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7 Strategies For Small Business That Will Enhance Your Bottom Line & Customer Appeal!
Let’s face it. It’s no picnic out there, whether you're a retailer or any other type of small business. As I’ve been pointing out at "RetailRichez", hopefully you have some new ideas and plans for the next year. Regardless, I've put together some ideas and strategies to think about and “act on” as you approach this next year. These thoughts may help bolster you efforts, attitude and ideas as you look forward. They may even get the creative juices flowing especially with regard to customer needs and the customer experience! Without even seeing or knowing your business, or what kind of year you had last year, I know that in all businesses we all need to inject some new from time to time. Remember this first and foremost! The world does not need one more mediocre retailer or any other type of me-too business. You MUST have a unique selling proposition (USP). Make the following part of your daily mantras:
- The World is Crying Out For Unique
- What Are You Doing To Make Your Business or Store Unique?
- Make The Mundane Memorable!
- Continue to Improve The Customer Experience With Your Business!
1. Being Bold & Innovative
How Many Ideas For Growing Or Improving Your Business Did You Reject This Past Year? Were you absolutely certain the ideas wouldn’t work? Or, are you afraid to take a risk or go to some real trouble? Possibly you rejected ideas because they came from an employee or some crazy customer, but keep in mind, sometimes the wildest craziest ideas are the ones that have some real potential. Unless you’re just overflowing with some real genius busines ideas, you may not want to be too quick to dismiss new ideas or ways of doing things, especially if you haven’t given more thought to them, or turned them upside down and inside out. Maybe you just need to look at them from different perspectives. Take the time and the thought to tweak and re-visit old ideas. Sometimes just a couple of adjustments can turn what was a failure into a success!
Surprise Your Customers With The Unexpected
2. Minimize & Question The Ordinary, The Mundane & The Usual
- Take a trip around your store.
- Act like a customer going through the total buying process with your business.
- If you're in retailing, on a “boring” hunt.
- Look for mediocre and ordinary displays, presentation materials and the typical ways you’ve been doing things in your business.
- "Ask why " regarding all rules, assumptions and old habits.
Ask your own people to do a hunt as well. They may see things differently. Ask them, "if they were you, what would be the first few things they would change?" Or, ask them where they think your business is really blowing it. Let them make their case. They may really surprise you with some great answers and they may even be right on the money. Believe it or not, I have every confidence you’ll be successful in finding at least a few things to tackle after as a result of this exercise!
Now what can you do to rid yourself of these little unimpressive areas, or growths of mediocrity?
Does it always have to be merchandised on a shelf or a hanger? Just because it’s always been stacked on a shelf or table doesn’t mean it can’t be done another way. As a retailer, maybe some fabric needs to be stretched across the ceiling with a light on it or behind it? Is your business too dependent on voice mail or delays in response? An unexpected change or crazy departure from the way certain items are usually displayed, handled or sold can make the product more appealing and increase sales. Each time you do something unique or pleasantly different, you set your store or business up one more notch, in terms of being different, memorable or flat out better. Just because your business always handled customers in a certain manner, doesn't mean it should continue that way. Take each activity or step in the sales process and ask yourself, "does this make us look better, or does this make the customer experience better? If you truly give this the thought it deserves, you'll be covering a lot of territory and you won't knock it off you list in a quick meeting or two!
Take this trip or make this review at least a couple of times a month, if not every week. Finding the smallest issues each time and asking the question "why," can make you more efficient, more customer friendly, more memorable or more special. In a matter of months, you’ll have a drastically different business.
Means, “What’s In It For My Customers.”
WIIFMC should be your motto. Don’t worry about what’s in it for you. Whatever is in it for you does not make customers more loyal or more interested. You should be asking WIIFMC as a part of almost everything you do. Day-in and day-out, regardless of what you do on a daily basis, if it doesn’t bring the customer back again, or it isn’t memorable or interesting or profitable, it may not be worth your time and attention. Always be asking "if" or "how" your target customers can see something in it for them? Will your activity (whatever it is) make things better or more buyable for your customers? If it doesn’t measure up to these standards, it may not be worth the time and effort, and it probably won’t help your bottom line, your banker, or your family as well. It really is all about your customer. Everything you do, should involve the question, "does this improve the customer experience or does this benefit the customer?"
