Five Methods For Independent Retailers to Succeed in Business

Contributed by Keith Spano, President of Flooring America. 

Being an independent retailer or small business owner can be both challenging and rewarding. As an independent retailer, you create the vision for your business and oversee all aspects of it. At face value, this all sounds great. However, any business owner will tell you that it’s difficult to oversee every aspect of a business from daily operations and merchandising to marketing and managing sales professionals.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many independent retailers over the years. The most successful ones stay ahead of the curve in their respective industries by taking calculated risks and investing in their businesses.  There are many ways to go about doing this, but here are a few of my go-to methods that always yield results.

Have a Plan and Know Your Numbers

To sustain a business over the long- term, you need to know where you are and where you are going. You need to create a plan and execute that plan. This means getting your team on board with your vision and working daily to reach your goals. This isn’t always easy. You can expect that there will be challenges along the way, but you should always refer back to your original plan when they arise. Make sure you know and understand your numbers. Being financially astute is critical to sustaining your business. You need a top-line budget and a margin budget—what will it take to stay in the black every month.  Nailing these key ingredients will set you on the path to success.

Invest in People

This seems like a no-brainer yet many entrepreneurs and small business owners still miss the mark when it comes to hiring and training great employeesMake sure your employees represent the best in your field. Great brand ambassadors believe in your products, look the part and speak the part. This doesn’t happen without investing in your people. A good business owner offers ongoing training, access to technology, communicates regularly with employees to be sure they understand the company’s business objectives and listens to employee concerns. After all, your team deals with your customers on a daily basis and understands their needs often better than you do. Building trust and loyalty among your employees will ultimately translate into driving business.

Make a Great First Impression

Today more than ever it is vital for retailers to create a pleasant and unique shopping experience for consumers. Consumers want to be “wowed” when they are walking through a store by both the products that you are selling and the manner in which the products are merchandised.  It’s not enough to tout that you offer the best selection of products; consumers need to experience it as they are shopping in your store.  Remember to never put anything between your customer and the product that they are trying to buy. As a retailer, your job is to identify barriers and eliminate them.

Your showroom needs to be a welcoming space and speak to who you are as a retailer. You want your showroom to look like a place where people want to come to shop. Showroom layout matters! The best retail concepts are deliberate and consider every detail from design to how customers move through the space.  Ask yourself…is your store easy for the customer to navigate? Is the layout intuitive? Does it make sense? Are products easy to view?

This might seem like an overwhelming process, but it’s necessary.  The first step is to start by walking the store on your own and getting feedback from employees, friends and family as to whether or not they think the store flows in a logical way.

Technology’s Your Friend

Technology plays a huge role in today’s shopping experience. Embrace it. Invest in your website and make sure it is first-class. Your website will be the first impression to your potential customer. Consider this, according to Cisco; there will be 5.2 billion mobile users by 2019. With staggering statistics like this you can’t afford for your website not to be mobile and tablet friendly. In fact, according to Google, more searches worldwide were conducted on mobile devices than desktops.  Flooring America Flooring Canada recently launched new websites in 2015 and found the majority of searches are on mobile devices.

Moreover, you need to have a solid digital advertising plan to ensure you are maximizing every opportunity to engage with your customers. Your plan should include a search engine optimization, social media marketing, online reviews and email campaigns. Taking all of these mediums into consideration and executing them correctly will create a well-rounded digital marketing and advertising plan and can augment any traditional marketing efforts that you implement to communicate to your audience.

Incorporate technology into your retail space. Arm your sales team with technology as well to make it easier for them to do their jobs. Allow them to create electronic profiles of themselves, make it easy for them to ask customers for reviews by giving them tablets to work with in-store.  Consumers are coming to expect to visit a showroom and have technology play a role in their shopping experience.

Successful retail brands welcome change because without change there would be no reason for consumers to desire new products.  Be open to change, be ready for change and be motivated by change.  Change will keep your customers coming back and your sales team engaged.

Money Matters

With the rise of more competition in the marketplace, small business owners have been forced to contend with the lowest price mindset, a mindset that in my opinion has wreaked havoc in the flooring industry as well as other specialty markets.  Listen up; it’s okay to make money. In fact, it’s an absolute necessity if you want to take care of your employees and provide a great customer experience. Deliver a WOW experience that your customers will tell friends about by understanding their needs, sharing product knowledge and expertise and simplifying the buying process to make it stress-free.

Plenty of brands have been successful without having been the most discounted. Don’t give it away. People are willing to pay more for customer service and a great experience.

Bottom line for any independent retailer in today’s landscape–you need to know your business, invest in your people and your company and embrace the latest technology. Remember to never lose sight of your customer needs. Deliver a great experience.  Stay the course.

Contributed by Keith Spano, President of Flooring America. As President, Keith Spano’s primary role is ensuring the ongoing success of Flooring America, Flooring Canada and Floor Trader members while maximizing their profitability. Spano is an industry veteran who got his start as 3rd generation in his family’s flooring business and went on to have a blend of experiences in many areas of the floor covering industry from sales and marketing to product management and supplier relations. Since joining the Flooring America team, Spano has proven that his industry experience across retail, wholesale and buying group segments, combined with an innovative outlook on remaining relevant at retail are just the tools needed to bring continued success to the Flooring America/Flooring Canada/Floor Trader memberships.

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