What seven shop owners wish they'd known when they started out

  • Opinion
  • August 25, 2016
  • Francesca Nicasio
What seven shop owners wish they'd known when they started out

What’s one lesson you wished you had known when you started out?

We never get tired of asking retailers this question. Looking into the lessons that business owners have learned throughout their journeys is always a worthwhile exercise because you’ll likely come across insights that you can relate to or even apply to your ventures.

That’s why in this post, we’ve decided to compile some of the best retail advice that we’ve heard from Vend customers.

Check them out below.

1. Invest in the shopping experience.

Retail is tough. Gone are the days when you could open a shop and sell anything. Now, not only do your products have to be unique, but also the process of buying a product from your shop must be an ‘experience’.

If someone wants to buy an extension lead they can do it online or in their local supermarket. Your shop must be somewhere people enjoy spending their time – only then can you hope they will part with their hard earned cash in your shop. ‘Experience shopping’ is the newest thing in retail and only these type of shops on the high street will survive.

Andrey Pronin, owner of retail store Podarok definitely had it right when he said this. The bar for modern retail success is set really high, and in order to thrive, you need to offer experiences in addition to products. This is the only way that brick-and-mortar stores can compete with ecommerce and retailers who sell similar products at lower price points.

Improving the retail experience starts with evaluating your stores. Have a secret shopper to head to one of your stores to see what it’s like to be a customer. Are they able to find the items they need quickly and easily? Did the associates treat them well? These are just some of the things they should take notes on.

From there, you can figure out what you can do to improve the shopping experience. For example, if customers are always dealing with long lines, then you may want to invest in additional POS systems so you can ring up sales more efficiently. If it’s an inventory pain point — say, if people are having difficulties locating merchandise — then perhaps you should look into solutions like RFID technology. Having trouble engaging customers? Maybe you need to get a better CRM so you can personalize people’s experience in-store.

Whatever the case may be, figure out the biggest issues hindering shoppers from getting the best experience possible, then take immediate steps to improve.

2. Reduce back office effort.

If you’re using more than one system make sure they can all be integrated. Make sure you have your systems and procedures sorted before you open your doors for the first time. I regret not following this advice: reduced back office effort will allow you more time to spend on your customers.

Chris Mauger, head shopkeeper at Phillip & Lea, makes an excellent point here. While you should definitely invest in tools and technology to help you run your business, you must also have the processes and integrations in place to ensure that all your tools are working together.

Otherwise, you might end up spending too much time sorting out the technology and not enough resources on keeping shoppers happy or growing your business.

3. Apply Management by Walking Around (MBWA).

Kristy Barber, owner and designer at Melbourne-based clothing and footwear brand Kuwaii, advises retailers to apply Management by Walking Around (MBWA) in their stores.

MBWA is a style of business management where business owners or managers wander around the store to check in on staff, equipment, and procedures. The act of walking around should be unstructured, and the goal is to observe, talk to people, and get a genuine sense of how things are going.

Kristy says retail store owners and managers should fit in MBWA into their schedules. “You’d be surprised by the things you’d miss if you don’t take the time to do this,” she adds.

If you haven’t done so yet, schedule a bit of MBWA time daily or weekly. Doing so might help you spot issues or opportunities that you need to address. At the very least, walking around your store and talking to your staff will help you get to know the business and it’s people better. That alone should be reason enough to consider MBWA.

4. Lay out your procedures and give proper training.

“Have the proper procedures and training in place, and make sure to give new employees a full rundown.” That’s the advice of Grady Chiu, Retail Manager for the Good Games franchise in Australia.

According to him, having the right procedures is of particular importance for inventory-intensive businesses.

You want to make sure things are done the right way so everything’s accounted for. Even with a great inventory system, procedures are still necessary! And if you’re rolling out a new system, make sure to have these practiced and laid out beforehand.

Setting up procedures isn’t exactly sexy, but it’s a crucial step towards retail success. As a retailer, you likely have a ton of tasks that need to get done, and having a documented and sound process will help keep you and your staff sane.

Procedures also become a godsend when you’re scaling your business. It’s important for multi-store retailers to have a uniform process across all their stores, as this ensures a smooth and consistent experience for customers and staff.

Speaking of staff, take time to train your employees on your processes. Make things easier on everyone by documenting your procedures and setting up a training program that covers everything they need to know. This puts all employees on the same page and helps keep your stores running smoothly.

5. Aim high.

One of our own personal friends/role models once told us to “aim high”. He explained to us that success comes only when you are always trying to improve. When you reach a goal – set a new one! If you become comfortable with where you are, then you are just giving others a chance to catch up.

These words of wisdom come from Will Hatton, co-founder at Pace Athletic, and we couldn’t agree more. When you reach a certain level of success, it’s easy to feel complacent and stay where you are. But this attitude hinders your growth, and, as Will puts it, gives your competitors the chance to catch up.

So never stop improving. Find areas for growth in your business and capitalize on them. Instill the same mindset in your staff to ensure that they’re always on top of their game. Ask your customers for suggestions and act on them.

In other words, avoid complacency and aim high.

6. Sell products that reflect the stories you tell.

For museum retailers, don’t fill your gift shop with things you can already buy in any tourist outlet. Visitors want a reminder of their experience, so choose merchandise that reflects the stories you tell.

Emma Goodwin, director at Katherine Mansfield gift shop, may have been talking about museum retailers, but her words of wisdom should be internalized by all types of merchants.

It’s getting increasingly difficult to compete on price or products these days, mainly because consumers can almost always buy the same merchandise online or in other retail stores for less.

That’s why retailers should be more thoughtful with their merchandising efforts. Curate assortments, rather than just stocking up on products. Make sure your shop tells a story and offer goods and experiences that people won’t find anywhere else. Doing this enables you differentiate yourself and make your store more memorable, thus increasing the likelihood that customers will come back.

7. Believe in what you’re selling and be prepared for challenging questions.

Having a genuine appreciation for your products benefits you in many ways. For one, it makes doing business more enjoyable and worthwhile. Retail is quite challenging as it is, and you’ll make it even harder on yourself if you decide to sell something you don’t believe in.

On a more practical level, loving (or at least liking) what you sell makes it easier to learn and remember product features and benefits. This is critical when engaging with customers. People will ask you questions about your merchandise and the last thing you want is to blank out in front of a shopper.

As Pamela Meyer, owner at Zona’s Essential Oils & Art puts it:

You definitely want to appreciate and believe in what you’re selling, because people are always going to ask questions about your products. Be prepared for challenging questions! And when you’re the new kid on the block, have all your research ready and accessible.

 Francesca Nicasio is a retail expert and blogger for Vend, an iPad-based point-of-sale software that helps merchants manage and grow their business. This article was republished from Vend's retail blog, where Vend talks about trends, tips, and other cool things that can help stores increase sales and serve customers better. 

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