A Seasoned Retailer Reveals Tips to Help All Small Businesses Thrive
When you set out to open a small business it’s always important to have your customer in mind. After all, your customer is who will define your success… or dare I say it, failure. For Colorado-based Katie Neuman, this was the top factor she considered when opening her store The Gator Loft – a baby boutique just south of Denver in Parker, Colorado. As part of American Express’s storytelling campaign, Amex Welcomed, I had the opportunity to speak with Neuman on the importance of customer service, our love for small businesses and supporting community initiatives.
Our number one goal is to give attention to who our customers are. For us, that means moms. We’re very supportive of this audience because we know firsthand moms need to be supported,” shares Neuman.
Neuman, a mom of two herself, aimed not only to create an environment that offered strong customer support and outstanding inventory, but also a place where moms could work part time and get away from their day-to-day routine.
My kids and family come first, but let’s face it, sometimes it’s nice to get away and do something outside of mom-mode. This is how other moms I have met feel, as well, so I’m fortunate to be able to employ some of these women,” Neuman explains.
Expanding on this, she also shared that working with other moms has created a sense of family among her store associates, something Neuman values. Despite the unknown of each day ahead, Neuman and her team are always there for each other.
“If someone is sick or has a sick kid, we get it and adjust the schedule to help each other out. If someone just wants to work extra hours to get some time away from home, we get that too. We’re all here for each other and that comes through in our store efforts.”
Just like parenting, running your own business is often unpredictable. But when you have trusted employees and resources like American Express on your side, unpredictably gets pushed away and instead, confidence and trust takes over.
I want my customers to feel secure in their shopping environment, and that doesn’t just mean trusting we can offer strong product knowledge or a place for kids to play while moms shop. It also means processing payments with American Express, a popular choice among our customers, and knowing that this step of their shopping journey is both easy and secure,” shares Neuman. The Gator Loft isn’t alone in this decision, either. Over 19,000 more places in the Denver area started accepting American Express® Cards in 2016, in fact.
In addition to offering a sense of security, some of Neuman’s best advice for other small business owners include the following.
Incorporate Experiences into Your Store Strategy
Customers expect a lot from merchants today, particularly when you consider that the ability to shop somewhere else is just a click away. This thought never goes too far from Neuman’s mind and thus, she aims to offer special experiences in her store as often as possible.
Events are a key part of our business strategy. When we designed our store, we incorporated a closed off classroom that can be used to entertain kids while moms shop, we host community events, hold educational opportunities and welcome business partners to bring their work into our store,” explains Neuman. One reason Neuman did this was because shopping with children of her own was never a breeze, until now.
“There are few stores I can confidently take my children to and feel as if they will be entertained and safe to enjoy the experience while I leisurely shop. Fortunately now, other moms have this in The Gator Loft and I do, as well.”
Expanding on this, Neuman states that “customers simply can’t have these experiences online and as a result, people want to come back to our store again and again.”
Become an Expert on the Products You Sell
The inventory sold at The Gator Loft ranges from newborn necessities to trendy items designed for moms – and while the range of these products is vast, one thing remains consistent among their inventory assortment.
Our team knows our products in and out, so they are able to best support our customers with a genuine understanding of our inventory and a sincere interest to want to share this knowledge,” explains Neuman. “As a consumer, it’s important to know where you can go for that type of support and at our store. That is among our top priorities.”
To help support this store philosophy, Neuman does not offer commission or other sales strategies for her associates to meet. Instead, she expects them to be informative and helpful at all times – whether they capture a sale or not. Her theory? Customers will return because they trust they can find the help and insight they are looking for from The Gator Loft.
Engage in Online Conversations
If you ask yourself the question “where are your customers?,” there is a good chance they are online. Keeping this in mind, Neuman recognized early on that social media was an important part of their customer conversion and customer conversations.
Moms connect on social media daily, chatting and sharing information all day long. We wanted to be a part of that, so our social media presence has been a big part of our marketing strategy. We wanted to engage and connect with our customers – ultimately earning their trust as a go-to resource for all things baby. The sales, as a result, will follow,” Neuman explains.
In addition to having active social media accounts, Neuman also incorporates email marketing into their business strategy. Both avenues allow her to share news of store promotions, upcoming in-store events and other sales-oriented activities. But more so than these efforts, Neuman uses these avenues to simply stay engaged and share relevant mom news and resources.
Welcome the Opportunity to Be Different
What makes a customer want to Shop Small when their opportunity to shop anywhere is so easy?
Make yourself different. Set yourself a part. Whatever that means for your business, aim to stand out among your competition – both online, local and big box. You have to be different.”
And being different, as it turns out, is what makes The Gator Loft a success. You can aim to weave some of these helpful tips from The Gator Loft into your own business, to help it thrive.
As an independent sales representative for ladies apparel with a concentration on boutiques and specialty shops, I enjoy learning about the small retailers concerns and how they work hard to serve their customers in today’s retail environment. This education helps me to help them.