Sales & Marketing

Brand You

“Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.” —Walter Landor (1913-1995)

Think of one of your favorite name brands. Whether it’s a professional product for use in your store or a favorite product for your personal use, chances are you chose it because you’re comfortable with it; you have a mental image of that product and the company behind it. That’s what brand identity is all about.

Develop Your Road Map to Business Success in 5 Easy Steps

Creating a business plan doesn’t have to be hard or overwhelming. And it can be a fabulous tool to guide you through the ups and downs of store ownership, especially in the early years. It does take some time and thought, but in the end, going through this process will strengthen your business and help ensure success.

Below are the five main business plan components and a brief overview of each. Once you understand the key elements, you can create a plan that will serve you well, both in business guidance and obtaining financing, for years to come.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We’ve been open a little over a year, and our small town has welcomed us into the fold. Customers talk about us favorably and we’ve had some good local press. We have added almost 800 new customers to our database and we offer a customer loyalty program. You would think we were doing great, but our sales are not increasing.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: My wife and I opened our store in 2007, right before the economy took a dive. We have done OK—the doors are still open and the landlord is paid—but so far, my wife is the only one who has been able to take a small salary, even though I’m working 20-plus hours a week and at home nights doing the bookkeeping.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I’m thinking it’s time for our store to get swipeable gift cards. I know I’m behind the curve, but we are small and it seemed like an expense we didn’t need. But so many customers ask for gift cards, and when I pull out the paper certificates, they think it is quaint and old-fashioned. Do you sell more gift cards than you did gift certificates?

The Growth of Green

These days, considering yourself “green” includes so much more than just flinging your empty plastic bottle into a recycling bin, driving a hybrid, or flaunting your organic cotton grocery bags. Relating to the eco-movement is no longer just for tree huggers or those living an off-the-grid lifestyle. It’s become so mainstream that, it could be said, green has gone viral.

Trending Now

A new retail reality is here—and it looks a whole lot different than most of us imagined. The new reality started gathering momentum back in 2008, when, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the economy slid off the rails and global markets went haywire. Four years later, we still haven’t recovered, and one thing is becoming increasingly clear: We’re not going back to the way we were.

Cultivating Customers

Walk through the door of many independent stores in the U.S., and you might hear a bell jingling, indicating a customer has arrived. That’s the sound of opportunity, the sound of increased sales. And, if you’re a store owner, your fondest wish is to hear that bell ringing more often, to see more smiling faces arriving in your shop to browse and buy.

Website Makeover

Coming soon to your website: Video. Why? Moving pictures turn browsers into shoppers. That’s the message from technology consultants who study the buying habits of the public.

“We are seeing a lot more video on websites,” says Chip Pattison, sales manager for Sitespring Web Design, Sarasota, Fla. (www.site-spring.com). “Motion really catches the attention of viewers, especially those of the younger generation who are more into movement and photography than reading.”

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I have just started to blog on our website and have linked it to Facebook. Do I need to write something every day? If not, how often should I update the blog? I’m having trouble coming up with things to say. Any suggestions?

The Sell-More Plan

A customer walks into your shop and says, “I’m looking for a particular book/necklace/candle. Do you have it?”

You look at an order sheet—for an order you still haven’t placed—with that very item on it, then at your pile of bills. You think of your dwindling account balance and reply, “I don’t have it in stock at the moment, but I can get it for you.”

Sweet Valentine

Even as February’s deep cold sets in, our attention turns to hearts, flowers, love, and romance. Ahh, Valentine’s Day. It’s a natural attraction for gift stores of all kinds. And, if you select unique, compelling products to feature in an appealing, eye-catching display, you can set your store apart from the rest.

Start by thinking creatively. You don’t have to buy a lot of themed merchandise—just look around your store and consider what you already have in the categories of Valentine’s-appropriate gifts: jewelry, books, candy, greeting cards, candles.

Stocking for Success

Inventory management may seem like a dry subject, but for retailers, it can have a dramatic effect on profitability. A system that ensures you are carrying the right merchandise in the right quantity is an essential ingredient in a healthy bottom line. Too much inventory will tie up badly needed money while taking up valuable space on your shelves; too little inventory will eat away at your cash flow and disappoint customers you can’t afford to lose.

Good Business

Marketing campaigns and the budgets that, theoretically, go with them can cause serious angst. Small business owners are notorious for laughing maniacally when asked about their advertising budget. Whether because they’re operating on tattered shoestrings and fervent prayers and have no budget, or do have a budget but are terrified to spend it only to see no returns, proprietors of all kinds avoid making any decisions about marketing at all (which is still a decision made).

How to Generate Buzz for Your Business With Press Releases

When a tight marketing budget has you racking your brain for cheap (or, better yet, free!) ways to bring new customers into your store, consider this: Good publicity is an amazing way to create interest and excitement around your store. And it requires little or no money if you drum up the attention yourself—but it isn’t free. It will cost you time, effort, and a little know-how. However, the payoff will be a stronger presence in the community and more customers through your door. Try some of the following tips to make publicity a part of your marketing plan.

