Christmas is going to be more than a little bit different this year. So, we asked the festive experts at The Christmas Decorators how we can still keep the holiday spirit alive and well this year, in spite of COVID-19. Here, Franchise Sales Manager Gill O’Brien shares more about what this year-round decorating franchise is doing to mark the 2020 holiday season.
Although many beloved festive traditions have had to be paused this year, decorating our offices, shops, restaurants, and homes is one of the few joyful treats Covid-19 hasn’t spoiled. We sat down with Gill O’Brien, Franchise Sales Manager at The Christmas Decorators, to talk about how the pandemic has changed this year’s festive season as well as how this franchise is supporting its franchisees through this incredibly stressful time.
We’ve also picked out the key features making The Christmas Decorators a resilient business: Things that you can easily do to make your franchise or independent business even more successful in the future. For now, though, let’s take a closer look at how this innovative franchise is approaching a very Covid Christmas.
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A holiday season shaped by Covid-19
Practically every business has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic in some way. A study by LinkedIn found that people are attending 70% more video meetings than they were this time last year. Thankfully, this hasn’t stopped The Christmas Decorators from being able to carry on spreading its festive magic across the country - which is fortunate for a business that enjoys its busiest period at this time of year. Gill explained how the franchise has adapted to the challenges of Covid-19:
“The whole company is Covid-safe. We’ve been approved by the ‘Good to Go’ scheme in England, so we get regular updates about what we need to do, or cannot do, to stay safe, which we then feed out to our network. Our franchisees have adapted by working in smaller teams, conducting appointments outside where possible, wearing PPE and following guidelines.”
The franchise is making sure franchisees send questionnaires out to residential clients to ensure everyone is aware of safety procedures ahead of time. These include the client not being in the same room during the install and having windows left open for ventilation.
The Christmas Decorators has also done lots of work to protect its franchisees’ businesses, including moving training sessions online, booking in systems for the collection of stock, and sharing information about government grants and funding, among many other things.
Flexibility is key
One of the most common traits of a resilient business is the ability to adapt to ever-changing situations. If a franchise or business cannot pivot its product or service offering to suit unprecedented times, it’s not likely to survive.
There isn’t a typical client for The Christmas Decorators’ franchisees: They can range from six-figure commercial deals to smaller festive home makeovers. This diverse client base has allowed the franchise to thrive even in extremely challenging circumstances. This year, for example, some of its commercial clients, who typically agree to three-year decorating contracts, have simply not been able to honour their commitment because of the ongoing health and economic crisis.
“Some commercial clients have asked our franchisees if they can skip this year and carry on from next year. Others have also spread the period of their contract up to 5 years, which has reduced the cost for this year and allowed them to still to have their decorations up. We have just had to be flexible, like virtually every other business.”
And in the same unpredictable manner, the franchise has had to deal with a high volume of new residential clients and last-minute commercial requests following the easing of restrictions. “Since we’ve come out of the lockdown in England, there has been a flurry of last-minute enquiries from commercial businesses. Suddenly, they know they can open and need to put decorations up. So, we’ve had to accommodate this new rush of business.”
Capitalising on busy periods
Businesses in every sector—from retail to food to home décor—enjoy one of their busiest periods in the run-up to Christmas. And with Covid-compressed profits at the front of their minds, many companies and franchises will be doing all they can to make the most of a potential festive financial boom. The franchise revealed how its franchisees reap the rewards of their hard work.
“Our franchisees and their teams can work 14+hour days, seven days of the week, from the end of October to mid-December. It’s their main time to make the bulk of their income and generate a six-figure turnover by doing most of their hands-on or install management work during these 8 -10 weeks. But they know that, once Christmas has come and gone, they can enjoy a well-earned rest.”
Even though many of its clients have struggled due to the pandemic, Christmas Decorators revealed that some of its franchisees’ businesses are still likely to have grown, allowing them to move into 2021 on a positive note.
Maintaining healthy prospects
Marketing is a crucial part of any franchisee’s success, especially at a competitive and potentially lucrative time like the holiday shopping season. And with customer spending power decreased this year due to millions of job losses, keeping a steady stream of income can prove even trickier.
Because The Christmas Decorators’ business model is designed specifically for generating reliable repeat income, it would be easy to think its franchisees don’t need to spend much time on marketing. However, Gill says that this year’s unexpected circumstances show how important ongoing marketing is to the health of a business’s balance sheet, regardless of how strong your current client list is. In the current climate, things can change overnight, and franchisees need to make sure their name is out there, as well as making time to help clients adapt.
That’s why maintaining a strong social media presence and continuing marketing efforts at all times, not just during the busiest seasons, is so vital to the future health of your business. Whether you’ve found yourself with lots of time on your hands due to government shutdowns or you’re still as busy as ever, continuing to put time and effort into keeping brand awareness is a crucial part of running a franchise. You just never know when a new opportunity for business could arise from other setbacks, as The Christmas Decorators found out this year.
Finding the silver lining
Looking for the glimmers of positivity is something every business should be doing, no matter how hard this year has been. For The Christmas Decorators, a quiet and uncertain Summer/Autumn brought along new opportunities to build a more profitable future.
The usual commercial season started later this year, with many businesses postponing their decoration planning until there was more clarity around restrictions being lifted. As a result, franchisees have been able to market to - and capitalise on - the lucrative residential market:
“Normally, a lot of our franchisees simply don’t have the time to market extensively to potential residential clients, as they’re so busy with commercial installations in early November. But as commercial enquiries were quieter at that time this year, they’ve had the opportunity to ramp up their residential marketing, and it’s really paying off.”
The franchise also revealed that residential clients also tend to be very loyal, saying a franchisee will “very rarely” lose their business unless there is an unfortunate change in circumstances. They predict that this influx of new, non-commercial clients will boost franchisees’ incomes in the coming years, too.
Bringing cheer to a bad year
Even though it might feel like there’s not much to smile about in 2020, hard times can make causes for celebration all the more important. During the recession years of 2008-10, Gill revealed that the franchise grew every single year, showing that many people recognised the importance of festive celebrations.
Also, lots of residential customers are looking for that feel-good factor after all the doom and gloom. Many people have not been able to enjoy any holidays this year, meaning Christmas is an occasion that needs to be celebrated more than ever – with plenty of glitz and glamour!
Charity is also an important area for the franchise. Many of its franchisees have worked with charities this year, whether that’s providing décor for charity auctions in aid of Action for Children or cheering up hospices with festive decorations.
During the first Covid-19 lockdown, many NHS workers and patients probably spotted another one of the Christmas Decorators’ charitable efforts. A set of giant NHS steel-fabricated letters, which had lights wrapped around them, moved around the country to be displayed outside a number of hospitals during that time. It was the franchise’s way of saying ‘thank you’ to all those key workers.
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Navigating Christmas 2020
While The Christmas Decorators’ strategy might not work for every business, there are plenty of lessons every franchisee or entrepreneur can learn from its approach.
By nurturing a diverse client base and using quieter periods to market to untapped audiences while also trying to embrace the “most wonderful time of the year”, you can still navigate your way through an extremely unusual festive period.
Sophie Cole, Point Franchise ©