Chris Barling,(pictured) CEO of EPOS & ecommerce systems supplier, Actinic gives some useful advice to small retailers on developing a business.
Wise men (and women) say that there are only three things required for retail success – location, location and location.
Of course, it is true that location is the most important success factor for any retailer. However, once a location is established, it’s not the end of the story. In fact, it’s just the beginning.
If this is where you are at, then here are some ideas for developing your business which you might find interesting. They can be tried by just about anyone with a retail outlet, particularly owner-managed stores or those with a handful of locations.
Have consistent opening hours
If you open inconsistently, you lose more than the just the trade that tries to buy when you’re shut.
Advertise your opening time clearly and stick to them. Nobody likes making wasted journeys.
Create a nice ambience
If there’s one thing guaranteed to put people off a shop, it’s untidiness, dirty stock or even an unpleasant or unusual smell.
The problem is that if you work in the shop every day, it’s easy not to notice and to let things deteriorate. So, if you are untidy at home, you’re in danger here.
There are always things you can do to get around the problem. Every three months, ask your tidiest friend to tell you what’s wrong with the shop, then sort it out; we don’t have to be slaves to our own weaknesses!
Avoid being over friendly
When I go into a shop, I don’t want to be hassled. At the same time, I don’t want to have to raise hell to get some attention. It amazes me how many shops get the wrong balance.
Someone who is over-attentive is very off putting. I will be polite but never visit again. In the local supermarket, the part timers chat among themselves continuously and you have to interrupt them to get served. The manager should be shot. We always go elsewhere when we can.
Here are my six tips for getting attention levels right:
- Remember that you are on duty. This is not a friendship situation.
- Never give the impression that something is too much trouble.
- Be very sparing with your attention if it isn’t sought. “Can I help you” should be the most you should ever say, unless asked.
- Make sure you don’t invade the customer’s personal space.
- Let the customer lead the conversation, particularly never take over and start complaining about rates, long hours etc. The customer has enough troubles of their own.
- Be equally polite or cheerful whether the customer buys or not. In other words, if it’s appropriate, say “Thank you” or “Goodbye” even when they have browsed without buying. Don’t offer them a reason to shop elsewhere.
Use technology to your advantage
It’s possible to get an EPOS or electronic till system, based on a PC, for under two thousand pounds. For most retailers, this is an absolute no-brainer. Such a system will probably reduce your stock and pay for itself as a result.
Plus, it will provide you with greater control of your business. So, if you want to open for a bit longer, or are considering closing earlier, you can use the EPOS system to look at the sales you make during those hours.
EPOS can also help you to get your pricing right. Give too much margin away and it’s not worth being in business. Overcharge and no one will buy, or certainly will never return.
EPOS systems can track sales and margin by product and enable you to devise clever pricing strategies. You can also monitor staff and reduce fraud; offer three-for-the-price of two merchandising styles; and, best of all, reduce your workload.
Bright and branded
Make your shop look nice. Lighting can make a big difference. Look at other shops that you like, and notice how they are lit. Ask your family and friends to give you some feedback on your store. Emphasise that it’s criticism as well as praise that you are seeking or it will be largely valueless.
Ask them to provide three positive words that describe your shop when they compare it to the nearest multiple, then three words where you could improve. Ask four to seven people and then compare the results to look for common themes. If this doesn’t work, ask one of them to organise it for you, that way the results can be anonymous.
The aim is to get top-notch input, for free. You’ll be surprised at just what you can learn.
Assess you locations carefully
When you get the chance to open a new branch, there are some simple ways of assessing locations without expensive consultants.
Simply stand in each location you are considering at various times of the day and week and count the number of people passing. You have to vary the time and day as factors like local offices may change numbers radically at lunchtime, the weekend etc.
Remember that if you are close to public transport that could significantly impact numbers in the early morning and late afternoon. Holiday areas will obviously have totally different profiles at different times of the year.
This will give you a great comparison of sites, and remember to check this against your current site and competitor’s sites.
Make the most of the opportunity
Not all of us actually want to grow our businesses or take over the world. However, most of us would be pleased to make a bit more profit from what is a hard life with many sacrifices.
As a businessperson, I have discovered that I am never experienced enough to stop learning. So while I’ve tried to stimulate a few thoughts here, my best advice is to become an avid reader of trade journals and books on retailing.
Location, location, location may be a clever slogan, but it’s not the whole story. It should come a close second behind “thinking, thinking and more thinking”; there’s nothing more intelligent than that.
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