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

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10 Ideas To Jump Start Your Business!

Strategies to make 2012 a success.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (December 19, 2011)

We wanted to open this article with a catchy phrase, like "You're gonna be rich!" but we opted to drop the cutesy and jump feet first into reality. 2012 is going to be an interesting retail year: You have to be ready, willing, and able to take on whatever your customers decide to throw at you. Some will want your undivided attention; others want to be left alone. Some love a good sale; others could care less as long as you have what they want in stock. Some want classes, others think they know it all. This list could go on and on and one and on…

STOP! Let’s focus on 10 things you can do RIGHT NOW to ensure your store stays ahead of the competition:

1. Look at 2011’s Performance through Objective Eyes

Let's begin with some soul searching combined with a reality check. Where was your business at this time last year and where it is now? Have you made commitments to grow your business in 2012? What worked for you in 2011? What didn't? Which things will you keep, tweak, or eliminate to make your business better this year? Make a "Strategic Plan of Action" list of things to do and refer to it all year long. Update it as necessary.

2. Set Measurable Standards

Standards are your measurement of operation. Every successful retailer we know has written standards of operation. Customer service, training, dress code, and customer policies are just a few of the areas that require written standards. Yes, it will take time to write them, but you will be grateful in the long run. Standards add consistency to already successful businesses, and success to those seeking it.

3. Make Every Customer Feel Welcome

We know it's hard to believe, but not every customer feels right at home in your store. Some need to be schmoosed with a little small talk, so break the ice with greeting that makes them feel important. Forget about "May I help you?" because that greeting almost always invites a "No-thanks-I'm-just-looking' response from the customer. (It's okay to ask that question only when you sense the customer is in a hurry.) Instead, smile, say hello and talk about anything but the store -- you can talk about product after you've made the customer feel welcome.

And adopt our "7-Tile Rule": Whenever anyone in the store -- sales associate, stock person, cashier, class instructor, or store owner -- comes within seven floor tiles (that's 7') – of a customer, they must personally acknowledge that customer. Engage the customer in conversation or look her in the eye and smile and nod, whatever makes sense at the time is okay as long as every single customer is acknowledged.

4. Can We Talk? Build an On-Going Customer Dialog

Customers like to be part of your success, so ask them what they think. Ask our BIG question: What ONE thing could we do to ___________________?  You fill in the blank with whatever is important to you at that particular time. Consider, "What ONE thing could we do to improve our customer service in 2012?" or "What ONE service could we add that would make it more convenient for you to shop here?" or "What ONE class would you like us to hold?" 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.

5. Create a Continuous Training Program

You probably have a training program for new hires, but do you have one for your seasoned associates? It's easy to assume that someone who has been with you forever knows all there is to know about quilting, scrapbooking, or whatever, but that assumption can only hurt your business. Regardless of skill level, everyone in your store benefits from on-going training.

Devote every other store meeting to associate training. (If you don't currently have store meetings, now is a good time to start. Hold one at least once a month.) In between, offer books, DVDs, and CDs available so associates can study on their own. If store associates accompany you to trade shows, allow them to take classes as well as walk the show floor. They can teach what they learn to other associates when they return to the store.

6. Never Stop Learning!

And while you’re at it, train yourself! Take a course at your local community college. Go to the business seminars offered by your Chamber of Commerce or Downtown Association. Make time to attend the business classes at the trade shows you attend. (Like ours!) Pick a topic that interests you and listen to CDs while in your car -- we do. We like to say we hold doctorate degrees from “Auto University”; you can, too.

7. Keep One Eye on Your Competition

This year, make a commitment to identify your competition and learning everything about them. Competition can be found in unexpected places: the furniture store that suddenly decides to carry fabric or the gift shop that sells finished crafts. Check them all out by visiting their stores as a retailer and as a customer. Call them on the telephone and ask the same questions customers ask you. Dig deeper by becoming a stealth competitor: Get a free Gmail account, visit their websites, and sign up for their email blasts and newsletters. Register for Google Alerts, adding each of your competitors' names (add yours, too);  you’ll be sent a link via e-mail each time they are mentioned anywhere online.

The goal is to find out what it feels like to be your competitions' customer. How do their stores/websites/blogs/Facebook pages rate when compared to yours? Find out what their typical customer experience is in a competitors’ store and then you do it better.

8. Out with the Old, In with the New

How old is the product you have merchandised on your sales floor? Can you instantly determine the date each item was received? Can you easily identify slow-sellers or those items that are dead on the shelves? You need to regularly mark down prior seasons' merchandise and items that are past their prime.

Add a code to the product labels and/or bin tickets that tell you the age of each piece of merchandise. We know, your POS system tells you how old your stock is; but when was the last time you took one of those computer reports to the sales floor to find all that old stuff? This year, make it a priority.

9. Embrace Cross-Merchandising

Why just sell one product when you can sell two or more? There are opportunities to cross-merchandise all over your store, plus accessories like clip strips and J-hooks make it easy to cross-merchandise on any fixture. Use Merchandise Outposts (displays of product set outside of their normal display area) to present a mixture of related impulse items and high-profit product. Use your Speed Bumps (displays set up front and center) to tell cross-merchandising stories. Think about what you can cross-merchandise with each new item before you give it a home on the sales floor.

10. Set Non-Negotiable Budgets for Every Area of the Store

Go through your list of expenditures and review how much you spent on each category in 2011. Now, using your good judgment, choose an arbitrary figure to use as your 2012 budget. Let everyone involved in purchasing know that this dollar amount is all the money there is to spend. Period. We adopted this system a few years ago. We always come in at, or under, our budget.

And while you're at it, stop buying things you don't really need; in fact, look at every dollar spent as unnecessary. Walk through your store with an accountant's eye: Do you have piles of unused supplies in your office? Are there boxes of overstock stacked in your bathroom? Maybe you have an associate who just isn't working out. When you cut down on all nonprofit-producing costs, you’ll have more money for the things you really need.

Okay, we lied about the 10 ideas; there are really 11…

11. DO IT NOW!

Procrastination is not your friend, so don't let it or poor time management hurt your store. Some things can wait; your path to success, however, cannot. Start at the top of the list or with the items that will help you the most. If necessary, you can break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. And if you feel overwhelmed, remember this African proverb: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

Kizer & Bender Seminars at the Winter CHA Show

1. "Generations of Customers – A Guide to the Shopping Behavior of Generations X, Y, and Z" (Seminar S111, Sun., Jan. 29, 2:00 – 3:00 pm)

Welcome to the age of the NEW consumer! A younger consumer who demands to be taken seriously; a consumer who knows his/her way around the Internet and social medias and is not afraid to use them. It's a whole new ball game and it's all about the ustomer – any business with customers will be forced to keep up.

2. "Advanced Social Media Marketing – For Retailers" (Seminar 119, Mon., Jan. 30, 12 noon – 1:30 pm.)

Social Media Marketing is a game-changer; it gives you the ability to run circles around your competition – if you know how to use it. You may be up and running on Facebok, Twitter, and other social media sites, but are you doing all you can to get the most out of your social media platform?

3. "Cause Marketing for Retailers: Promotions That Grow Your Community and Sales" (Seminar S129, Tues., Jan. 31, 2:00 – 3:00 pm)

As retailers, you used to merely compete for the customers' wallet; that's why you host one to three in-store events each month. The goal of each event is to build traffic and sell more stuff. Today, you not only compete for the customers' wallet, but for their hearts as well. That's why some of events on your promotional calendar need to focus on Cause Marketing.

To register, visit www.craftandhorry.org.


KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

Keynotes | Seminars | Consulting | Store Design

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