Make a Statement
4. Work On Your Business Image & Stand For Something!
This is an area in which too many businesses give little or no thought. Yet, this fact is the one area that has a real influence on customer perceptions even before they enter your store or decide to buy from your business. Unless your business is brand new, your business already has some kind of an image. The real question is, do you “honestly” know what is, and is it something you’ve been consciously working on to positively effect?
Your opinion of your image isn’t the issue, and it doesn't matter one bit. As a small business owner you want your image to closely align with what it is that you are trying to do well. And, you need to find out exactly how customers perceive your business. For instance if we’re trying to be a high end first class retailer, then having lousy or dirty restrooms doesn’t help that image at all. If your a service business, what does the image and actions of your delivery or repair people say? How doe they appear to your customers? You may have the most polished product or sales presentation around, but if you blow it when you are actually serving or interacting with your customer, your other efforts will be compromised. Whether you like or even know what customers think of your business, your image is your brand, your personality, the quality and attitude of your employees’ and their actions. Again what is important is not what you think, but what your customers think. Your image is out there, but you shouldn’t be leaving it to accident. You must be in control of it. Whatever your image is, it has already effected what customers will pay for products in your store or what they believe about your quality and reputation as a service or sales business.
As I say constantly at my blog, "RetailRichez", even if your business is small, it must stand for something, and you need to know or understand just what that is going to be. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to be, how can anyone else (especially your employees) understand what you are trying to achieve? Think about it. If your business isn’t strongly identified with any particular strengths or traits, then why should customers bother coming to you or buying from you at all? You must give your customers, persuasive and compelling reasons to come in your store. If you are going to stand for something, it needs to be something you do better than anyone else. There must be no doubt at all to your customers as to what your store or business is all about, and it should match your goals. It should all tie together and support the image you're trying to project. For instance, if you're a grandfather clock dealer, it would totally compromise your store to have a line of homemade soaps or beauty products off in a corner so that you can help your aunt Lil!
If you can’t find a couple of areas that you do better than anyone in your market area, “that” may be a problem. At the very least, you should be working towards excelling and being the best at one or two areas. The image you want to build on must be realistic, clear, convincing, consistent and it should be closely aligned with what it is that you do better than anyone else. Focus on this. Lastly, do NOT trick yourself into thinking you are better or stronger in your one or two special areas than you are. It helps no one. Be honest!
5. You Must Take Responsibility For The Customer Experience
Regardless of what you do, customers will have some kind of experience in your store, or with your business. Customer experience is what customers actually perceive and remember as they walk out of your store or business. It is their perception of the whole shopping or business transaction while dealing with your business that counts! Your opinion may differ. But guess what? Once again your opinion doesn't count at all! The better you make the experience the more customers will be back and the more often they will be back. Their perception is ALL that counts! Your products may have come from a manufacturer, but the experience comes from YOUR business and it can be a story waiting to be told or spread around. It is hopefully a story your customers tell their friends or business acquaintances about. The idea is for them to talk about the most wonderful, warm, or “over the top” experience they had while dealing with your people or business. You have absolutely no control over what they say or how they tell the story, but you do absolutely have control over the experience in what they saw, heard, smelled, tasted and felt from their perspective! What YOU can do in your store or business, is deliver the experience and the connection that makes customers rave about you! This is what can make them a true customer advocate for your business. Their experience in your store or with your business is your brand. It ranges from restrooms, to phone response, to support, to delivery, cleanliness, organization, choice of words when conversing, and even problems after the sale. It has nothing to do with your intentions or hopes!
6. Take Some Risks & Don't Be Afraid Of Failure
If you're going to be in business and be creative, you're going to fail at times. The undeniable truth is that creativity requires failure and if you’re not failing at something now and then, you must not be trying and attempting something new at all. And isn’t something new what sets you apart? Creative risks are worth your efforts and time. They are even worth tweaking or re-visiting when you fail. There is no secret strategy that will ensure creative success for the big guys or even the little guy. If there is a secret to being more creative on a more regular basis, it’s to remember what you learned from your past failures so that you. . . fail better the next time you try.
A Large Hairy Prop In This Case!
7. Create An Aura With Interesting Store Props and Not-For-Sale Merchandise
This point may be more appropriate for retailers, although you can create an aura or a feeling with the way your people dress or look, the words they use, the stories they tell, the way your delivery vehicles look, the way your office looks, or the way your people react to customers on the phone.
