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Phone: 785-760-5071
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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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Soar Above Copy Cat Competition

And fly away with more traffic, sales, and profits.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (June7, 2010)

What do you do when you work like mad to establish your business, only to have it knocked off by the retailer down the street? What do you do when the new guy in town models his sales floor after yours, and duplicates your newsletters and your promotions?  And what happens when that copy-cat retailer offers the same classes, at the same time, on the same day – for less? 

We’ve been asked these questions many times over the years as less-than-scrupulous, less talented people decide the easiest way to get into business is to steal ideas from someone else. There is a huge difference in being inspired by someone else’s creative ideas, and actually claiming them as your own. And we know it’s a dilemma the creative industry dances with each day. It’s something we had to deal with when we discovered another speaker had taken seminar copy directly from our website and passed it off as her own. And it worked because she got bookings with our copywritten and trademarked material. We have absolutely no idea how much this hurt our business, but in our case, it was a relatively easy fix: we called our attorney. A retailer dealing with a copy cat has a tougher road. 

You need to know what’s happening in your community. Be aggressive in your research: shop their stores, read their ads and their blogs, and devour their websites. Get an anonymous e-mail address and sign-up for their e-mail blasts and every other free thing they offer customers. Keep up with what they have to say on Facebook and Twitter. Do an Internet search to see where and how often they are mentioned. Take your research a step further: go to Google.com and set up a Google Alert on any name or topic you want to monitor. Each time your name/topic is mentioned anywhere on the Internets, Google will send you an e-mail and a link to where it was found. Click here to get started: http://www.google.com/alerts

This may sound like espionage, but it’s really just good business. If you rely on customer word-of-mouth to fill you in, it’s too late. When it comes to competition you absolutely cannot put your head in the sand and hope for the best; retailers with longevity know all about their competition. That being said, don’t let the competition consume you.  When a competitor is trying hard to impact your business, and steal your market share, it’s easy and dangerous to let them dominate your thinking. 

We’ve worked with retailers who have showed us everything you could possibly want to know about their competition: product lines, in-store events, promotions, ads, employees, traffic counts, average sales, even inventory levels – by season. But they couldn’t produce the same information on their own stores. And we’ve met retailers so consumed with their competition, so reactive to what that competition is doing, they unknowingly let these competitors dictate how they run their own stores.  Who is running the store?  The retailer who owns it or the guy down the street?

 So, what do you when the competition is breathing down your neck? If your first reaction is to lower your retails, remember this old retail axiom: “If you live by price, you’ll die by price.” When you compete on price, and price alone, rest assured, sooner or later, someone will sell below you. If you try to keep margins up buying substandard items to promote at sharp prices, you’ll want to keep this one close, too: “The sweetness of low price is quickly forgotten, as the bitterness of poor quality is long remembered.”

 You are not a commodity retailer. You are a retailer who offers customers a unique in-store experience. Your store is so much more than fixtures and merchandise; it’s a fun place where friends gather to shop and learn. It’s an oasis where stressed out customers can escape, relax and create. Take the creative high road when dealing with copy cat competition:

 1. Toot your own horn!  Send an email blast about every 20 days touting all the cool things YOU do in YOUR store. Instead of a cold advertisement, include photos and the personal stories that caused you to create the classes and events you bring to your customers. It’s easy for a competitor to steal an idea, but it’s despicable (and nearly impossible) to steal your personal story. Email blasts are a cheap, easy stealth marketing strategy. If you’re not currently collecting customer email addresses, start now. If customers are hesitant about sharing their email addresses, you can lessen their resistance with fun and easy contests, like “Guess the number of beads in a jar,” and in-store drawings for prizes. Post signs that read, “All winners will be notified via email.” That’s stealth marketing, too.

 2. Establish a value-added loyalty point system for classes. For example, when a customer takes three classes, the fourth one is free. Give all new participants a get-one-free card that reads something like this: “Thank you for attending our class – we’re glad you’re here! Join us for any future class and you won’t have to pay the class fee.”

 You may also want to give new class attendees a card that’s good for 10% off of regular priced items for the next thirty days. Getting new customers to attend classes is not enough; they can still shop at the store down the street. But if you give them a deal, they are more likely to come back and shop with you again. And that’s your ultimate goal, isn’t it?

 3. Host a “Learn, Laugh & Linger” trunk show. Keep customers close by showcasing their creativity. Encourage crafters to invite their friends and family (you provide the invitations); you invite the public. Set up wire grids or tables to showcase the projects and let your guests vote for their favorite entries. The winner(s) receive prizes, including a gift certificate from your store. Take advantage of having a store full of crafters with a “Create a New Class” contest. People are more inclined to attend the things they helped create. And remember our motto: Food is Good!  People stay longer when you feed them. Partner with a local restaurant and you both win.

