25 Retail Ideas that Work
Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, 8/22/2011 10:59:41 AM
Twenty-five workable retail ideas from Home Accents Today's Retail Stars, Retailer Insight panelists, and participants in ART-sponsored Retailer Roundtables over the past year:
1. Interior design services. An increasing number of retailers tell us they're thriving and surviving thanks to their interior design businesses. Sometimes it's a design studio with retail showroom, but more often these days we're hearing about a new design studio or gallery addition to a once retail-only establishment. Some retailers are offering design services free with purchase(s), while others are moving from free services to fee-based with the addition of a licensed interior designer or two. A lot of our 2011 Retail Stars say inviting customers to bring in their own digital photos, measurements and swatches is a great way to move more product. Accent Interiors, in Wichita, Kan., calls its design program Seymour Homes: "Seymour is the name of our digital camera that allows us to see more homes. We loan Seymour to customers who don't have a digital camera to take photos of areas that they want to address. We print out the pictures, and with their swatches, our staff can help them with their projects without playing the guessing game of "it's about this big" or "it is sort of this color." They can bring their home to us courtesy of Seymour."
2. In-store events. Social media makes it easier than ever to announce a party. Open houses, holiday markets, seasonal gatherings, decorating seminars; they're all bigger and more creative than ever. One of our favorites comes from Alison Dodson Anderson, owner of A. Dodson's in Suffolk, Virginia: "We host a Ladies Night and a Men's Night each December - the ladies come one week to make a wish list, and the men come the next week to enjoy bourbon and ham biscuits while they shop off their ladies' wish lists."
3. Vendor trunk shows. Some retailers have told us their most successful store events and promotions featured a favorite product line, trunk show, or merchandising event hosted by the vendor or rep. Wyoming retailer Jody Horvath, owner of Reindeer Ranch in Cody, said one of her best retail ideas was a showcase of Pendleton Home. "We set three beds and merchandised blankets hung over the balcony railings. Pendleton is now my number two vendor."
4. Artists/author nights. Store events that bring artists and authors and their creative works onsite for exhibition events are consistently bringing in first-time visitors. Why? Many of them actively blog and use Facebook to promote their products, as well as their upcoming appearances. This idea was first brought to our attention by an "anonymous" participant at one of the retailer roundtables led by Accessories Resource Team Executive Director Sharon Davis: "There's added value in that the participating artists and authors are blogging and posting on Twitter and Facebook. It's no longer just the store's mailing list. I have a little over 1,300 square feet. We had five artists and it totally worked. A percentage of sales went to a charitable organization, so they sent something out to their email list, and the artists sent something out, and it was really great for business."
5. Contact the press. Speaking of fundraisers - we've advised more than a few retailers to learn how to write a simple press release so they can promote their stores in the press. In the old days, it required a press directory, a lot of phone calls and a mass mailing. Today, email addresses for news desks, editors, and community calendars are fairly easy to find on the organizations' websites. A number of online resources provide press release templates that can be used to announce a store's "upcoming charity shopping event with 10% of all sales benefiting the local animal shelter." As long as there's a fundraising component, most local media outlets will be glad to publish the news.
6. Focus on your brand. Now that marketing channels have grown to include social media, websites, blogs and YouTube, maintaining a consistent brand logo and personality is more important than ever. Susan Taylor, owner of Black-eyed Susan in Holicong, Pa., does it well with a simple line drawing logo (of a black-eyed Susan blossom) - easy for Facebook fans and Twitter followers to identify. She also plays off the theme with "Susan on Sale" promotions, a "Susan's Pick of the Month" board showing new trends and colors, and an overall "Oh, So Susan!" merchandising style that sets her apart from her competition. We also like the way the staff at Charley & Bella's (Marshall, Texas), wear their brand on their bright green work smocks and aprons.
7. Get personal. Send birthday cards and thank you notes. If not by mail, then post it on the customer's Facebook page, so all of the customer's friends will see it. Mail gift certificates to new homeowners in the area. One California retailer we know sends a postcard and discount coupon to repeat customers, with the note: "I appreciate that you understand the importance of coming in and supporting your local shops. Instead of making a discount available to you during one event when it might not be convenient for you, here's a little coupon to use at your convenience." She says the response has been great.