If you're a retailer, your store atmosphere itself is a major sales aid. Use interesting props or not-for-sale merchandise to help create a feeling and a unique atmosphere inside and around your store. Anthropologie® does a great job of this in their stores. For instance, if you have a particular line or category of product that has an interesting past or culture that it represents, try to find some interesting or vintage items that you can use with your products as a part of a unique display. If you can do this regularly and make your store atmosphere unique, you will not only enhance the brands you sell, but you will build more of a reputation as an interesting and excellent retailer.
Try going to flea markets, antique stores or small towns looking for something different and interesting. Try to find some larger items that become real eye catchers in your store. It might be an old armoire or an old rusted out gas pump or Coke machine. Once your done using them as props, you can even sell them to your customers as Anthropologie® does. These might represent some large, profitable and unexpected sales now and then, and they obviously provide you with dollars to buy the next interesting props! You can also add some more valuable or collectable pieces that you may never intend to sell as a way to add to the aura of your store. Remember, it is all about the customer experience. You can be a me-too store or you can be unique and set yourself apart from all of the competition! Having unique items like this also makes your customers feel they need to check back more often to see what unique finds they’ll come up with next at your store. Imagine your customers being asked by their friends, "wherever did you find that?" And your customers says, "I find these kinds of things all the time at ________!"
Token Promotional Ideas (for your customers)
Offering a free service can be the easiest way to get customers to do business with you or to come in your store. If you are a jewelry store, have your repairman do certain repairs free of charge. Whatever you do, you’ll end up with many more customers browsing the store. If you are a photo shop, print one of your customer's pictures as an 8 x 10 and give it to them for free. They will tell all of their friends what you did. If you operate a nursery, offer a free soil analysis. What can you offer as a free service with a banner to entice customers into your store? Consider using some handouts in advance of your promotion. If you’re a clothing shop and you do alterations on your products, offer to do some simple repairs on customer clothing from home. As a service business, sales distributor, or manufacturer, send out e-mails or print a tip or a special offer on invoices that go out each month. You decide what you can or can’t afford to do. . . I’m just throwing out ideas.
FINALLY: Remember This Everyday You Get Frustrated
If you are struggling as an independent retailer or small business person, keep in mind you can’t keep doing the same things again and again and just “hope” that things get better. I would rather bet on myself than just hoping the government or the economy turns around. There are many, many things you do have control over. Obviously, the most obvious thing you need to do is to change what you’ve been doing, if it isn't impressing your target customer!
It doesn’t make any difference whose fault it is up to now, but some things need to change. Yes, some changes may be costly, but there are many ideas that are lower cost and relatively easy to accomplish. If you’re going to stay in the arena and fight, the best thing you can do is to compete by focusing on your strengths and identifying or eliminating your weaknesses. Make a list of strengths and weaknesses and focus on each. On your strengths; determine why they are strength,s or if this is something that can be expanded or duplicated. Regarding your weaknesses, work to eliminate each one item by item as fast as possible!
The greatest strength you have, as a small business is that you’re small. . . and local. No matter what they do, the big companies, big box stores or large chains cannot be small. You have a much greater ability to focus on YOUR community and YOUR personal connection with customers. You can also do a better job of knowing YOUR market and it’s needs, peculiarities, and activities. The large chains focus basically on keeping the corporate office happy. I guarantee you the store managers or district sales managers are focused on day-in day-out problems, logistics and keeping the management happy at the main office, not to mention all the busywork that goes with that. You can do the following better than any large chain or business:
- Know your customers better.
- Cater to customer needs and wants better?
- React to market conditions quickly.
- Buy from small suppliers.
- Buy from local suppliers who aren’t known.
- More knowledgeable salespeople.
- Call and follow up with your customers.
- Provide convenience & easier Access.
- Offer more depth in your chosen merchandise category.
- Provide better, more personal service.
You can also do these things better than any internet competitor!
- Make a closer personal connection with your customer.
- As a retailer, take advantage of a few or all of the five senses in a more impactful way. Sight, sound or music which helps create an atmosphere and mood. Touch and the ability to feel and play with merchandise “now” is an advantage. Smells can help create moods and feelings. If you don’t think smells are powerful, check out how Sam’s Club® vents their bakery into their entry door area. Taste—with free samples is also an advantage. The internet cannot influence customers in this way!
- Get product to the customer today or NOW.
- Buy from local suppliers.
- Be entertaining and memorable.
- Offer better service.
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