A view of the industry through the
eyes of independent and chain retailers.
510 Tips To Survive in a Tough Retail Economy
When the going gets tough, the
by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (August 16, 2010)
There are two kinds of retailer
reactions in tough times: retailers who hunker down, preferring to
wait and see what happens before making a move; and retailers who
look for opportunity. These retailers are willing to scrutinize
day-to-day operations and dive into waters their complacent
competitors tend to avoid. They find ways to move forward, tapping
every available resource along the way, without spending lots of
extra money to get to their goal. These are the retailers to model
in tough economic times. Here are 10 things they have in common:
Become a 1%-er. Vow to be just one percent better each day and you
will be amazed at what you will accomplish. That little one percent
more will help you grow your business in all sorts of new ways.
You’ll look at your store with fresh eyes and you’ll see new
opportunity where you’ve never seen it before. Your customers will
notice – and so will your competition. Being a 1%-er requires focus
Keep Your Eye On the Big Picture. Always keep one eye on the BIG
picture – long- range goals for your store. You need short-term
goals as well, but understand that to keep the future bright, you
have to make future plans. Part of this planning involves keeping
track of retail trends, keeping notebooks of things you’d like to
do, floor moves you’d like to make, lines you’d like to sell, etc.
When a vendor visits your store, spend quality time with the vendor,
taking full advantage of his or her knowledge.
If you don’t have time to set
goals or work on the big picture, ask your team for help. When you
turn over some of the day-to-day tasks to your associates, you’ll
find extra time in your day. Don’t be afraid to delegate!
Remember this African proverb:
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same goes for
the goals you set. You can easily accomplish your goals by breaking
them down into smaller, more manageable, easy-to-do steps. Plan your
work, and then work your plan.
The Customer’s Definition is the Only One that Counts. Every
retailer has an opinion of their customer service and it’s usually
better than their customers'. But when it comes to service, the
customer’s definition is the only one that counts.
Don’t assume you know what your
customers are thinking. If they’re not happy, they probably won’t
tell you, they’ll just quietly go someplace else to buy what you sell. If
you don’t know how your guests define great service, then you’re
going to have to ask.
One day a month, station
yourself near the front door and conduct Exit Interviews. Introduce
yourself and ask customers if they found everything they were
looking for. Ask about their in-store experience and their
interaction with your store associates. Ask if there are any classes
or events they’d like to attend or product they wish you carried.
When a customer tells you
something good, write it down! Use their positive quotes in ads, bag
stuffers, in-store signing, and on your website. A customer
testimonial is instant credibility because it’s 10–20 times more
believable than what you have to say about yourself.
Ask the BIG Question. Ask customers, “What ONE thing could we do to
___________________? You fill in the blank. You might ask, “What
ONE thing could we do to improve our customer service?” or “What ONE
service could we add that would make it more convenient for you to
shop here?” or “What ONE product line would you like us to carry?”
Because the customer has to put thought into their answer, you will
hear constructive things that you will be able to implement. And
don’t be surprised if several customers tell you a variation on the
same theme – that’s a good thing! If it’s positive, then you have
one more thing to brag about, and if it’s negative, then you know
just what to fix.
Do one more thing. Before the customer leaves the store, before you
hang up the telephone, before you hit send on that email, do one
more thing. Invite the customer to sign-up to receive your
newsletter and email blasts. Ask if they’d like to be part of your
loyalty club. Send information about upcoming events. Just do or
suggest something that will keep that customer closer to your store.
Adopt our “7-Tile Rule”: A greeter makes sense on days when the
store is really busy, but when it’s not, you can still make
customers feel welcome. Whenever anyone in the store – sales
associate, stock person, truck driver or, CEO – comes within seven
floor tiles – that’s 7’ – of a customer, they must personally
acknowledge that customer. You can engage the customer in
conversation or look him/her in the eye and smile and nod, whatever
makes sense at the time is okay as long as every single customer is
acknowledged. You really want to make this a priority? Tell your
team that if they catch you ignoring a customer, lunch time pizzas
are on you every Saturday for a month.
