Brace yourself. It’s time to start thinking about the holiday season. True, we’re not even past Labor Day, but fall clothes are showing up on the racks and the arts and crafts stores are displaying holiday décor – two signs that the season will quickly be upon us.

If your business sees a spike in holiday traffic, you need to start recruiting and hiring seasonal staff even before consumers begin to embrace the season. But knowing how many seasonal hires to make is a tricky equation.

You can determine appropriate staffing levels by looking at previous years’ sales and factoring in projected consumer demand. The hiccup comes when consumer demand projections aren’t widely available until after you should be hiring. The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual forecast doesn’t come out until October, but Snagajob research shows that approximately 50 percent of seasonal hiring is completed by the end of September.

In the absence of consumer demand projections, retailers can look to the ports. Merchandise has to be shipped before it can be sold, and retailers import the bulk of holiday merchandise in August, September and October. The NRF’s Global Port Tracker is showing an 8.9 percent increase in imports during those months compared to last year, so it looks like this season could be especially jolly.

Port traffic doesn’t directly translate into sales, but it’s a good indication of retailer expectations. And if retailers see the need for more merchandise, it stands to reason that more seasonal staff will be needed to handle the merchandise and deliver customer service to boost sales.

If this year’s season will be a strong one, you’ll need a way to stand out from the rest of the employers competing for the best seasonal talent. Employment branding is a key way to make your openings stand out and attract top-notch employees. As you develop your holiday employer brand, consider a few things:

  • – Potential employees want to know what it will be like to work for you, and that doesn’t mean what hours they’ll work. Do you offer a fun environment where employees will interact with excited children? Does your store have a funky vibe where employees will lend their style suggestions to customers? Think more about the experience and less about the tasks.
  • – Accept that some employees work seasonal jobs only for the discounts. If you offer a great employee discount, highlight that benefit in your job descriptions. (And maybe even consider shortening the length of time someone must be employed to be eligible.)
  • – Market your openings just like you do you seasonal merchandise or sales. Job sites offer multiple ways to increase brand recognition, such as traditional display ads, featured employer banners or even targeted email campaigns that can help increase applicant flow and give you a wider pool from which to choose.
  • – Don’t try to be all things to all people. Quantity doesn’t mean much if quality is low. A well-defined employer brand will help attract the applicants that will fit in your business, which can make up for a few less applications.

Early projections are pointing to a strong showing for retailers this holiday season. The keys to a well-staffed holiday season are determining your staffing needs now, getting in front of applicants early and defining your employer brand to attract quality applicants faster. And a well-staffed store can mean a little more jingle in your bottom line.