Face it: the rules of retailing have changed a lot lately; mostly because of the economy and your changing customers. Each year you tell yourself that next year you'll get organized and be better prepared; that you'll become more customer-focused, and determined to make this your banner year. You tell yourself that success is just around the corner. Well guess what? It can be! Each year we look at what the "best of the best" in business do very well. Check it out these 10 strategies:
1) Study Last Year's Performance. Take a look at where your business was at this time last year and where it is now. What commitments have you made to grow your business? What worked for you? What didn't? What will you change and focus on in the coming year? Make a list-call it your "Strategic Plan of Action" and refer to it all year long.
2) Strengthen Your Relationships. Every retailer should have blank note cards with their store's logo and address printed on the front. Use them to send thank-you notes to four customers everyday to simply to thank them for their business. When you hear that a friend or colleague has done something exciting, drop them a note of congratulations. Telephone someone that has helped you somewhere along the line. In other words, spend at least 10 minutes each day acknowledging the people that help make you a success.
3) Continue Your Education. Take a course at your local community college. Go to the business seminars offered in your area and at the trade shows you attend. Pick a topic that interests you and listen to CDs while in your car. Continuing your education is an investment in yourself and your business.
4) Form a Network. Look for the opportunity to work with other people in your industry. If such a network doesn't already exist, then form one. Networking provides a wonderful opportunity to spend time with people that face the same challenges as you do. Think of the disappointments you might have been able to avoid if you'd only been able to discuss your ideas and ambitions with someone who has already experienced those same growing pains.
5) Develop a Trademark. If you asked any of your customers what you're best known for, what would they say? More importantly, would they say anything at all? Pick one thing that you want to be well known for and then use it! Include your "trademark" on all of your advertising and promotional pieces, use it in your store signing, on your business cards and on your stationery – everywhere you can. In no time, your store and your specialty will be highly recognizable and that's exactly what you want!
6) Build Sweat Equity. Every time you sell something you're provided with the opportunity to become even more involved with your customers. We call that extra involvement "Sweat Equity." Sweat Equity might mean calling the customer after the transaction to inquire about how the item purchased worked in their home, or it could mean traveling to a customer's house to provide custom work. Sweat Equity can be as simple as writing a folksy newsletter involving your customers and their love of your store. Sweat equity draws your customers closer to your store by nurturing and strengthening important customer relationships.
7) Study Your Competition. Identify your competition and learn everything that you can about them. Visit their stores as a retailer and as a customer. Keep up with them via Google Alerts. Get a new e-mail address from Yahoo or Gmail and sign up for their newsletters and e-mail blasts. Get on their snail lists, attend their special events. How does your competition rate when compared to your store? What happens when a customer enters their store, calls them on the telephone or visits their website? Find out what their typical customer experience is like and then you do it better.
8) Change Your Store's Perception. Once you've found out all about your competition, then it's time to focus on your own store. Remember that you are what you are perceived to be whether you like it or not. Reality is a myth, today the customer's perceived reality is what really counts.
Take this reality test: Grab a legal pad and pencil, start at the front door of your store and write down everything that looks bad or would make a negative impression on a customer. Do this throughout the entire store (Yep, even in the bathrooms!). Then ask your newest store associate to do the same exercise. You'll probably fill two pages, your associate will fill four to six pages. Prioritize what needs to change and go for it! Your customers will notice your efforts and their perception will improve.
9) Set Written Standards of Operation. Standards are your measurement of operation. Each of the successful retailers that we've encountered has WRITTEN standards of operation in areas that include customer service, training, associate appearance, and customer policies. Standards add consistency to already successful businesses, and add success to those seeking it.
10) Thank Your Customers. It's great to be a retailer and its fun to be able to do the things that you love, but it's important to remember that customers are the reason you are in business. Take time everyday to do something for them. Send a flyer announcing new product or your next event; create an e-mail blast or newsletter that keeps them up-to-date on your latest in-store adventures. Drop an occasional note or pick up the telephone and call a few. Do whatever it takes to keep your customers your customers. The most successful retailers that we know never lose sight of their customers or of what their customers expect from their store.
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Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender . KIZER & BENDER Speaking!
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