As a retailer, whom do you serve? Think a bit before you answer. Determining what makes you special as a retailer is not always easy. Finding customers who value what you offer is difficult at best. Enjoying your place in the sun, known as customer approval, is especially demanding in these uncertain times. It takes cultivation on several fronts. Every community across the fruited plain is overwhelmed with retail shopping locations and merchants offering everything from soup to nuts. What makes your business emerge from the masses as distinctive? Developing a niche and working it could be the long lost answer.
Answer the following six questions, they are crucial to your success. Record your answers and you’re sure to hit pay dirt. The questions are about who your customers happen to be and more importantly, who they should be:
- How is my store special and unique? Unique alludes to being one-of-a-kind. If you are a “me too” kind of business, this could be the core of your challenges. Wal-Mart’s early uniqueness was their discounting strategy, which holds true today.
- What groups of people would most benefit by what I offer? You must keep in mind age, sex, income, geography, and special interests. This is where you’ll create an umbrella (marketing position) under which all your advertising, promotion, and merchandising efforts will be executed—a united front.
- How have I physically set up my store to be user-friendly in a concerted effort to serve this group of people I seek? As example, there is a crystal shop in Vail, Colorado I’ve shopped at for years, but when they took out the sofa I could no longer sit and relax while my family was selecting their treasures so I don’t shop there any longer. There are countless things you can do to make your store user-friendly for your targeted customers.
- Is my advertising targeted to the customers I desire to serve or am I wasting my money trying to reach those less likely to buy from me or use my services? It’s difficult to dispatch an aunt with a 12-gauge shotgun! Low cost per thousand means nothing if the thousand are not potential customers. Target your advertising to the publications your customers are most likely to read and the broadcasts they are most listen to or watch.
- How can I change my business to attract more of my target market? The million-dollar question. This is where you might need professional help from a retail consultant. If hiring a professional is something that you can’t or won’t do, another suggestion is to pick the collective brains of your suppliers. Many suppliers are ready and willing to partner with you by offering services to assist. An excellent strategy is to invite all your sales and manufacturer representatives to a mastermind meeting that you host. You can rent a local hotel boardroom and have the dinner catered or do it at your home. Ultimately what you want to have happen is to have a brain storming session where you have experts on your industry and competitors. Also, ask your current customers and friends this question: “If this were your business, whom would you target as your primary market?” Then ask them to explain to you why they made that suggestion. You will be amazed, if you listen, at the helpful answers; good answers come from good questions. Whatever you do, don’t be enchanted by the Ego Trap—pretending that you have all the answers.
- What turns me on? You must be excited about what you do for the enthusiasm to come through. If you’re in a rut, you’re in fact in a coffin with the ends kicked out. People who succeed in business are usually very excited about what they do. Survey what you like about being a merchant and concentrate on the positive. Let your exhilaration shine continually—it’s contagious!
Once you’ve determined what groups of people are most likely to be served by the services and products your store has to offer, start to target all your efforts towards these people. Today it is impossible to be all things to all people, the better strategy is to serve a specific group and give them the value-added service they want.
In your efforts to add value, a pitfall you’ll want to avoid is that of adding the value you desire, rather the value your niche customers want. Become market driven rather than product driven by listening to your target customers needs, wants, and desires. Do this and they’ll reward you with greater profitability than you have heretofore enjoyed.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.