8. Cross market with local merchants. Here's a great take on it from one of our favorite "Main Street" retailers from the Midwest: "We do a lot of cross promotion - discuss how to get people to visit our businesses, give them reasons to come downtown. We've bought ads together in publications that we could never have afforded to advertise in individually. In our community, a big box retailer ran an ad that said, ‘We gave away $20,000 to the schools.' Well, we all got together on our block, ran the numbers, and realized that all together we gave $80,000 to local charities - and we're all independent business owners who live there!"
9. Relocate/renovate. Understandably, we're seeing a lot of retailers take advantage of real estate vacancies with moves into higher-traffic areas, smaller or larger showrooms, and better physical structures. Some are using the economically-induced downtime to tighten up operations while others are renovating to add more space or personality. Harlan Van Vark, owner of Boat's Home Furnishings in Pella, Iowa, was inspired to renovate following a trip to the High Point Market a few years ago. "We were admiring the old Market Square building and realized that our old building could look just like it. When we returned to Pella, we did just that. We added on a two-story section to our existing store, knocked down plaster to expose brick walls and sanded the old wood floors. Our store is uniquely different than any other store around."
10. Welcome dogs. If you're in a pet-loving area, consider putting a doggie bar outside. Jacquie Ewing of Armadillo, Ltd. in Avalon, N.J. provides clean water and two-pack freebie dog biscuits from "Waggies," a local enterprise staffed by intellectually challenged adults from Wilmington, Del. Said Ewing, "We give away hundreds of two-packs, and we sell the biscuits by the bag in the shop. Any dog that gets lose in the neighborhood knows where to go! In an area like this you get to know your customers - and their pooches - on more than a first name basis. And yes we do allow their dogs in the shop - from Great Danes to English bulldogs. Sometimes the hounds are better behaved than their owners!"
11. Nourish customers. Retailers are going beyond simply offering a cup of coffee. Now they're throwing wine tastings, installing tea and coffee bars, stocking gourmet treats and organic munchies all day long. Or, take a cue from Wine & Design in Cleveland, Ohio, where owner Greg Morris brings fine wine, home furnishings and interior design advice all together under one roof.
12. Offer store exclusives. Whether it's a candle with your own store label or your own signature product line, retailers tell us there's definitely value in exclusivity, which you can have in just a single piece: "Buy a chandelier, put a coat of paint on it and a shade on the bulb. Take a chest and change the hardware. For a little effort you have something no one else sells -- which means you can mark it up more."
13. Confuse the Internet shopper. They can't compare prices if they can't confirm who made it. "We got tired of customers walking into our store and asking us to match the Internet price. So now we make it harder to find the tags. Someone yesterday was talking about the same subject -- said he goes to great lengths to hide the manufacturers' names on the product descriptions."
14. Renegotiate. The experiences of more than a few retailers indicate it's worth a try: "We renegotiated all our contracts -- waste management, merchant services, landlord, vendors -- we sat down with everyone and renegotiated it all... even developed our own written Credit Card Policy for Vendors that we give them before placing an order. Not all of them agree to it, but some do... and there are lots of vendors out there."
15. Add categories. As a retailer said in one of our roundtable discussion forums earlier this year, "Think Anthropologie." Add interest with a few antiques, vintage, one-of-a-kinds and handmades. Mix it up with a few lines of apparel, jewelry and gifts. New items bring in new customers and keep them lingering longer. This is a popular one: "We have some lower-priced items up at the front. We want all of our customers to know there's something here they can afford ... Even as a furniture store, you have to have some small stuff. Enough of those $20 items will eventually help pay my rent ... I want people in the store. Fashion accessories and gifts help me get them there."
16. If it's Made in the U.S.A., say so. Interest in American-made products at the winter and spring markets was high, indicating that consumers are becoming more committed to domestically produced product. Several retailers are applying Made in America labels to merchandise products and parts; others have set aside portions of the floor for "Made in America" products, Georgia retailer Woods Furniture is currently displaying more than 500 American flags as part of its new "America Works" campaign. Recently-opened High Cotton Home Company (Charlotte, N.C.) is betting its entire merchandising concept on the idea. According to co-owner Rodney Hines, "All of the upholstery is eco-friendly and made in North Carolina, less than 60 miles from the store... almost all of our wooden furniture will be finished in North Carolina."
