Apparel buyers attending The Retailer’s Survival Kit Breakfast Seminar on Friday, April 9 of the Atlanta Apparel Market were treated to a wealth of ideas and advice from a panel of five experienced professionals.
Samantha Jones, owner of Soiree in Birmingham, Ala., and founder of abetterretailer.com social networking site for retailers, moderated the panel discussion with:
Denise Knapp, a 25-year retail veteran with experience in all facets of retail who runs both a cosmetics and formal wear store in Asheville, N.C., and Top 10 Prom buying group.
Shannon Kitchens, founder and president of Sage, a four-store Atlanta boutique company with an outstanding online presence.
Julie Routenberg, owner of two high-end bridge to young designer specialty stores in the Atlanta area for more than 30 years.
Jim Whitlow, founder of Deka Athletics, a high performance apparel and footwear boutique company in Atlanta with an extensive retail background.
Creating a marketing strategy topped the discussion agenda. Whether it best suits your store to work through direct mail, an online presence or both, the most important point is to understand your customers and work through what best speaks to them. Even if you aren’t comfortable creating and updating a Facebook page, odds are someone who works for you is – make it part of his or her job to maintain your page. Use all the tools available, including email management programs.
With all the emphasis on internet communication, don’t forget about tried-and-true tools such as hand-written thank you notes. People shop boutiques and specialty stores because they want something bigger stores don’t provide – personal service. Make them feel special! Pick up the phone and call to tell a good customer a new shipment of her favorite jeans arrived. Send a note thanking someone for referring a friend – and include a special discount offer.
Create special events and promotions to suit your demographic. Sage sells branded shopping bags for $5 – then give a discount to customers who use them whenever they return to the store. Deka Athletics created business cards that are actually gift cards to incent new customers to visit the store – and almost everyone spends much more than the $25 card value. Both ideas create perceived value and encourage people to visit the store.
Become a trusted resource for your best customers. If you don’t have what they need, tell them where to go. Create reciprocal relationships with other retailers and service companies – you’ll all benefit. You aren’t giving business away; you’re building a relationship. Your customer will remember that you did your best to help and will reward you with continued patronage. It’s much easier to nurture and grow an exisiting customer than find a new one so treat the customers you have with impeccable care.
Never underestimate the importance of staff training. You can’t personally serve every customer. Make sure your employees clearly understand policies and procedures and are held accountable. But, also make them feel they are imperative to the company’s success. Take a “glass half full” attitude and foster that atmosphere in your store. You can’t change circumstances but you can change how you and your team respond to them. When times are tough, the savviest retailers can thrive.