Being a small business owner, while rewarding, can be daunting at times. In today’s age of big box and warehouse stores, online shopping and big-name chains, it can be hard to carve away your own base of customers. Smaller stores can’t always compete with the inventory and low prices found at other outlets. So how can you compete? We’ve got six tips that will help you get customers in your doors.
- Take a look around. First and foremost, you need to take a look at your store. Be honest with yourself. Are your shelves a mess? Clean and organize them. Is some of your stock outdated? Have a clearance sale. The point here is to take a long, hard look at what you have to offer customers. That goes further than just the store. Look at your employees. Do they need training? Are they focused on helping customers? Before you can make any plans, you need to figure out what needs to change in order to be successful.
- Focus on customer service. I’ve been to stores where, no matter what I needed - from a simple wiper to a battery - I was left to fend for myself and browse torn apart books to see which of the products hanging on the wall was the one I needed. A parts store I used to frequent in Colorado had a resident expert that would help customers. You needed a part? You simply told him your make, model and year and what you needed, and he walked you right over to the product. Yeah, they were more expensive than the chain store down the street. But when I needed something, I went there. The extra few dollars was worth it for the help they offered. I’m not saying you need to hire a walking encyclopedia, but you should have a focus on making things easier for your customer. That covers the whole spectrum of customer service. Smile, say hi, ask if they need help, offer to order in a product they need that you don’t have…all of these seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many stores ignore them.
- Offer something more than just the typical shopping experience. Hold repair workshops or classes on the weekends. Set up an area for customers to try out tools or products. The goal here is to offer something the other guys don’t. That alone will be reason enough for customers to stop in. If I saw an ad for a free class on pulling dents, I’d definitely attend. And on my way out, I’d most likely be purchasing the things I need to make that repair.
- Learn about the latest products. Talk to your distributors. Find out what new products have come out recently or what’s popular. Our sales reps receive weekly calls from their customers asking these very questions. The reps even have emails they send out each week with new products and promotions. Remember…customers won’t have a reason to stop at your store if you don’t carry the things they want. And on another note…soak up all the knowledge you can. When a customer has a question about a product, you should be able to answer it.
- Create a network. Networking is huge in all aspects of business. College grads go to events specifically designed to meet people in their field, all in hopes that they may be able to use that connection to get a job down the road. So how can you network your store? Visit local trade schools or garages and leave flyers – you could even advertise those repair workshops. Collect email addresses of people that come into your store so you can send them info on promotions and new product announcements. All of these will get your store onto people’s radar.
- Get a makeover. Make your store look appealing to customers. Sign broken? Fix it. Paint chipping? Touch it up. Set up an awesome display in your front window. Put a sandwich board sign out by the road to highlight a special deal that’s going on. Display some products outside. You get the gist. You want customers to see your store and actually want to stop and shop.
As you can see, there are tons of things you can do to get more customers into your store. Get creative with it! You don’t have to spend a ton of money to compete with the big guys.
I’ll leave you with one last tip, which frankly is one of the main reasons I become a repeat customer – add a personal touch. Strike up conversations with your customers. Get to know them and what they need. A little bit of conversation can go a long way.