Many products are easy to sell year-round like blankets, electronics, coffee, and office supplies. When you’re running a business selling seasonal merchandise, your sales will understandably drop during your off-season. For instance, Christmas downtime reportedly costs small to medium businesses in the UK an average of £11,500 ($15,118 USD). For seasonal products, maintaining sales year-round is a challenge.

You could start selling complimentary products, but if that’s not what you want to do, you need a strategy to find an off-season market. A great example of this is how Halloween stores have an off-season market, thanks to the way Hot Topic has transformed over the years.

Hot Topic - with Amanda Lepre playing guitar
Hot Topic, featuring Amanda Lepre – photo credit: MarkScottAustinTX / Flickr

In the 1990s and 2000s, Hot Topic could be found in nearly every mall in America. The shop catered to the goth and punk scene, selling items like Matrix-style coats and capes, knee-high buckled boots, spiked bracelets, white face makeup, black lipstick, and band t-shirts. Generally, the only people who would walk into this store to browse were the people who belonged to those subcultures. Conservative folks would never think about going in. Until Halloween came around. Then Hot Topic saw a surge in sales, as people rushed in looking to piece together a good costume.

When Hot Topic began catering to the brighter side of pop culture, filling the shelves with My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite, goths and punks had nowhere to buy their dark attire. The brand Morbid Makeup all but disappeared from the store, making it difficult to find white face powder and black lipstick. So, people turned to Halloween stores to find makeup. Even if the quality wasn’t great, it worked, and was better than nothing.

Some Halloween stores had an online presence, making their products available year-round. When Amazon dominated the ecommerce scene, suddenly, Halloween products could be purchased from multiple vendors any day of the year. Unfortunately for the vendors, most failed to capitalize on this market because it didn’t occur to them to develop better products to fill the gap left by Hot Topic’s decline. They considered themselves Halloween stores, and never branched out to reach a hungry year-round market.

Christmas can be sold year-round, too

Halloween isn’t the only season that appeals to people year-round. Although some people are lazy and never take down their Christmas lights, others intentionally find ways to sport the Christmas spirit regardless of the season. For instance, Christmas themed suits (and dresses) are being worn to proms and parties as a statement of geek culture.

There’s always one kid at every prom or formal who gets the majority of people’s attention because of the way they’re dressed. They’re usually wearing a top hat and have an impressive handlebar mustache, or they’re wearing something outrageous like a Christmas suit with all-over print featuring tiny Santa heads and stockings.

Steps to transcend your season

Products at a Christmas store
photo credit: Maxim B./Flickr

1. Find a niche market

To find your off-season niche, think about who uses your product beyond your definable target market. There’s always somebody who buys seasonal merchandise off-season, and if you can identify one of those people, you can trace them back to a group. You’ll need to experiment with finding additional niche markets. Don’t write anyone off as an anomaly. Where there’s one interested buyer, there are many more.

2. Start a blog

Start a blog to begin building an audience you can eventually sell something to. Get them to sign up for your email list. If you can generate traffic to your website during your off-season, you can also generate some sales. This will help you find your niche market who will buy off-season.

When writing content, find a way to tie in current seasons to your business. For example, if you sell fresh berries, summer time is your season, but you can write endlessly about recipes, canning advice, and how to preserve winter crops.

3. Have early bird offers

When it’s twenty degrees outside, many people will be dreaming of the moment they’ll be able to enjoy swinging in a hammock with their hat pulled down. Likewise, when the blistering heat is beating down and there’s no rain in sight, people will be waiting for the weather to cool off, so they can enjoy sitting by the fire, singing Christmas carols.

Use your marketing strategies to play into the desire for what’s to come. Offer early bird specials when your product gives people something to look forward to. There’s an off-season niche for everything; you just have to find it.