We work with all kinds of entrepreneurs at every stage of their business, from infancy to mature establishment. Along the way, we’ve noted some consistent characteristics that help set a successful local business above the rest. We’ve learned from them, and they’ve been open about sharing their “trade secrets.” Regardless of education, personal background, life experience or business category, the folks who make a profit in the long haul maintain the majority of these six traits.
It’s not easy to balance your owner perspective with the reality of what customers need and want. All that matters is that you provide what they
think they want, or convince them they need what you have. Because, even when the customer isn’t right, having the attitude that they are right will go a long way in retaining loyal customers. Even more, treating them like royalty helps establish loyalty. Doing everything possible for a customer can make a big difference.
At the Shoppes at Grayhawk in Omaha, Nebraska, Fabulous Fashions owner Susie Kizer has created a culture of outstanding customer service. A week before Christmas, with all the chaos and craziness that naturally comes along with retail holidays, a customer was disappointed that a scarf she liked had sold out. Kizer tracked down a new scarf from the manufacturer, paid the overnight shipping, and surprised the customer just days before the holiday. The customer couldn’t stop gushing about the shop, but even better… her husband stopped in to the store to purchase a very generous gift card for his wife as a gift. Unexpected, a financial boost… and a testament to Kizer and her team’s focus on the customer.
As a small business owner, you started out with a clear mission and defined view of what you wanted your
retail business to embody. You consulted with mentors and fine-tuned your business plan and refuse to waiver from the initial goal. You might add products or services, but just like Starbucks (think add-ons like food, music, accessories), who never forgot coffee was the central point of its business, you return over and over again to the main concept.
At Chestnut Court in Darien, Ill., there sits a not-so-small shop for used books/music/video. The market for used anything has risen and dipped over the years, but owners Paul and Robyn Garrison of Frugal Muse Books + have met the market where it exists, continuously invent new events to celebrate their customers, and remain true to recycling extraordinary books and music, while creating a community gathering place for like-minded folks. That includes a blog, social media and hosting authors for book signings. It’s worked for more than 15 years, and continues to draw new customers while maintaining shoppers from the early days.
Every season – actually every week –- offers opportunities to create a reason for customers to visit. Promotions and sales attract new shoppers to your store, and give them an opportunity to explore your offerings. These days, back-to-school season begins as early as the 4th of July, and can run through September. More than just notebooks and rulers, students and their parents benefit from special offers on apparel, dental appointments, items for future care packages and more. Within the IRC Retail Centers portfolio, we saw the anticipated sales, but were excited to note that some owners took back-to-school to a new level. At Westgate Center in Cleveland, Ohio, salon owner Marc Abraham of Facelogic created an offer for a series of teen anti-acne facials at a discounted rate, while Pearle Vision optical manager Paul Ledesma offered discounts on eye exams and glasses, on top of existing offers, at Brownstones Shopping Center in Brookfield, Wis.
Maintaining an edge on your specific market is key to survival. Successful retailers watch what’s happening and adapt as necessary. At the popular Red Top Plaza in Libertyville, Ill., photography retailer Click Incorporated has had to rethink its role to shoppers as the photo printing industry changed over the past five years. While owner Nick Gillenwater and his team are locally renowned for quality printing, they recognize most people no longer print images. How to fill that void? This team broadened the store’s offerings to include video/film transfer, archiving, digital conversion, fine art enlargements and more. Nick leveraged his skills to meet the market need.
Sometimes, things happen.
There are power outages or road construction that impact your business – things that aren’t within your control, your landlord’s control or even the city’s control. You can panic and rant and throw a fit, or you can maintain a cool head and seek advice from well-regarded business owners or tap the resources that you already have. It’s important to remember that every storm ends (this is a metaphor) and remain resilient. In the case of Wild Birds Unlimited at the Shoppes at Mill Creek in PalosPark, Ill., a three-year-long (three!) project to widen road access in front of the shopping center created some sleepless nights for owners Mel and Laura Tracy. “We have strong franchise management and they helped us create a calendar of promotions and events,” commented Tracy. “We supplemented that with neighborhood nature hikes, school presentations and got out into the community – we went to the customer base.” Oh, and a bonus – the Tracys have honey bees, and sell some of the best natural lip balm you’ll ever try. We testify to that.
You already know that owning a business isn’t for sissies. When you sell small sale items, you need lots of customers. At gourmet popcorn shop What’s Popp’n at Westbury Square in Huntsville, Ala., owner Lisa Jackman checks her nerves at the door. “I could worry about staff leaving or sales off during a particular month, but it limits my gusto. I need my energy.” Jackman has run the numbers, knows where she needs to be, and has a plan to get there. “We plan, but when things don’t go as planned, it can be scary. Then we adjust and make a new plan.” Jackman was recognized by her local chamber as one of the top three contenders for Retailer of the Year in Huntsville. When things don’t go as anticipated, it’s good to have a plan B, and keep moving forward. Kudos, Lisa!
Have more advice? Tell us about it, here. We want to know what works!