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’Tis the season: How do brands selling seasonal products keep going year-round?

For some brands, the vast majority of the sales they make every year happen in just one or two months.

Shoppers spend the most time researching grills between March and May, according to Gardeningetc. (Photo: Spark Grills)
SEASONAL SELLING

For some brands, the vast majority of the sales they make every year will happen in just one or two months.

The products in question range from paddling pools to Christmas tree decorations— but what they all have in common is that they’re the sort of thing that consumers only want to buy at very specific times of the year.

In the run up to summer, sales of garden furniture, gardening equipment and barbeques heat up, while discounts start to be applied between August and October as interest in these products dies down. As summer temperatures soared, sales of sun care products rose 66% month-on-month in the U.K., with sales of ice creams, fans and water bottles rising too. There are plenty of other sales moments littered throughout the year: back to school, New Year, Valentine’s day, and so on.

“We do the majority of our business between May and August, with July being the true peak of that period,” explains Amanda Zuckerman, the cofounder of Dormify, which sells dorm decor and other products for college students. During those months, Dormify will bring in 80% of its annual revenue — with as much as 40% generated in July alone. “We think of it as Christmas in July,” Zuckerman says.

Beyond peak season

Once the peak sales season is over, though, that doesn’t mean the founders of these businesses can close up shop for a few months.

Some expenses — marketing being an obvious one — can be dialed down during the quieter months, and some brands rely on temporary staff to get them through the busier months, an expense which can then be cut back on during quieter periods. In the run up to Mother’s Day in 2021, flower company Fresh Sends hired 20 temporary workers to help it process the huge volume of bouquet orders that were coming in. Mother’s Day accounts for 24% of annual sales in the U.S. flower market.

However, not all of the costs of doing business can be reduced. Things such as office and warehouse rent, manufacturing bills and permanent staff costs will still need to be paid. “Our marketing spend very much follows the same curve as our revenue, but there’s many fixed costs that you cannot dial down,” says Zuckerman. Because cash is needed year-round, “it really is a necessity [to figure out] that counter-seasonal business.”

There are different ways a company can do this. Sunday, which sells lawn fertilizer, asks its customers to sign up for a yearly ‘lawn care’ plan, where deliveries are timed to arrive just when the products need to be used.

At Dormify, the plan is to cater for the other shopping needs — and moments — a college student is likely to go through in their life, from graduation to providing study essentials in the run-up to exams. Personal care and fitness products are also on Dormify’s radar.

The moment where someone is getting ready to move into their college dorm is “the way we pull the customer in,” says Zuckerman, “but there’s so many events and moments in their college experience that we could provide a curated assortment for.”

While Dormify designs and produces its own furniture items, it has also been building out a marketplace that allows it to more easily add products from third-party sellers to its platform, allowing it to keep the cost of making these additional, out-of-season sales down.

“Simply put, we’re selling [college students] more things in other categories during non-peak times of the year,” Zuckerman says.