As a retail business struggling to make a profit in these difficult economic times it can be difficult to see the wood from the trees. However, there are some things you can do to improve footfall and cashflow.
Firstly, a problem I see time and again is businesses with either too much stock and/or old stock, which is taking up room and is unlikely to be sold anytime soon. Stock is cash! It is vital that it works for you rather than becoming a chain strangling your business. Of course, any retailer needs stock to sell, but consumers are fickle and so stock must be current and at the right price for your target market.
If you have old stock have a sale and shift it quickly. You can then use the money made to buy the right stock. Similarly, if you have a lot of stock at non peak times (i.e. just after Christmas) make sure you have a great sale so you can free up cash.
Thinking outside the box
Many retailers are passive in their attitudes to finding customers. They set up shop and then wait for customers to walk through the door. However, there are complementary activities you can instigate to encourage new customers and increase visits by existing ones.
Some businesses are very good at this already. For example, our local wine shop has wine tastings every Saturday. Funnily enough the shop is packed and, as the wines to taste are often the more expensive ones, the wine merchant is able to encourage people to try wines they might otherwise not consider. He also holds wine tastings at a well known historical venue in December. Customers can order wine at the event and pick it up from his shop at their own convenience. People buy more when they can do so in a relaxed atmosphere and when they know exactly what they are getting.
Although, these ideas are specific to the wine trade other retailers can learn from this go-getting attitude. Food retailers can have demonstrations and tastings. They can print menu cards to help their customers understand what they can do with the great ingredients they sell. Craft shops can hold craft parties; Book sellers can have readings; clothes retailers can have new season launch events. The list is only as short as your imagination!
It’s all about making the buying experience as enjoyable as possible.
Learn from others
This might sound trite but there are lots of people out there doing it right and lots of people doing it wrong! When you are a customer yourself, take the time to examine what your experience has been. If you have had a really good experience have a think about what made it good and try to implement these good practices in your business. Similarly, if you have had a poor experience, avoid making the same mistakes yourself.
Also, listen to experts. They may come in the form of retail professionals in your local network, or from the TV! I think programmes such as those by Mary Portas are invaluable. Not just because she really knows her stuff but because the people she helps are blind to the mistakes they are making. Could you be too close to your business to see what it really is?
But the real experts are your customers. Do you ask them what they think? Do you ask them what you could do to make their buying experience better? To you encourage them to recommend you to their friends? It is easier to keep existing customers happy than to find new ones, so look after them!
Finally, retailing can be great if you know what you are doing. The problem is many new retailers think it is much easier than it is and don’t take the time to learn anything about it before they jump in with both feet. At the other end of the scale many long standing retailers close their minds to developments in their marketplace and fail to keep up with their customers’ tastes – Woolworths was a classic example.