Big Sales in Small Spaces

Big Sales in Small Spaces

Retailers with small stores know how difficult it can be to assign space to best-selling merchandise and new products that come to market each year. It’s a delicate balance, the art of showcasing a small shop as both a reliable resource for favorite items and an exciting destination filled with creative new products. Making the task even more complex is the need to have a clear view of your space so as not to create blind spots that serve as havens for shoplifters.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I’m hoping to open a new store this summer and have been looking at available real estate. I have found spaces for lease in locations I like that are 1,200 to 2,400 square feet. Can you tell me how much floor (sales) space and how much back-room space I should plan for?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: How can I interest customers in buying books that are valuable (in my opinion) but tend to just sit on the shelf?

Survivor's Guide to the Economy

Survivor's Guide to the Economy

What changes have you made in your store to keep your business healthy in the slow economy? This is the question I asked recently as I spoke with New Age retailers around the country. Many told me they had developed important and effective strategies for store survival, including both fundamental changes in the way they do business and smaller adjustments in procedures or focus. The best part? You can benefit from their success by applying these ideas to your business, helping you not only survive during the slow times, but thrive as the economy once again picks up steam.

The Connection Workshop

Baby, it’s crunch time. Holiday 2011 is here, and word on the street is, you’re going to be considerably busier than last year.

Now’s the time to approach the fourth quarter as a fresh start, a clean slate—with a whole new focus on building and retaining customer loyalty.

It may be too late to make hefty changes in your approach: Your merchandise is stocked, events scheduled. But you still have time to shift the one thing that will bring you maximum results this season. That singular thing? Authentic connection.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Sales are not rebounding as quickly as I had hoped (are we sure this recession is over?) and I have to do something to survive. Where should I start? Do you have any suggestions?

Full-Spectrum Sales

Did you know that consumers make subconscious judgments about products within 90 seconds of first seeing them? As a retailer, this means you have a very small window to attract attention to your products. And 85% of consumers use color as a primary reason for making purchases, which makes color one of the best tools you can use to increase your sales.

Good Business

Good Business

You can see them coming from across the street with their clipboards and brochures—another merchant processor salesperson has come to call, promising you better rates and lower fees. Of course, they want three to five years of commitment from you, often for a pittance of savings. But to know that, you have to wade through the fine print, tiers of ratings, and lists of fees, all helpfully spelled out in six-point type on a five-page contract.

Face(book) Time

MySpace is passé; Twitter is limited and quickly becoming dominated by self-promoting celebrities. So, the verdict is in: Facebook, the greatest phenomenon of 21st century social networking, is the place to be.

Good as New

If you sell books in your store, you already know how significantly the market has shifted in the last 10 years. Customers who might have once sought out your store for the latest Hay House or Tarcher/Penguin release can now, with a few clicks, buy it online and have it shipped to their home (or downloaded to their e-reader), often for less than the cover price. This change in consumer behavior, as well as the price competition among major retailers, has even impacted large chains—Borders entered bankruptcy earlier this year.

Good Business

Every owner wants a store where employees are cooperative and feel appreciated, where their workers thrive and customers love the resulting positive atmosphere. High staff morale is important—so important it will carry you through the difficult times that can overwhelm the joy of running your own business.

Whether yours has one or a handful of employees, every store has similar challenges in building and maintaining a great team. It falls to the owner to create an environment where everyone is encouraged to do his or her best.

No Limits

You are riding a wave of genuinely positive feelings, and then out of the blue, it hits you: The other shoe is about to drop. It takes root as a nagging worry, and then, sure enough, you accidentally lock yourself in the storeroom, your mysterious allergy flares up, or you pick a fight with your significant other, dog, neighbor, or fill-in-the-blank. When things are a little too good, trouble is … wait for it … not far behind. Or so it seems. What exactly is going on here?

Revenue Rescue

Profit leaks lurk deep inside almost every retail business, silently weighing down your prosperity. Nowhere is this more true than in specialty retail operations. Some are harder to detect than others; some far more damaging than others. Together, they can form a major obstacle on the road to optimum profits.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: How long should we hold on to merchandise that isn’t selling before we mark it down? My husband never wants to mark anything down, but I’m concerned about inventory that just sits. What do you suggest?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I have a small shop and a limited but meaningful selection of new books. I’ve been contemplating selling used books as well, keeping with the same spiritual and metaphysical themes we have now. Are there any guidelines for buying and selling used books? My thought was to buy used books for $1 or $2, sell them for $4 or $5, and donate $1 per book to local environmental efforts.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I’m headed to the gem show in Tucson to buy crystals for my new shop. I am allotting 90 square feet (about one tenth of my overall floor space) to crystals. My total inventory budget is $55,000. Can you tell me how much I should spend on stones?

