that no matter what happens, tough times don’t last but tough people do,” he concluded.
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Featured Image Credit: BloomThis