Small, independent retailers may not be able to compete with megastores in the areas of selection and price, but small shops can offer better service and a more enjoyable shopping experience, which can add up to satisfied customers, repeat business and higher profits.
Creating a small store that is an attractive, fun place in which to shop takes some strategic planning, imagination and a strong commitment to providing exceptional service. But by following these tips from industry experts, it's possible to make a neighborhood store a magnet for customers.
• Know your market and capture it. For a small retailer to succeed, the store must carry items its customers want. Learn about your customers. What do they wish you carried? What items might you stock that your competitor doesn't?
• Define your store's personality. Often, one of the strengths of a successful small store versus a large chain or megastore is its ambiance and style. Assess the message or mood you're conveying to customers and the impression you'd like to make. Are you creating the atmosphere you'd like?
You'll never attract high-end customers with a low-end presentation. What would appeal to your audience? A store that is homey, tranquil and serene or one that's youthful and energetic? Personality is projected through decor, signage, lighting, fixtures, merchandise, quality of service and employees' appearance and attitude.
• Use lighting effectively. Presentation, or the store design, is especially important for small retailers and critical to establishing a store's personality. Doug Hope, producer of GlobalShop and publisher of Display & Design Ideas, a publication on retail design and renovation, strongly recommends investing in elements of store design, such as lighting. "Lighting is expensive, but the return in sales makes the investment worth it," Hope says.
Hope suggests using fun lighting in the front of the store or over the service counter to make the store attractive to passersby and to draw them in. Lighting also can highlight specific merchandise and move customers through the store, which can lead to impulse buying. Another effective strategy, Hope says, is to suspend lighting down from the ceiling, which makes the store seem less boxy.
• Choose fixtures carefully. Fix-tures-both their design and placement-can contribute significantly to retail success. "The overall fixture package sends a strong message to customers," says Greg M. Gorman, president of GMG Design, a full-service retail design consulting firm in St. Louis, MO.
Gorman emphasizes the importance of paying the extra dollars when necessary to get the right fixtures to meet the store's needs. "Make sure that the fixtures are very flexible, so they are able to accept merchandise changes. Don't be afraid to customize standard fixture designs to meet your specific merchandising needs. The increased costs will be a great future investment."
• Capitalize on graphics and signage. "The goal is to create a cohesive, strong image that sets your store apart from the competition," says Hope. Incorporating graphics and signage into the fixtures from the start is very important, he says. "You don't want them to look like afterthoughts. A booming technology is making available signage and graphics that are exciting, colorful and adaptable on an infinite variety of surfaces and at increasingly affordable prices for the smallest of retailers."
• Tease customers in with window displays. What can be more important for a window treatment retailer? But too often, says Hope, merchants try to show too much in the windows. Windows should introduce customers to the merchandise and invite them in. They should never be cluttered with signs or sales items. Neighborhood merchants especially have a good opportunity to familiarize passersby with the store by highlighting a few items in the windows.
• Give an older store a facelift. For store owners looking for ways to lure customers back into their businesses, renovating, by replacing and updating the lighting and fixtures, can be well worth the investment and effort. In some retail classifications, such as fashions, renovations have resulted in sales and gross margin increases of as much as 35 percent, and the increases were sustained over time.
Generally, new fixtures account for the largest percentage of a small retailer's renovation budget, but wall, floors and signs should not be overlooked when assessing the need for improvements. Even small upgrades in store design or fixturing can pay off in better traffic flow and, through that, higher profits.
• Provide services large stores can't offer. Shoppers yearn for the days when they were given personal attention and salespeople were friendly and knowledgeable about their products. Small shops can offer such services, but large stores have been cutting back on the floor sales staffs.
Essential to success for a small retailer, says Hope, is understanding its customers' shopping preferences and reacting proactively whether by educating its salespeople about the store's products or providing exceptional service. An excellent way to retain and attract customers, Hope adds, is to notify customers about sales or new merchandise in a more personal way and to ensure that all sales personnel are thoroughly familiar with store products.
• Make the store a friendly place for neighbors to meet. Shoppers like the idea and the convenience of frequenting local merchants. "Customers spend an average of nine minutes in a store," says Brian Dyches of Retail Resources Group, Laguna Niguel, CA. "So, providing comfortable seating and open spaces are excellent ways to encourage customers to make the store such a gathering place and spend longer each time they visit. The increasingly frequent use of in-store coffee shops, juice bars and similar amenities accomplish the same thing."
• Use a vender shop or store-within-a-store concept. This concept allows retailers to distinguish a particular brand or item in the store in look, feel and atmosphere from others. For example, a retailer may want to create a vendor shop for its largest brand or to highlight a particular item.
Hope, Gorman, Dyches and other experts in the retail industry may not agree on every point, but there is one essential point on which there's consensus: In order to have a successful store, a small retailer must have all the right elements, including store environment, location, staff, merchandise, price, quality and quantity.
Ten Tips to Capture Loyal Customers
• Know your market and capture it.
• Define your store's personality.
• Use lighting effectively.
• Choose fixtures carefully.
• Capitalize on graphics and signage.
• Tease customers in with window displays.
• Give an older store a facelift.
• Provide services large stores can't offer.
• Make the store a friendly place for neighbors to meet.
• Use a vendor shop or store-within-a-store concept.
GlobalShop is an annual retail design exposition produced by Shore-Varrone, Inc., publisher of Display & Design Ideas and Point Of Purchase magazine. For more information about GlobalShop, call (800) 646-0091; Web site: www.globalshop98.com.