Being an independent retailer or small business owner can be both challenging and rewarding. As an entrepreneur, you create the vision for your brand and oversee all areas of your business. At face value, this all sounds great. However, any entrepreneur will tell you that it’s difficult to oversee every aspect of a business from daily operations and merchandising to marketing and managing your sales professionals.
Over the years, I’ve worked with many independent retailers and entrepreneurs. The most successful ones stay ahead of the curve in their respective industries by taking calculated risks and investing in their businesses. There are many ways to go about doing this, but here are a few of my go to methods that always yield results.
Have a Plan and Know Your Numbers
To sustain a business over the long- term, you need to know where you are and where you are going. You need to create a plan and execute that plan. This means getting your team on board with your vision and working daily to reach your goals. This isn’t always easy. You can expect that there will be challenges along the way, but you should always refer back to your original plan when they arise. Make sure you know and understand your numbers. Being financially astute is critical to sustaining your business. You need a top-line budget and a margin budget—what will it take to stay in the black every month. Nailing these key ingredients will set you on the path to success.
Invest in People
This seems like a no-brainer yet many entrepreneurs and small business owners still miss the mark when it comes to hiring and training great employees. Make sure your employees represent the best in your field. Great brand ambassadors believe in your products, look the part and speak the part. This doesn’t happen without investing in your people. A good business owner offers ongoing training, access to technology, communicates regularly with employees to be sure they understand the company’s business objectives and listens to employee concerns. After all, your team deals with your customers on a daily basis and understands their needs often better than you do. Building trust and loyalty among your employees will ultimately translate into driving business.
Make a Great First Impression
Today more than ever it is vital for retailers to create a pleasant and unique shopping experience for consumers. Consumers want to be “wowed” when they are walking through a store by both the products that you are selling and the manner in which the products are merchandised. It’s not enough to tout that you offer the best selection of products; consumers need to experience it as they are shopping in your store. Remember to never put anything between your customer and the product that they are trying to buy. As a retailer, your job is to identify barriers and eliminate them.
Your showroom needs to be a welcoming space and speak to who you are as a retailer. You want your showroom to look like a place where people want to come to shop. Showroom layout matters! The best retail concepts are deliberate and consider every detail from design to how customers move through the space. Ask yourself…is your store easy for the customer to navigate? Is the layout intuitive? Does it make sense? Are products easy to view?
This might seem like an overwhelming process, but it’s necessary. The first step is to start by walking the store on your own and getting feedback from employees, friends and family as to whether or not they think the store flows in a logical way.
Technology’s Your Friend
Technology plays a huge role in today’s shopping experience. Embrace it. Invest in your website and make sure it is first-class. Your website will be the first impression to your potential customer. Consider this, according to Cisco; there will be 5.2 billion mobile users by 2019. With staggering statistics like this you can’t afford for your website not to be mobile and tablet friendly. In fact, according to Google, more searches worldwide were conducted on mobile devices than desktops. Flooring America Flooring Canada recently launched new websites in 2015 and found the majority of searches are on mobile devices.
Moreover, you need to have a solid digital advertising plan to ensure you are maximizing every opportunity to engage with your customers. Your plan should include a search engine optimization, social media marketing, online reviews and email campaigns. Taking all of these mediums into consideration and executing them correctly will create a well-rounded digital marketing and advertising plan and can augment any traditional marketing efforts that you implement to communicate to your audience.
Incorporate technology into your retail space. Arm your sales team with technology as well to make it easier for them to do their jobs. Allow them to create electronic profiles of themselves, make it easy for them to ask customers for reviews by giving them tablets to work with in-store. Consumers are coming to expect to visit a showroom and have technology play a role in their shopping experience.
Successful retail brands welcome change because without change there would be no reason for consumers to desire new products. Be open to change, be ready for change and be motivated by change. Change will keep your customers coming back and your sales team engaged.
With the rise of more competition in the marketplace, small business owners have been forced to contend with the lowest price mindset, a mindset that in my opinion has wreaked havoc in the flooring industry as well as other specialty markets. Listen up; it’s okay to make money. In fact, it’s an absolute necessity if you want to take care of your employees and provide a great customer experience. Deliver a WOW experience that your customers will tell friends about by understanding their needs, sharing product knowledge and expertise and simplifying the buying process to make it stress-free.
Plenty of brands have been successful without having been the most discounted. Don’t give it away. People are willing to pay more for customer service and a great experience.
Bottom line for any independent retailer in today’s landscape, you need to know your business, invest in your people and your company and embrace the latest technology. Remember to never lose sight of your customer needs. Deliver a great experience. Stay the course.
This guest post is courtesy of Keith Spano, President of Flooring America, the nation’s largest floor covering cooperative, with more than 500 independent, locally owned flooring retailers.