Retail Service

Yet another sales report ‘€” the newest retail sales numbers are due out this morning. Analysts’€™ estimates are all over the board with many expecting same-store sales to be flat. Most of the key independent retailers I speak to say they’€™re holding their own. With the economy in the tank (at least ‘€” that’€™s what the economists say!) and gas prices still pretty high ‘€” retailers must be on the lookout for ways to improve their businesses, without spending a lot of money. For some the goal is improved sales; for others the objective might be simply to keep the doors open. Now, more than ever, all the little personal touches that identify independent businesses may really go a long way in the battle for survival.

Here are a few things to think about:

‘€¢ Articulate a customer-focused vision. This won’€™t cost even a few pennies. Use slower (challenging) times to spread your vision of where the company is going and what it should look like when you get there. Always stress customer service, but explain to your associates what it truly means to make the experience of buying wine, beer and spirits as wonderful as drinking them.

‘€¢ Clean the windows and parking lot, and plant a few flowers. Pull into your parking lot. What do you see? Some days I used to like what I saw, and other days I was less enamored with the sight. Often, the first thing your customers see is the entrance to your business. Start the experience off positively. Make sure the lot and sidewalk are swept and passable. Liven up the place a bit with some flowers. Create an attractive atmosphere. Yes, wash the windows.

‘€¢ Smile and say hello. Often the second thing your customers see. Appear approachable and be approachable.

‘€¢ Thank your customers for choosing your business. Your customers may be short on cash, but they’€™re certainly not short on choices of where to spend their money. Any time a customer calls or stops in, they have actively chosen to patronize your business, and not some other business, a fact that shouldn’€™t be taken lightly

‘€¢ Answer the phone quicker. If there are 12 people working when the phone rings, 12 people should jump. Instill that feeling that it’€™s a good thing when the phone rings, not a bad thing.

‘€¢ Decide what your good at and tell people about it. Hopefully your customers will notice your strengths, but it never hurts to tell them. The key is that you have to excel at something so decide what that something is and tell people about it.

‘€¢ Educate your customer. Educate your customers so when they leave your store, they know more about your products than when they came in. They’€™ll feel good and so will you.

‘€¢ Send a thank you note. A welcome sight when your customer’€™s mailbox is usually stuffed with junk.

‘€¢ Prepare a hot line for problem resolution. Have the line monitored at regular intervals. Let your customers know that if they have a problem or something that needs to be resolved, it will be done so quickly and efficiently. That inspires confidence and the feeling that you care about them as customers.

‘€¢ Ask your customers how you can improve your business. People love sharing their opinion so ask and act on the answers. Look for trends. If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck, it’€™s probably a duck. If many people say that your store is disorganized, it probably is. Ask the question if you can handle the answer! Instead of dwelling on the negatives, make small improvements in identified problem areas.

Determine what your customers like and dislike about your business. Create opportunities to talk to your customers. Think about it this way: With so many businesses closing up shop, would your customers miss you if you were gone tomorrow? To be sure, that’€™s an important question. Do these 10 things and your customers won’€™t have to answer that question.

Darryl Rosen is the former president and owner of Sam’€™s Wines & Spirits. Presently, he can be found teaching companies and individuals how to ‘€œCross the finish line with your customers’€ and can be reached at darryl@darrylrosen.com.

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