There comes a time in the lifecycle of any business when it becomes clear that what’s really needed is more clients. Fee paying, money spending, confidence raising, referral generating: clients or customers are the lifeblood of any business and getting them (or more of them) can feel like the holy grail.
I met up with a business owner last week to discuss this very question. He runs a decorating firm, with a shop selling fantastic high-end paints, wallpapers etc. and staff who, unlike some of the superstores, really know their stuff. Perfect business no? After years of being ignored or under-serviced down the road at B&Q, you’d think customers would be beating down his door. But it’s not the case. The superstores have £multi-million advertising budgets that give them limitless visibility and an (often unfounded) reputation for value. Small shops can’t compete on this platform. They simply can’t get the reach and the occasional ad in a local mag just won’t cut it. So customers are dwindling and despite the boom in home decoration this business is not getting the benefits.
So what’s the answer? Well, my basic advice to all small businesses competing with big players is to relax, smile and remember there are lots of things you can do that the superstores can’t. Don’t try compete at all in the world of super-high-value price cuts or advertising. You can’t win that battle. Instead look at your strengths.
In this case they are:
1) Knowledge and enthusiasm (the owner and employees have been there, done it and can advise on everything)
2) Reliability and visibility (a shop front offers stability and can lead to the unique opportunities which I’ll discuss below)
3) Location (in town as opposed to on the windswept outskirts like superstores)
4) Agility (he can respond instantly to trends and opportunities, unlike slow-turning superstore juggernauts).
So what about your business? Ask yourself what its strengths are and work out which of them can be turned into opportunities. Think about potential clients. Who are they? What might they need? It helps to work on this with someone else: an astute, patient friend or a business mentor can be invaluable in building a picture of what your unique offer could be.
So back to the decorating store. My ideas to help it build up more business?
1) Team up with a local interior designer to create in-store events for styling & decorating ideas. Use social and traditional media to advertise locally. Make it fun & social with some fizz and tokens to spend on the night. It’s a simple but effective way get more of the right kind of people into the shop – the ones who are interested in interiors and style (and who spend regularly). Plus the interior designer will invite their contacts, opening up a whole new customer base.
2) Create a stylish shop design with lots of references to interior magazines like Living Etc and Elle Decoration. Build a monthly wall of inspiration using images from these magazines. Make sure the shop stocks the paint and paper to make these ‘looks’ happen.
3) Include decorating services in the offer. Advertise ‘hanging’ costs for wallpaper and ‘on the wall’ costs for paint as part of the in-store price. That way customers understand that they can finish the whole job by coming to this shop, and the owner can use his extensive contacts to put together a reliable troupe of painters and decorators to deliver. Finding a reliable, traceable decorator can be very difficult in the South East: having a shop to return to gives the customer peace of mind that there will be easy redress if they’re not happy with the results. (Great for all those of us who’ve been met with the dead ring tone when trying to call a decorator who has let us down…)
4) Position the shop as both a style and product expert. Build support through social media. Keep on top of the latest trends in interiors and link these styles to in-store products.
It might sound a lot to take on, but it doesn’t have to be at all. If it sounds daunting, you may like to know that I offer activation for people who want to outsource their sales & marketing strategy. So I’ll be spending the next few weeks finding a suitable interior designer, creating the event, establishing a social media profile and designing the inspiration wall.
I’ve worked with lots of businesses to help them get more customers and clients. Please do get in touch if you want to talk about what I could do for you.