Small stores face challenges that in many ways are quite different from their larger counterparts. They are also not like businesses in the manufacturing and service industries. They are storefronts with large inventories.
They have salespeople who often don’t seem to understand the importance of the word "sales."
And then there are the consumers, who might have unreasonable expectations. To top it off, your local storefront has to find a way to compete with the big box stores and online shopping experience. The competition is fierce and the challenges can be formidable.
Summer is wrapping up and we’re in the third quarter of the year--headed toward the holiday season. Now is the time to recover from sluggish summer sales. Time to take advantage of seasonal product changes. And time to figure out how to capture the market in the fourth quarter and end with a profitable year.
Your competition So, how does a small locally-owned retail operation compete with the convenience of online shopping and the national franchise stores? A good start is to take a look at what makes them so successful. And take three big lessons from the big guys.
One of the key ingredients to the success of franchise stores is their convenience. They are open when consumers have opportunity to shop. Most consumers are 9-5 workers. Franchise stores cater to those off-work hours--lunch shopping and after-work shoppers as well as the weekend schedules when consumers are balancing family with shopping duties that last well past dinner time.
They also have a very clear definition of their customers. They are constantly gathering information--zip codes, email addresses, home addresses. They ask questions. And much of that is done at the register when they ask for your zip code or when they offer an opportunity for you to join a rewards club. These are all methods used to gather consumer information. And, of course, your shopping receipt tells them all about your purchase choices.
All this, and they advertise. They advertise like crazy. With mailers, newspapers, magazines, radio and television. They are all over the place with their ads. They do not put their hopes entirely in “word of mouth” advertising. Their ads aren’t random. Ads are time-sensitive. The promos are dated and demand a call to action. The offer won’t last long and the merchandise won’t last long.
Some answers Most local retailers do not offer the convenience of after-work shopping hours. Instead, by their very lack of convenient hours, they have forced consumers to seek the big franchise stores--or resort to online shopping. They have restricted their business hours to 9-5 or 10-6. When the consumer is getting off work, the local store is closing up.
Discovering who your customer is takes both planning and engagement. It means talking to your customer. Who are they shopping for? What are their hobbies? Are they into the pop culture scene? What kind of work do they do? How do they spend their vacations? Your planning means devising a way to utilize all that information you are gathering.
Advertising is pricey and the small retailer must weigh the value of the money they spend. It’s always good if you can group your print ads with other nearby merchants. These are the stores that share the same shopping center or they are located within a block or two of your storefront. Merchant associations can be a great help in planning an ad campaign. These offer a process to share the expense. Ad dollars also go further with some smart social media marketing.
Local retailers can compete with big box and online stores. However, it might take some adjusting and re-educating to optimize the opportunities. Excellent customer service and unique products certainly help. But in the long run, the only way to maximize your potential sales is to get more people into the store. People who are spending money. That requires smart hours, smart marketing and smart selling.
By Colleen Perry