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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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Lagniappes: The Independent Retailer's Secret Weapon

Simple gestures can reap big rewards.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (May 4, 2009)

Our good friends, Dan and Wayne Boudreaux, affectionately known as "Stomper" and "Hot Dog," are retailers from the great state of Louisiana. Stomper and Hot Dog have taught us quite a few things over the years. One of the best is the lagniappe.

The word lagniappe – pronounced "lan-YAP" – comes from the 19th century Cajun French word "la napa" which means "the gift." Its original meaning was a small gift, or token of appreciation, that was given to loyal customers by New Orleans merchants. The meaning isn't that much different today.

The Boudreauxs, who own several stores not too far from New Orleans, have treated us to many a lagniappe over the years, but our favorite was a crawfish boil where they taught us Midwesterners how to eat crawfish like a pro. They also gave Rich a Louisiana Parish cook book that he cherishes. He's been cooking up a storm ever since, although the meals he concocts are so fragrant that his wife makes him cook in the backyard. This is a good thing, however, because the aroma attracts the neighbors and a party always ensues. The Boudreauxs would be proud.

Those early New Orleans merchants had the right idea. It's the lagniappes, the unexpected little things, that set you apart from the competition. In our travels we've encountered many. Here are some of our favorites:

Your Own Personal Shopper

Many stores now offer customers personal shopping services; it's like having your own personal assistant! All you have to do is telephone the store, tell your personal shopper what you are looking for, and he or she handles the rest. Want to come at 2 pm to peruse art work to match your new décor? Easy. Need 10 custom craft kits for your child's birthday party? No problem, your personal shopper has it under control. This easy-to-implement lagniappe would be a great sales-builder for your time-starved, stressed-out customers.

"It would be my pleasure."

We had dinner one evening at The Capital Grill in Atlanta. We noticed that the waitress had removed our white napkins and replaced them with black ones. Curious, we asked why.

"Because you are both wearing black slacks and I don't want you to leave with white lint on them." Lagniappe? You bet.

We ordered lemonade. The waitress said that they didn't offer lemonade, but she would be happy to make it for us. We said no, iced tea would be fine, but the waitress insisted. "It would be my pleasure," she said. Would your staff go out of their way to do the equivalent of making a customer a lemonade?

Who said getting a root canal was a bad thing?

Your dentist might be a very nice person, but he's smart enough to know that you would avoid his services if you could. That's why dentists across the country are now offering free spa treatments along with your root canal. Yep, in some dental offices clients can receive massages, manicures and even pedicures. You leave relaxed, with clean teeth, and with a fresh coat of nail polish.

This is a perfect idea to spice up a Ladies Night Open House. Greet the ladies at the door in tuxedos. Ask the high school football team to valet park cars (in full uniform - they keep the tips.) Plan a night of crops, classes, product demos, make-it/take-its, food (maybe catered with a choice of entrees), contests, prizes, and shopping. Why not cross promote with a local spa and throw in a manicure and pedicure? Think of the publicity this event will bring.

Welcome to the Breakers!

While speaking at a conference in West Palm Beach, we were lucky enough to stay at the historic Breakers Hotel. When we pulled up to the hotel entrance, we were greeted by a gentleman in a golf cart, who introduced himself, welcomed us to The Breakers, and summoned a bellman.

When we walked into the lobby, we were met by the desk clerk who said, "Mrs. Bender! Mr. Kizer! Welcome to The Breakers! We're so glad you're here!" At first we wondered how he knew our names; then we realized the man on the golf cart radioed the front desk, described us, and told the desk clerk our names. We felt like a million bucks. You would, too.

Are customers addressed by name in your store? Do associates offer their hand and introduce themselves to new customers? Make it a goal for everyone in the store to personally introduce themselves to at least five new customers a day.

Stop and say hello

At Ritz Carlton Hotels our favorite lagniappe is what the Ritz Ladies and Gentlemen do when they meet a guest in a hallway: they smile, say hello, and move to the side to allow the guest to pass. Having been run over by cleaning carts in more than one hotel, you can see why we like this unexpected extra. We also like the Ritz motto: "We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen."

Do your associates stop what they're doing to address customers' who cross their path? Do they treat each customer with respect and dignity?

We could fill pages sharing the lagniappes we've received in our years of travel and shopping together. We're grateful for each one of those unexpected gifts. Drop us an e-mail and we'll send you even more ideas to help make your customers feel at home.

We also recommend that you give each associate a copy of this article, then hold a brainstorming session to create a list of lagniappes you can provide in your own store. Customers will reward your effort, and your competition will wonder why their customers are flocking to your door.

(Note: Professional speakers, authors, and consultants, Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender are nationally recognized experts on customer diversity, marketing & promotion, and everything that affects and interacts with consumers in the retail environment. Each year Kizer & Bender speak to thousands through their "Retail Adventures in the REAL World™" keynotes and seminars. Their unique consumer insights are widely featured in the media, including the ABC National News special report, "How Stores Hook You." Their book, Champagne Strategies on a Beer Budget!, has helped thousands of retailers improve their bottom line, and their "Retail Adventures™" Blog is visited by tens of thousands of readers each month. In 2004 they were named two of the "Most Influential People in Retail Today," and their popular magazine column, "Georganne & Rich on the Road," won the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Award of Excellence in 2004 and again in 2006.

You'll find thousands of strategies, tactics, tips. and techniques to help you grow your business on their Retail Adventures™ blog: www.kizerandbender.blogspot.com. They mean it when they say to call if you want to talk about your store. They know how tough it is right now, and they're happy to brainstorm ideas with you – they want you to succeed! To read previous articles by Rich and Georganne, click on the titles in the right-hand column.).




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