In the SCORE Small Business Success Podcast: How to Set Up Your Retail / eCommerce Business for Success, SCORE Columnist and Speaker Rieva Lesonsky explains how small retail businesses can compete against big box and chain stores. Rieva is the CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship.
The advantages of small retail businesses
Even though large chain stores and online retailers, like Amazon, may offer better prices, small businesses provide much more to the customer. Small retail business owners have to think outside the (big) box to attract loyal customers.
Creating a welcoming atmosphere is the first step. Make your store or restaurant a comfortable place, using the décor to highlight your products. Customers should feel at home and want to browse. Sell products unavailable from large retailers, such as specialty niche items, handmade goods or other unique merchandise.
Think about the store’s location, and show that you’re an important member of the community. Maybe you can sponsor a kids’ softball team or give back in some way. Become a presence in the neighborhood.
You don’t want to just attract customers, but retain them. Borrow some techniques from chain stores:
- Collect names, emails and pertinent information. Email birthday greetings with a coupon. If you are a mechanic, send service reminders.
- Hand them flyers with sales and coupons when they enter your store.
- Create a loyalty club or customer appreciation day depending on your business. Perhaps customers gain points for every sandwich and the tenth one is free.
- Give incentives to bring back customers. Provide free samples if you’re a bakery or free gift wrapping if you sell jewelry or clothes.
Get to know your customer and make them feel welcome. Even if you charge a little more, give customers a reason to come back.
The most valuable resource for creating loyal customers: your employees.
Employees are the face of your business. They welcome customers, know the products and answer customer questions. Giving extra attention and recommendations adds to a positive shopping experience. Building relationships with your customers helps incentivize them to return to the store.
Stellar customer service is often not present at big box stores which gives a huge advantage to the small retail businesses. A chain hardware store employee might not know about a product or might even give you the wrong location for a product. If consumers’ questions remain unanswered, what’s keeping them in the store? They can just research and buy a product online.
Since you need the right people representing your company, the HR process is almost as important as inventory. Other stores may offer a bigger salary, so provide other benefits. What do today’s workers want? Flexibility. Obviously retail employees cannot work from home, but you can offer flexible hours.
Work with the employees to determine their schedules and try to accommodate as much as possible. Find out what matters to them. Create a comfortable break room where they can relax. When you have happy employees who feel like they’re a part of the team, they will advocate for your business.
Create a welcoming physical and online store
Just like a physical store, you need a well-designed website. Also, more people research and buy from their cellphones than ever before, so your website must be mobile-friendly. Since your business sells products, your must have an e-commerce component to the site. Customers don’t want to just see what you sell but purchase directly from your site.
An online presence does not just mean a website. Don’t forget about the free advertising outlets of social media. These offer free exposure and you can even create inexpensive social media ads. Facebook posts are easy to create and immediate; newspaper ads are time-consuming, expensive and require planning. Most retailers can focus on Facebook and Twitter, and Pinterest is useful for visually-focused businesses, like fashion boutiques or interior design firms.
The best form of online advertising is still email marketing, especially for retail businesses. Don’t overwhelm with emails, preferably only once a month. Offering in-store coupons encourages customers to go to your physical store where another item might catch their eye.
After incorporating these tactics to attract customers, always remember what you would want as a customer. The golden rule is to put yourself in a customer’s shoes, and you can’t go wrong.
Listen to the full podcast “How to Set Up Your Retail / eCommerce Business for Success.” For more tips, work with a SCORE mentor for free.