8 Paths to Selling Success

8 Paths to Selling Success

Adding hot new products to your inventory is always exciting, but when you’re an independent retailer with a tight budget and tight quarters, how do you merchandise, introduce, and promote these unknown brands effectively? To help you debut what’s new in your store, industry insiders—from manufacturers and merchants to a feng shui expert and a marketing whiz—share ideas and recommendations for getting your creative merchandising juices flowing.

Greenovation

Greenovation

If you’re like most people, the urge to clean out, refresh, and renew your surroundings strikes predictably in the spring. Call it spring-cleaning fever or just time to make some changes, but remodeling your shop can greatly benefit both your business and the earth when you choose to do it in a green way. Whether it’s major reconstruction, a display face-lift, or just a fresh coat of paint, it’s not as difficult (or expensive) as you may think to make much-needed renovations while also creating a shiny new eco-footprint for your store.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: How do you handle employee discounts? I only have two part-time employees, but one thinks she should be able to order anything at cost. Is this the norm for retail stores?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: What is your experience
with vendors offering “deals”? Are they really giving you a bargain, or are they just trying to unload old merchandise?

Location, Location, Location

As we come out of this economic downturn, you may be contemplating a move or a second location for your business. Location is all-important, especially when it comes to retail, so choose carefully and start with these five key criteria to increase your chances of success:

The Art of Private Labeling

The Art of Private Labeling

When you think “private label,” you probably imagine high-end, exclusive private stock with a limited offering, or its opposite: your local grocery’s cheap store brand that’s all about budget shopping. Whether high or low end, private labeling may seem out of the domain of small business. True, private labeling is not for every business, but when approached as a strategy and branding technique, it can be a powerful tool to get your store noticed and create customer loyalty.

Good Business

Good Business

Running an independent business is like having a child. The birthing process for a business is as strenuous as any labor I have experienced. Once born, a child requires 24/7 care, just as a business does. And like a business, while our day-to-day duties as parents change as the child matures, our responsibility is always there.

It’s often said about raising children that it takes a village. This is because a parent by him/herself can’t possibly know everything or have every answer. I believe the same holds true for your business.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Yesterday, we had a customer come in and pay for a package of incense with a charge card. The sale was $3.12! It probably cost me more to process the sale than it was worth. Can I refuse a sale on a credit card if it is not at least $10?

Make Your Mark

Make Your Mark

You’re a cowpoke riding the range, hoping to round up stolen cattle. The sun blazes, your bandana’s caked with trail dust, and there’s nothing but tumbleweeds for miles. Overhead, vultures circle.

Suddenly, a cow staggers into view. With a big “yee haw!” you lasso it, smack the dust off its rump, and reveal your cow’s brand … but wait. Shoot! This isn’t your cow at all! This one belongs to Lazy Z Ranch, your competitor across the mesa—a sniveling varmint known for grain feeding and spending way too much time at the saloon.

5 Savvy Tips to Boost Your Average Sale

Every customer who walks through your door is a spin of the roulette wheel. Left to their own devices, they could purchase $2 worth of incense, a $100 necklace, or just walk out. Here are some strategies that cost little or nothing but can stack the sales odds in your favor with every customer.

12 Ways to the Holidays

12 Ways to the Holidays

The leaves are turning and fall is just around the corner—but when you’re a retailer facing the all-important fourth quarter, you’re less likely to be gazing at fall foliage and more likely to be planning ahead to make this a record holiday season for your store.

In the last few years, with the downturn in the economy, consumers have spent less on holiday shopping. The good news is predictions for this year include stronger sales during the fourth quarter by as much as 3-4% according to market researcher Kantar Retail.

Good Business

If you’re like many small businesses, your marketing budget doesn’t include the services of an advertising agency. And unless you happen to have a brother who’s an ace graphic designer and a best friend with top-notch copywriting skills, that leaves your advertising design and writing duties in your hands.

Tangled Web

Deciding that your store would benefit by having its own website was the easy part. The tough part is avoiding the nasty pitfalls that make too many websites money losers instead of money makers.

The first commercial websites were designed by early computer experts. These hardy pioneers were quite comfortable in the arcane world of computers, but woefully lacking in communications and marketing skills. The result was a flood of clever websites that accomplished little except make their sponsors look silly.

Wedding Sells

Wedding Sells

Ah, weddings. They represent a milestone moment, a celebration of loving commitment … and a very big business. The Wedding Report (www.theweddingreport.com) estimates more than 2.1 million weddings will occur in the U.S. in 2010. And for each wedding, around $20,000 on average will be spent. That doesn’t include all the gifts that friends and family will buy for the happy couple. Add it all up, and you have a significant industry totalling upwards of $40 billion annually.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: When I read articles about marketing my store, they mention the importance of branding. What does that really mean, and is it as important as they imply?

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