17. Let them take it home on approval. "Since December, we've seen a renewed interest in furniture, but we're a very design-driven business. For a client who only buys the furniture, we drive a truck full of accessories and give it to them on approval. They often keep everything, and that easily adds several thousand to a sale."
18. E-commerce. Some retailers are successfully selling online, others say they are content keeping their online catalogs just that - online catalogs. If you want to test the e-commerce waters without investing a lot of time or money, check out Big Cartel, a company we first wrote about in 2008. It's a good way to go if you only want to sell a few products (up to 100) and can't justify the expense of paying a Web designer to customize and maintain an Internet storefront for you. Several companies also offer low-cost e-commerce platforms for Facebook, like one we wrote about last year called Payvment that lets your customers shop right on your page, by clicking on an "Ecommerce" tab. Facebook has even created a new website called Facebook Studio, that teaches, among other things, how to use the social network for marketing.
19. Mobile Technology. Mobile technology is changing the way products are sold at every level. Some of the larger wifi-ready retail chains are beginning to test tablets, smartphones and kiosks as mobile cash registers, catalogs, shopping alert and coupon delivery systems, and product customization tools. Within the home accents industry, the iPad is making it easier for vendors and reps to show and sell product to retailers, and for retailers to show and sell product to consumers. We'll continue to monitor the burgeoning technology and report on it in our pages, on our blogs, in our market seminars and at our annual technology conferences.
20. Social media. It's a whole new way of marketing, bringing results to retailers, and is here to stay. Retailers are making fewer magazine and newspaper buys, opting instead to advertise, promote and communicate with customers on Facebook and Twitter. Foursquare is starting to pick up steam with retailers as they begin to understand its potential as a new word-of-mouth advertising tool and customer loyalty engine. A year ago, one retailer told us she'd outsourced management of her posts, tweets and email maintenance to a "virtual assistant" located offsite, in another state. She later reversed that decision when she realized "I am the voice of my store, and it is more genuine if I do it."
21. YouTube commercials. Retailers are also making fewer network television buys, turning, instead, to cable and YouTube: "We do our own commercials. It's so fun, and we really come off as being a fun furniture store. We pay a couple thousand dollars for (the shooting and editing). We hired Media Power out of Charlotte, N.C., to do our media buying - they negotiate all of our contracts. We only do cable buys - HGTV, FOX, CNN - network does nothing for us. Then, we put the commercials on YouTube."
22. Network with other retailers. Attend one of our many ART-sponsored retail roundtables or join a private online discussion group. Many retailers who do tell us they find it to be a great source of information and support. From one of those roundtables came this recommendation: "The National Trust Main Street Center is a great resource. They post really interesting articles on their Facebook page about what groups are doing to revitalize their shopping districts around the country." Contribute your voice to ongoing state and federal legislative matters pertaining to retailers (credit card and debit card swipe fees, health care reform, taxes, California's new law requiring retailers to provide a seat for each worker). The National Retail Federation is a good starting point, and provides easy-to-use templates for writing congressmen on legislative issues affecting retailers.
23. Give extra attention to your top spenders. Identify the top 20 or 30 customers and reward them with coupons, discounts, VIP shopping events, and a little extra attention when they walk through the door.
24. Use a rewards program to get emails. In response to a retailer's observation on the difficulty of getting customers to provide their email addresses, another retailer said: "We ring up their sale in a point-of-sale system that has a customer rewards program. We offer $10 back for every $200 they spend. With a rewards program, it's easier to ask for e-mails - you're giving them something in exchange for getting their e-mail address. There are customer rewards programs in Quickbooks software - it's all free, but people don't know it's there."
25. Outsource delivery. This one was recommended by retailers to reduce breakage: "We pay either a flat rate or a percentage of the sales ticket, and we've actually saved a ton of money and have very little breakage - it has gone to 3.5% - we were running about 7%. If something comes in freight damaged, they handle all of that, too. It only works if you create a mutually beneficial relationship with them. (This company) has gotten a lot of business from referrals because of us. But it has to be the right delivery service. They have to know how to apply the finishing touches - they have to be white glove."