Keys to a successful independent shop
We’re six months into trading and I wanted to share my six top tips of what I’ve learnt from my first few months in business that have helped me attract and retain customers.
1) Change you display regularly. I’ll often have people in my shop saying how they’ve only just noticed me, even though they walk past here every day. This is not because of anything specific I have or haven’t done, but I’m a firm believer that you only really notice what you need to notice. If a person is not out looking for an ethical purchase, then they’re not going to look in my store. I change my display once a month, rotating stock in the window to show the different aspects of what we sell. This in turn brings new customers in who may not have noticed us had we continually displayed the same things. They notice us because they see something in the window they have been looking for. Often people know what they want but, as retailers, sometimes we need to show them what they want.
2) Don’t be too niche. Everyone is a potential customer. You may have developed your customer avatar, like any good marketing expert will tell you to do, but if you focus all your energy on this market you’ll never see what other markets could open up to you. When I got into ethical retail I didn’t want to branch into the health or free-from market; I didn’t think these where my customers. After being inundated with people in my shop asking for gluten free and diabetic products I started thinking well, perhaps this is just another market I can cater for as many of my products being natural, cross into this market. Whilst I have a target individual, that individual can often walk into your store in all forms. Our prejudices imagine that we’ recognize our target customer, but in reality do we really know what they look like? My main aim is to get as many people into my shop from as many walks of life as possible to open up the possibility for working with new customer groups, and adapting to the potential that the market can change and you need to be ready to change with it. When I recently ran a chocolate tasting event I didn’t just look for ethical consumers of chocolates, I looked for people who love chocolate. Think about what other avenues you can open up and never restrict customer groups because you don’t think they fit the mold.
3) Listen, talk and listen. One of the real benefits of being on the shop floor is I’m there almost every day listening to what my customers say, engaging in conversation to find out what they are looking for. You’ll start to pick up trends and find customers are regularly saying the same things. I quickly learnt Vegans love cheese alternatives, so I started expanding my cheese selection. I found out which cheeses they like and which they don’t and stock more of the ones they like. I tried to source ones that they said where hard to find and now my cheeses fly off the shelves. Most people look into my fridge and say WOW! Being able to talk and listen to what the customers want helps you to get the right products in store. I once went to a shop where I saw the shop keeper constantly telling people, “No we don’t have that.” Well my next sentence is, “But I can try and find one for you.” The only time I don’t say that is if I know the product does not fit into my store.
4) Watch what other shops are doing, particularly the successful ones. How is one café always full and another empty. What are they doing differently. It’s a bit like spying, but more friendly. Keeping an eye on the shops in your close proximity, even if they are not in the same market as you is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there may be something you can work together on. Collaborating is great; remember that anyone can be a customer. Each shop will have it’s own loyal database of regular customers, so what can you do to join forces and share. Secondly, what things do they do that you could be doing? I noticed in January all the big shops have sales but many of the smaller independents don’t. I decided it was a good time to clear out old stock and make way for new stock and the sale brought in a new customer base and enabled me to refresh my stock which has in turn brought in even more new customers,
5) Hold a sale to clear out old stock. Whilst my margins where down in January my sales figures remained fairly constant due to the attraction of the bargain hunter. It can be quite a scary thought to put something on sale at a loss to you; I started my sale at 20% off until someone came into my shop and said you need to do 75%, that’s what the other shops are doing. So I did. I put a few products on at 75% off, some at 50%, some at 20% and some at full price. Overall I still maintained a positive gross profit that month, so sales are not as scary as they seem.
6) Don’t stop buying stock when you’ve had a bad month. It can be quite difficult to find the spare cash to invest in new stock, sometimes cashflow can make you think twice about a new stock purchase. When the fear factor kicks in you can start pulling the reigns in and not replacing stock or investing in new lines. I really think this is one of the keys to getting it right. I went through a journey of buying too much to then pulling right back and not buying enough and I’m still trying to find the right balance, but stopping altogether only hinders you. If you are not replacing your best sellers, your regulars are going to stop coming, and by not investing in new products you’ll be struggling to attract new markets. Find a strategy that works for you and keep on top of your stock.