Retail Strategy

Creating your own positive economic outlook

Q: We've all heard about low consumer confidence, yet I need good sales performance this holiday season. What are some tips for improving sales?

A:  While you don't have control over your customers' pocketbooks, you do have influence. You probably purchased your inventory earlier this year and may have already received and paid for it. Therefore, the most important thing you can do now is create a solid merchandise-handling strategy to move it quickly.

Q:  What are some merchandise-handling strategies?

A:  Here are some strategies attributed to Dori Drumm, a former visual director for several large Portland retailers:
Plan ahead. Give yourself several months to figure out display décor. Plan groupings by spreading out or bulking up and adding new or unusual fixtures.

Be unpredictable. When you change the merchandise around regularly, the store looks fresh. A different location and venue suddenly give products a new perspective.

Light it up. Light is one of your most important tools. Make sure your lighting system is fully operational and flexible. Use light to feature high-profit-margin products, eliminate dead spots and generate excitement.

Create ambiance. It starts with a clean, well-lit, pleasing space … but don't stop there. Use sound, smell, taste and touch to enhance visual perception. Make sure you are responding to the mood of the day, the customers' desire to sample and their wish for a rewarding shopping experience.

Q:  What are some other ideas for attracting and retaining customers?

A:  Excellent customer service is still one of the most important ways to differentiate your store and create a positive shopping experience. Service to customers is the key to your success, so you must be totally committed to continuous improvement.

Commitment means understanding your customers' needs and wants; developing standards of service quality; and hiring, training and compensating good staff. Be a role model for employees and ask customers about their experiences so you can use the feedback to make improvements.

Q:  I would like to enhance my understanding of retail selling. Do you have any suggestions?

A:  There are a few good books on the subject: "Why We Buy, The Science of Shopping," by Paco Underhill; "Treasure Hunt," by M. Silverstein and J. Butman; and "Great Customer Service for Your Small Business," by Richard Gerson. You should also use industry trade resources to learn best practices and stay on top of changes in your industry. Always take advantage of free or low-cost business advice through SCORE or the Small Business Development Center.

Janet Harte is the Washington State University/SBDC certified business advisor and center director for Clark and Skamania counties. The SBDC, a partnership program with the U.S. Small Business Administration, offers free confidential business management counseling to small and mid-sized businesses. Call 360.260.6372 if you have questions or wish to make an appointment.