When consulting with an entrepreneur opening a retail shop, I began outlining critical success factors. Many of the strategies here also translate when operating non-retail companies too.
• First impressions are extremely important. Is the look and feel upscale or down-home, modern or rustic? Is it inviting, neat and clean. This is especially critical when handling food. Is your shop clutter free, allowing easy passage through the aisles?
• Outdoor signage must be visible from a distance. Does in-store signage direct customers so they can easily find their way around? Are prices clearly visible? You don’t want sales staff constantly interrupted when they are problem solving for customers.
• Make sure the point-of-purchase displays help sell your products tastefully? Do they support the store environment or add to the clutter?
• Create a guest book or a box with preprinted cards so visitors can sign up to be notified of special promotions or events.
• Synergy among partners is essential. It's important that partners divide the work where each takes on an independent role according to their expertise. An example of divisions might be product/vendor dealer, finance/business development director, retail floor/staff manager.
• Align work practices, retail processes, and inventory control through proven systems and software.
• Train your team so everyone is doing things the same way. A staff going in different directions is disruptive to your business and your customers.
• Private label and own-brand merchandise are becoming a greater part of market share. Look for new product opportunities.
• Create a positive brand experience every time your customer walks in the door.
• Invent a memorable name and an eye-catching brand personality.
• Develop a consistent brand look so all materials (signage, stationery, business card, and promotion) tie together via color, logo, images, typography and style.
• Opening party: Wait until all kinks are ironed out and you have proper lead-time to promote the event. Invite influentials, business leaders, media, friends and family. It’s not just who shows up that is important – but how they spread positive word of mouth to the community.
• Take pictures and videotape testimonials to show later in a store video loop.
• Hold periodic store events. Sponsor charity events. Post them on a news box on your home page.
• Get to know the local media. Send them new products and stories.
Marketing & Promotion
• Sourcing and pricing products are most critical. Monitor customer feedback; your customers will tell you what they want.
Collaborate with suppliers. Correct course as you go.
• Marketing is an ongoing process. Outreach never stops. It’s essential to success in the marketplace.
• Know your ideal client and your target markets. Focus on catering products and services to them.
• Research your competition so you can distinguish yourself. Developing a sustainable competitive advantage is the single most important marketing consideration.
• Get clear about your key messages. What are the most important things you want everyone to know about you?
• Leverage referral sources and influentials: cultivate people with authority and expertise in your industry and community, who can direct others to you.
• Use a mix of marketing media campaigns to reach your customers and develop visibility: flyers, direct mail postcards, catalogs, and special promotions to name a few.
• Create an interactive web site to encourage community. An online presence is most effective in tandem with a store (bricks and clicks).
• Become active in forums, blogs, write articles and white papers, and create a newsletter to encourage viral marketing.
• Create your own blog and sell sponsored links to vendors to cover costs of marketing expenses.
• Get close to your customers. Create a reminders program where customers inform you of important birthdays and anniversaries. Send them a postcard in advance so it’s easy for them to remember to buy from you.
• Sales staff are your brand ambassadors. Are they friendly and helpful or snooty and intimidating? Do they know how to cross sell and up sell gracefully, without pressure.
• Repeat business is your lifeline. It’s eight times more costly to get a new customer than to retain a current one. How are you encouraging customer retention?
Being strategic can make the difference between radical success and supreme failure. Opening and operating a retail store is not just a venture, it’s an adventure. Make it a fruitful one. Here’s to your success.