Implement the 360 Degree Pass-By. Ideally, you should do an in-depth
tour of your store at least once a month, but to keep things in
balance, do our 360 Degree Pass-By each morning before you unlock
the doors for business.
Survey the parking lot; size up
the store front; access the Decompression Zone (the first 5’ to 15’
just inside the front door of the store); work your Speed Bumps, the
displays just beyond the DZ that shoppers see first; check the
displays at the front right: 90% of shoppers enter the store and
turn right – this area needs to be set to sell!
Review your in-store signing:
Does it make sense? Check out the Checkouts: Is there room at the
counter for a customer to comfortably complete a transaction? Are
there impulse items displayed at the checkouts to encourage add-on
Walk the Aisles: Is there
product spilling over into the aisles? Are there stack or dump
displays blocking the main aisles? Can customers easily maneuver a
shopping cart, wheel chair or stroller down the aisles?
Survey Your Merchandise
Presentation: Are your displays fresh? Do they encourage customers
to stop and look, and entice them to buy? Are there open spaces on
the sales floor or empty spots on the shelves that need to be
restocked? Is the product “faced” (brought to the front of the
shelf or hook)? Are the displays properly dressed, fluffed and
Cross-Merchandise to Increase Sales. Look for opportunities to
cross-merchandise product all over the store. Doesn’t it make sense
to send customers home with everything they need to complete a
project, rather than forcing them to make another trip to the store
when they don’t want to?
You can easily cross-merchandise
in every product category using clip strips and J-hooks, and you can
set beautiful displays on your Speed Bumps and throughout the store.
Vow to never put a new item on the sales floor without first
choosing items to cross-merchandise with it.
Remember that Merchandise does not get better with time. This is a
big one. How old is the product merchandised on your store’s shelves?
The scary thing is that most retailers we consult with cannot tell
us when product was received, nor can they identify slow-sellers or
those items that are dead on the shelves. The store’s problem then
becomes decreased inventory turns, increasing cash flow problems,
and soon the owner is eating out of inventory sales. From here, the
downward spiral quickens.
To avoid this, you need to be
disciplined. Add a code to the product labels and/or bin tickets
that tell you how old the merchandise is. (We know, the computer
tells you how old your stock is. Good! When was the last time you
took those computer reports to the sales floor to find all the old
stuff? Last year? Never? What are you waiting for?)
Here’s the problem: You buy
merchandise that you like and you’re certain that customers will
love it, too. Big mistake. Not everyone likes the same things;
that’s why you have to think like a professional buyer. We’ve both
been retail buyers at some point in our careers, and we both had to
buy merchandise that we didn’t like – but our customers did.
Let Your Lions Roar! Are your store associates all reading from the
same page in the same book that you are reading from? Each associate
brings a unique talent to your store but you have to let them use
it. Get them hyper-involved in store operations. We’ve seen hundreds
of great “associate ownership” examples where store programs,
operations, promotions, merchandising, and more have been turned
over to associates. When looked upon as more than a body who can fog
a mirror or ring a register, these associates have demonstrated an
ability to perform tasks, introduce profit-producing ideas, and
encourage others to work with customers in ways that would make any
You know why this works? Letting
your lions – your associates – roar works because they know that
you believe enough in them to let them try. If they fail, talk
about what could have been done differently and then they move on. A
trust, no, a sense of ownership overtakes the associate and they
continually strive to do more for the store.
A renewed emphasis on these 10
things will help you combine a unique customer experience with great
customer service, critical in a tough retail economy. They’ll do
something else as well: Build positive word of mouth – the number
one thing that brings new customers to your store.
(Editor's Note: Meetings & Conventions
magazine took a survey of meeting planners asking them to name their
favorite speakers/keynote presenters – and Kizer & Bender make the
list, along with such luminaries as Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Mike Ditka,
Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jay Leno, Colin
Powell, and others.
To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand
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