 4. “Introducing My Friend” cards. This is a stealth marketing idea we’ve shared in seminars that many retailers have used with great results. It’s a means for satisfied customers to refer their friends to your store. The “This store is just too cool to keep a secret” card entitles the new customer to a free gift when he or she shops in your store for the first time. Give your current customers 15 of the cards (along with the gift new customers will receive) to distribute to their friends. It works on the word-of-mouth premise of “they’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and so on and so on….” You get the point. A customer testimonial is 10 to 20 times more believable than what you have to say about yourself. Drop us an e-mail for our easy to customize “Introducing My Friend” template.

 5. Position your store as the ultimate authority.   Promote your team’s talent!  Include their expertise in your newsletters, ads, e-mail blasts, and on your website.  Take a photograph of each associate and frame it with a short bio, their creative history, plus a paragraph or two promoting their particular talent, and hang them in a prominent place for all customers to see. You might even include popular class instructors, too. Customers like to shop where the store staff know their stuff. It makes shopping easier and creating a whole lot more fun.

 6. Videotape vendors at trade shows. Before show hours, ask your vendors to film a video endorsement for your store. Focus on what’s happening at the show, new, hot, and happening items, plus new applications for old favorites. Ask vendors to say something like this: “It’s a pleasure and privilege to greet all of you at Kizer & Bender Crafts. I’d like to share with you what’s new at XYZ Company …,” then show or demonstrate the product. Close each vendor segment with, “A big thank you to Kizer & Bender Crafts for inviting us to be a part of your in-store class program!”

 When you return home, place a TV/VCR player in a heavily trafficked area of the store and run the video on a continuous loop. Add it to your website or YouTube channel so even more customers can see it. This valuable tool will set your store up as THE creative leader in town, and it’s an inexpensive ad and endorsement that will benefit both you and your vendors.

 7. Send out press releases on a regular basis. One of our favorite retailers sends out a press release every other month. She targets tv stations, newspapers, and other local publications. Smart move! This retailer knows that advertising will provide her with visibility, but PR will establish her credibility. It’s a great way to enhance your reputation and position yourself as an expert. Yes, it takes time, but it’s worth it. Drop us an e-mail for complete instructions on how to create a PR campaign of your own.

 8. Invest in low cost, big impact advertising. Customers should never leave your store without this week's Bag Stuffer – the easy-to-make ad you create on your own computer.  (We know, the name Bag Stuffer is an oxymoron. You actually hand them to customers; never actually stuff them in bags.)

 If you have a cool slogan, visit StickerJunkie.com and order custom bumper stickers. We know a retailer who numbers her bumper stickers and hands them out to customers. Whenever she sees them around town she notes the numbers, then posts them in her store each Saturday morning. If the owner of that bumper sticker comes into the store, he or she wins a prize. Foot traffic and sales have increased as customers stop by to see if their number is posted.

 9. Protect what belongs to you. When that other speaker stole our stuff, we were glad that we had taken the time to protect our intellectual property. You should, too. When something is really important you need to apply for a Federal Trademark. The letter R within a circle – ® – signifies a trademark that has been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This symbol may not be used before an actual federal trademark has been granted, but until this happens, you can claim your right to your work with a Trademark (TM) or Servicemark (SM) symbol. You can learn more about trademarks, servicemarks and copyrights at the United States Patent and Trademark Office website: http://www.uspto.gov.

 Take an extra step. Add the following to the end of each of your original works (project sheets, articles, pages on your website, blog postings, email blasts, Facebook, brag sheets, bag stuffers, etc.):

 Copyright . Dates . Author/Owner . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 Competition today comes at you from all sides; fighting your competition is an everyday battle that requires stealthy dedication. No, you don’t have to do all of the things in this article. You can sit back and watch someone take your customers and maybe your business. Or you can elevate your store and your staff to levels that are almost impossible to beat. But don’t wait too long; there are hungry competitors already out there who are ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to steal your customers. You be ready, too.

 Note: To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column. Rich and Georganne will be conducting the following seminars at the CHA summer show in Rosemont next month:

 1. “Extreme Retail Makeover: The Customer Experience - Hiring and Keeping Good People To Keep Your Customers Coming Back” on Mon., July 26, 1:30-2:30 pm.

 2. “Social Media for Retailers: A Step by Step Guide to Join the Conversation” on Tues., July 27, Noon – 2:00 pm.

 3. “Extreme Retail Makeover: Power Merchandising for Profit” on Wed., July 28, 10:00 am – 11:00 am.

 For more show information and to order tickets, visit www.chashow.org.

 KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

Keynotes | Seminars | Consulting | Store Design

103 North 11th Ave., Ste. 206, St. Charles, Illinois 60174
Phone: 630-513-8020 | 24/7 Mobile: 708-347-2682 Fax: 630-513-8098
Web: www.kizerandbender.com     
Blog: www.kizerandbender.blogspot.com  
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YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/kizerandbender




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