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Susan Dickenson

Retail Ideas That Work


First launched in Home Accents Today's July 2011 issue, an ongoing roundup of interesting ideas, innovations and inspirations from home furnishings retailers around the country.

1. Capitalize on comments. For most retailers, word of mouth is the strongest marketing vehicle, and testimonials are a great way to grow that channel. When a customer expresses satisfaction with her purchase or tells you how much she loves your store, create a device to capture that testimonial before it walks out the door with her. Train employees to Retail Ideas That Work, p. 38, January 2012respond with, "We love to hear that! And if there's any way we could get you to take a few minutes to write that down on this little card, we've got a special gift certificate in the back that you can use in the store right now."
In addition to serving as a marketing tool, the card can also provide feedback on areas for improvement. Some retailers have found comment cards help minimize negative word of mouth, by providing an outlet for unhappy customers who might otherwise share their complaints with friends and potential customers.
Keep the card simple, and the customer on point. Instead of asking customers to rate their satisfaction on a specific list of items, provide a lot of white space in the form of a letter to the owner: "Dear (store owner), Here is something I'd like to share with you about..."
The comment card should include a request for approval to use the comments on your website, Facebook page, in-store advertising materials or wherever you plan to share it. Additional things to consider: Ask for the customer's name and contact information up front; if asking for feedback about specific items, ask only about things you'd be willing to change; ask the customer if he or she would like to be contacted regarding their comments; act quickly to resolve any complaints. And for those shoppers who are in a rush, have the cards professionally printed as postcards that can be mailed back to the store.

2. Go green with environmentally friendly shopping bags. Green Bag Company, makers of reusable bags since 1999, can put your store logo on bags made of jute, juco (jute/cotton blend), recycled plastic bottles, NWPP (non-woven polypropylene), cotton, polyester or bamboo. They've also just added fully biodegradable bags made from cornstarch and are expanding into packaging and tableware. Minimum orders for most of the bags, offered in a large variety of sizes, is 5,000; cornstarch bags are 50,000 to 100,000, with production varying between eight to 10 weeks. If you don't want to give them away for free, put your logo on a sturdy jute or colorful laminate bag and charge a buck or two. Add a QR code. Host a "bag-spotting" photo contest on Facebook. Blanket the town.
A minimum order (of 5,000) for the standard bags, with one color logo printed on two sides and shipping to one location, are $0.86 a piece (about $4,300 total). Direct inquires to Susan Cavoretto at or visit Green Bag's website at

3. Grab a larger slice of the online pie. Mega-online retailer (formerly CSN Stores) has an advertising program for retailers called Get It Near Me that sends online customers to its brick and mortar "partners" when, after researching their product online, the shopper decides to buy it locally instead.
Although Wayfair gets more than 10 million unique shoppers a month, many of those shoppers are there not to shop, but to research product in the company's vast catalog, according to Andrew Garcia, manager of local media marketing and getitnearmesales for Wayfair.
Get It Near Me offers several strategies for brick and mortar partners to capture these shoppers as they make the decision to buy the product - locally. "If a shopper isn't going to buy from us online it's very much in our interest to make the end-to-end Wayfair experience as delightful as possible, going so far as sending them to our reputable brick and mortar partners who pay to participate on a pay-per-click basis," Garcia said.
Home furnishings companies who have used the program so far range from family-owned operations like Brashears and Rotmans, to Havertys and American Furniture Warehouse. At Nebraska Furniture Mart, Get It Near Me generated more than $30,000 in additional sales within the program's first three weeks of running according to NFM's internet marketing manager, Jeff Douglas.
Get It Near Me, offered through Wayfair Media Solutions, has its own website at

4. Sell outside your box. At Daisy's in Alameda, Calif., Barbara Mooney sells lots of decorative accessories, soft goods, gifts and tableware. She's also the local go-to destination for butter - as in Butter London, a nontoxic high-end nail lacquer. Founded in 2005 by a British entrepreneur, the "heavily pigmented" polish comes in colors with names like Chimney Sweep, HRH, Yummy Mummy, Tea With The Queen, The Full Monty and, in a tribute to last year's royal wedding, No More Waity Katie. Butter London has been available at Daisy's for two years and, according to Barbara, will be there for many more.
"You need to give a customer lots of reasons to come into your store every time they're in the neighborhood, or somehow become part of their routine. Butter is a perfect fit for us, because our store is all about the color palette and quality ingredients," she explained. "I can't decide if the wow factor is that it isn't a typical product in a home accent/gift store, or if it's the quality of the product. The truth is everyone needs to buy a gift, decorate their home and get themselves a little something now and then. To what degree they do that is a broad range but if your store fits all three categories in their mind you will become their go-to destination."

5. Move it out. Clean your shelves. Wrap or toss "$50 retail guaranteed" worth of non-moving product into brown grab bags, tie it up with bright ribbon, and charge $10 a bag. Include more than one item in each bag, try a couple of different sizes and prices, make some heavy, some light, but limit your "Brown Bag Sale" to once or twice a year to keep it special. The retailer who shared this idea with us promised that if your signage limits brown bag purchases to "Three bags per customer per day," each customer will buy three.

6. Host an in-store "Enlightening Event" to update your customers on the incandescent light bulb phase-out (which began nationwide Jan.1) - what it means, the timeline, how to translate the CFL equivalents, and the new developments and decorating options in LED technology. If you need to update yourself first, the American Lighting Association can help with education and illustrations at And make sure you've got plenty of lamps and lighting products on hand for the event.

Tell us about the great retail ideas that have worked in your store:

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