Pick Up The Pace When Business Is Slow
It’s that time of year again – the “off-season.” During this potentially dry period, you may simply be buckling down and waiting out the storm, so to speak, but there are measures you can take to proactively and assertively boost sales.
Barry Moltz is a motivational speaker, writer, consultant, and a NAMM University presenter who believes the reason many small businesses struggle or fail is because they don’t properly identify what they really do for their customer base. “A company should identify what pain in a customer’s life it’s solving and find a way to solve it,” he says.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Hopefully that doesn’t sound like something your store is practicing. “A lot of people kid themselves and say, ‘Tomorrow will be different, if I only work harder, if I only work longer,’ and they never really change the way that they do things,” Moltz shares, explaining that instead, owners and managers should be actively improving the way they sell.
The Price Is Right
Mark Mizzi, Owner of Northland Music in Sault Ste. Marie, ON, says, “When business is slow, you have to know when to pull in the reins on purchasing and trim all the fat out of the monthly budget – learn to buy smart and get the best discounts you can for
products you’re buying.” A first step to that, he says, is reviewing your approach to pricing.
“In a small market like this, everyone is on the Internet and knows the prices being offered by online retailers for what they want. We have to keep on top of that and try to make sure our prices are as close to the minimum as possible,” he explains.
“People like to buy in a store rather than taking a chance buying online. If you are charging a lot more, though, it may make them take the risk.”
Knowledge Is Power
In an age where you can find an answer to almost anything on Google (though how accurate that answer might be is usually debatable), small business owners are faced with the task of finding knowledgeable staff who can help a customer find the product that suits their needs best.
“Friendly customer service is what keeps people coming in; your store is like a small community,” Mizzi says. “You want your staff to know inside and out what they are selling, and to know exactly the kind of people they’re selling it to.”
Regarding staffing, Moltz adds: “Get involved with the right people, because who helps you with your business is more important than the kind of business you are in.” He adds that you should ensure those you add to your team bring a complementary attitude and skill set to the sales floor, and also that the person is engaging and enthusiastic about the job.
“Selling is really about establishing a relationship,” explains Moltz – “a long-term relationship with people where you present yourself as an expert, rather than someone simply trying to sell something.”
The Customer Is Always Right
Social media. Few people know exactly how to tap into the strengths and dodge the limitations of this still-emerging domain, but the reality is that everyone and their dog has an online presence. Again, they’re looking to be engaged through the social culture of the various platforms.
“I like to take pictures of anything new that comes in and post those on our [Facebook] page. Customers want to be able to see what you have in stock without having to leave the house,” says Mizzi. Platforms like the ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter along with emerging communities like Tumblr and Pinterest are free and easy to employ as marketing and communications tools. Your potential audience is there waiting, and everyone loves a good story.
“Find interesting things to talk about to establish a deeper relationship with your customers,” says Moltz. He adds that these platforms are also opportunities to create loyalty programs – always a good way of keeping existing customers happy. “It makes people feel like they’re getting something for nothing.” Focusing on how to keep and cater to existing customers is also an area that deserves a lot of your attention.
“Too many times, small businesses focus on bringing new customers in, but often what happens is, while you are busy trying to bring customers through the front door, existing customers are going out the back door, and chances are they won’t be back.”
Key to that is tapping in to what you offer – either physically or psychologically – that makes your business attractive in the first place. “You’ve got to find out what people love about your products, and what people never tell you about your products. Make yourself available so they can tell you how they feel about using the product long-term,” Moltz explains. It creates a lasting dialogue and shows you have a vested interest in their projects.
One way to find out how your customers feel is to survey them once a year and find out about their biggest concerns. “Keeping up with what a customer wants and needs is very important,” Mizzi says. “Everything changes very quickly and new products are always coming out. There’s always something somebody comes in for that you won’t have,” he attests from experience. In that case, order it in if you can and assess if it’s something you should be stocking.
Keep In Touch
“Using e-mail to send interesting industry news or promote attractive sales is a good way to keep up with your customers,” says Moltz. “Weekly, you should send your top 100 regulars something of value.” That could be a discount coupon or invitation to see a brand new product up-close. “You’re selling your expertise.”
Although the nature of retail has come a long way in recent years, word of mouth is still very important to the success of your store.
“Keep giving your customers a reason to say good things about you,” Mizzi says. Active communication is important to small business, but be sure you’re getting value out of each and every phone call you make or e-mail you send. Moltz explains that people buy when they are in pain. “As sales associates, your staff should help them feel better, help them find what they want to fix the pain,” says Moltz. “Don’t focus on the people without any gaps to fill.”
If you’ve made a checklist so far, once you get to the end, stagnancy is your biggest enemy. Go down the list again and see how you can tighten up each task. “You can’t only be worrying about marketing and sales when business is slow,” he says. “It pays off even more when you have momentum, though so many people slow down their efforts when things pick up.”
During a NAMM U session he presented in 2012, Moltz spoke about the “double helix trap” and how a business can keep going strong during the slow months by constantly pushing for more. The trap happens when a company only focuses effort and attention to their business during rough times, instead of marketing and pushing all year round. It’s an easily-avoidable pitfall that can be attributed to dips in revenue.
Looking for cost cuts, breaks, or discounts can also help ease the burden of a slow month. It’s stagnancy that causes business to get stuck, so shaking things up any way you can think of is worth a try. The industry as a whole is constantly shifting, so your practices should be, too. Keep a positive attitude and push forward with some compelling new ideas.
Alexandra Stavroullakis is a former Editorial Assistant
with Canadian Music Trade.