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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 retail ideas, innovations and inspirations from around the country.

1. "IF YOU LIKE THAT, then you might like this." Ken Levy is CEO and co-founder of technology4-tell company 4-Tell, creator of a "recommendations engine" that uses data from a retailer's website, store and call center to suggest additional buys for customers. "In the '90s, furnishings retailers had about four to five channels to manage; today it's grown closer to 10 to 15 when you add in social media outlets," Levy said. "Shoppers now continuously move in and out and across all of these channels, sometimes being in multiple channels simultaneously." Engaging content and product recommendations can help lengthen the attention spans of today's "empowered shoppers" and keep them shopping on your site longer. Levy's "Boost Recommendations Engine" monitors sales data, click stream and product catalog to create those recommendations in the background in real time. For more information, visit www.4-Tell.com.

2. BRANDING IS EVERYTHING. On her 2012 Home Accents Today Retail Stars nomination form, Krin Mims, assistantRIdots manager of Gracious Me in Hopkinsville, Ky., emphasized the importance of branding. "From day one, we knew our branding was essential to our growth and success. Believe it or not, this initiative was born from a polka dot. From our store front sign to our stationery and complimentary gift wrapping, our polka-dots and signature colors have become iconic to say the least. Not only has this idea helped to establish our branding, but it has served as essential marketing on our behalf. We have been told that receiving one of our gift boxes brings unequaled anticipation and excitement. Our brides look forward to having polka-dot showers filled with our beautifully wrapped boxes. We believe that this idea has truly earned us an iconic spot on what can be a relatively populated retail map."

3. ADD AN IRRESISTIBLE CONVENIENCE. Last spring, Los Angeles retailer Angie Freeman, owner of Bee Free Boutique, offered her customers an event they couldn't resist. Invitations to her shop's Ladies Night touted cocktails, munchies and "complimentary bang trims." Freeman brought in a hair dresser along with a makeup artist who also offered makeup consultations and brow-waxings. "Between browsing or while sipping wine, shoppers could get bang trims, makeup or eyebrows done," Freeman said. "We advertised by Facebook, Constant Contact, Yelp and through the vendors working with us." She called the response "tremendous."

4. OFFER A TRADE-IN. Discovery Furniture, another 2012 HAT Retail Star, gave customers the extra encouragement they needed to buy a new piece of furniture by finding a new home for their old stuff. "We had a trade-in event where we donate the customers' gently used furniture to our local charity, the Topeka Rescue Mission. At the same time, we give the customer a discount for their trade-in. This is a win-win event that our guests love," said co-owner Joyce Winter.

5. PROMOTE YOUR INDEPENDENCE. Small Business Saturday, which follows Black Friday, began in 2010 when American Express launched the concept as a way to help small businesses get more exposure during one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year. A "Promote My Business" section of the site includes ideas and results from small business owners who have used Small Business Saturday to increase profits. Lisa Higby LeFevre of shopsmallDistinctive Gardens, Dixon, Ill., for example, said that she and 70 local small businesses joined forces to promote the event, and that her store's sales increased by 45%. "On Facebook, we started a group called Sauk Valley Shop Small - a page where consumers and small business owners could interact. Using the Small Business Saturday tools provided, we created posters for all our businesses and issued press releases about the group. Local news and radio picked up our story helping to increase exposure of our local alliance." Small Business Saturday 2013 may be a long way off, but American Express is adding tools to help small businesses year round - signage, email copy, talking points and small business locator map. Subscribe to updates and announcements about the ongoing effort here. An independent business locator is available from national movement Independent We Stand. Their mobile app helps consumers finds locally owned, independent businesses across the country, and invites small businesses to sign up for a free listing in the database at independentwestand.org/membership.

Have a great retail idea to share? Send it to sdickenson@homeaccentstoday.com.

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