As you’re reading this the fourth quarter will be upon us. I know you really don’t want to think about it but you must prepare. Actually your customers really don’t want to think about the approaching Christmas season either. Believe it or not you actually have a great deal of control whether this Christmas is a boon or bust to your business. By starting now there are some things you can do to help you get a jump on your competition and bring shoppers through your doors.
The reason you need to start now is that it takes time for a marketing plan to work and you need to create a plan and work it to have a successful holiday season. Consider items like extended holiday shopping hours or additional customer loyalty programs to kick-start your sales.
Every small business needs to be preparing for the increase in customers this holiday season. Word of mouth is still the most effective marketing tool but be aware of social media opportunities. Social media is exploding and you and your business needs to be ready, willing, and able to meet this challenge. If you’re not on Facebook for your business, get there soon. If you don’t have the time or ability, find someone who can help you. Social media is a great way to identify new customers. If you are taking care of your existing customers, they will bring you additional business. Your average customer will recruit three other customers during the time they do business with you. Someone telling someone else about your business is very powerful. And what makes a customer talk about a business? Usually the way they were treated in that business. Here are some ideas that can get you off on the right foot.
Start internally with you and your employees. I know you think you give good or even great customer service over the course of the year, but this is the time to step it up a notch. Call customers by name as soon as you know it (it’s on their checks and credit/debit cards); better yet, train your sales people to introduce themselves and meet people. Point out new items to customers. Ask when they last shopped with you if you don’t recognize them. Make them feel at home in your store. Treat them like honored guests. Impress them. If you want to take it up a notch, ask friends and family to secret shop your store. One word of caution though, don’t do this unless you’re ready to implement some of the suggestions.
Don’t allow your employees to simply point customers toward products; physically take them over to the area they are looking for and give them information about the products and related products they might want to consider. I’m not talking about high pressure selling techniques or hovering over your customers. I’m talking about being a great resource and sharing your knowledge to assist them. Provide that little extra and a feeling that you took your time to give them that personal attention they deserve so they will remember their shopping experience positively.
Have your very best people answering your phone. Make sure they demonstrate a smile in their voice each and every time they answer. Consider positioning a mirror next to each phone. If you can see your smile in the mirror before you answer the phone, the customer will hear your smile. This can be where sales and relationships begin for a company. Remember, they took the time to find your number and call you – they want something.
Invite your best customers in for an exclusive after hour’s party to kick off the holidays. Pick their brains about what they bought last year. What items make the best gifts? Are there products they wish you carried that you don’t? What price ranges are they looking for? What is their average Christmas budget? These people shop too and they are the start of your word of mouth campaign.
Create subtle in-store displays of gift items. Don’t bring out the ornaments and trees just yet but give your high margin gift ideas a prominent place where they will be noticed. Pay special attention to your window displays. These silent sales people can work for or against you. Make your displays an invitation to step inside. They need to become a shopper magnet to boost your bottom line this holiday season.
Traditionally the Christmas buying season starts the day after Thanksgiving, but don’t forget about Small Business Saturday, November 28th. This is the day set aside for small businesses to shine. In 2014 shoppers supported their neighborhood businesses like never before. An estimated $14.3 billion was spent at small independent businesses on that day last year. Don’t ever forget that there are also many people who are done by then. If they see a good gift idea that would be perfect for someone, it goes in the subconscious memory to be retrieved at shopping time.
The next part of your success is advertising in the right place, with the right products, to the right people. You need to know how to reach your best customers. Rather than wasting money by throwing your money all over the place and hoping some of it sticks, define your best customer and seek out the appropriate medium to reach them. Consider joining forces with other stores in your district on shared advertising resulting in more bang for your buck. During October and the first part of November these will not be Christmas related ads. You are planting shopping ideas and hints that will be harvested down the road. Of course, some will buy immediately, some will clip the ad and shop later, and still others will be me… the 3:00 p.m., December 24th shopper.
The last suggestion has to do with customers that enter your store and purchase a gift certificate/gift card. Think about this for just a moment. A customer is in your store and they give you their money. This purchase has no immediate impact on your inventory and they are giving it away to someone else with their personal recommendation to come back to your business and redeem it. Make sure they do not leave without something in their hands. Give them a special gift or some expression of appreciation for being a quality customer and recommending your store to someone else. Confirm in their minds that you are the type of business they want to send their friends and relatives.
Always remember, if you aren’t preparing for the best holiday season ever, you might find yourself caught in the middle of the worst one ever.
I leave you with two thoughts;
“There is Power in Simple.”
“Negative people have a problem for every solution.”
Jim Thompson is a business specialist on the Main Street Iowa team at the Iowa Economic Development Authority.