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Ask the Experts: More ways to stay current

More ways to stay current, rethink your business and keep shoppers happy

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By Georganne Bender
By Rich Kizer
Published: August 12, 2016
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Q: "I really need to do a better job of keeping up with what’s going on in the creative world, with the competition and in my community. Do you have any fresh ideas?"

A: We just returned from a couple days in a small town in Kansas, where we spent time talking to successful downtown retailers to see what made them tick. This town has a very active downtown association and a chamber of commerce that keeps the businesses stimulated. But what if your town doesn’t? In the second of two columns on this topic, we offer more ideas on what you can do:

See trade shows with new eyes

Once you discover how to think about merchandising differently, you will begin to see things at trade shows you hadn’t noticed before. In addition to the must-haves, keep your eyes open for new op-portunities. Think of each booth as a mini-store: What are the stories being presented? Which products/categories/ideas are you seeing repeated in more than one booth? Make a point to visit vendors you would normally pass up, and block some time to spend with new exhibitors.

  Follow the crowds and then decide if the booths are packed with people who are just there to be entertained, or if there is cool merchandise or product applications you need to find out more about. If it’s the latter, these items might be a fit for your store, as well.

  Ask for suggestions from current suppliers on ways you can boost business. Your vendors talk retail with buyers from all over the world every day. They hear success stories and strategies, and they’re willing to share, so ask which items sold and which ones flopped. Your vendors can be an endless source of ideas and opportunities.

  Watch the trendsetters. What are the big names—the industry celebrities—talking about? Which products have they incorporated in their latest projects? Do you carry the components necessary to
re-create these projects in your store? If not, what will you need to add to what you currently sell? If the celebs hold classes or demos, make it a point to attend.

  Network! If you already have friends from other states or provinces, make plans to get together at the shows you attend. If not, look for other retailers to compare notes with once you get there. Introduce yourself at seminars and say, “You’ve got challenges and I do, too. How can we help each other?” Set a goal to meet five new retailers each day. You’ll find that this network of non-competing retailers will become an important source of information and support throughout the year.

  Meet with your networking group at a specified time at the end of each day to discuss the best things you’ve each found at the show. Together, set a goal for each member of the group: “Find the best vendor for ______ ,” “Look for the best price on ______ ,” etc.

  Keep your group together after the show and agree to get together at future shows. You can also set up a private Facebook group or hold monthly Skype meetings with your network; take charge and make it happen. Share what’s new, hot and happening in your stores. You might even choose a “Challenge of the month” to be discussed at the next teleconference meeting.

Retail is in the details
Think of new categories as fashion items that have a shelf life. Buy the manufacturer minimums and ask about reorder availability so you can be prepared if the items take off. Be specific about when you want the items you order to land, and be specific about cancel dates when they don’t arrive as promised.

  Ask yourself if the new product fits into a current story. If not, can it be easily incorporated into one—or will you need to develop a new merchandise story and strategy? Next, you need to develop a marketing/merchandising plan for each new category that includes how will you sell and display it, and how you will introduce it with fanfare, as well as a timely markdown strategy to dispose of out-of-season product and product that does not sell as expected.

Tell me a story
Why just sell a customer one thing when you can sell two or more and up your average sale? We know a retailer who added yarn to her merchandise mix and then created “yarn sundaes” to entice customers to give knitting a try. She packaged a skein of yarn and a pair of knitting needles inside a 30-ounce coffee shop-style plastic cup; the knitting needles stuck out of the hole in the top of the rounded lid. What could you creatively bundle together to sell a story, not just an item?

  Cross-merchandise. Mix different product categories together in your displays to help shoppers easily imagine and visualize how the items will look or work together. Simply put, they see more and buy more.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? The goal is to rethink your business and what you sell. Why not up the ante? Surprise your shoppers, who assume it will be business as usual behind your front door, with the unexpected.
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