Can My Business Be Saved?

Dear Ken Keller,

I own a small retail business that caters to locals. Some years have been good, some bad and some so-so. But I hung in there because of my loyal customers, many who are my friends. But I don’t see them coming by as much as they used to, and I am wondering if I have offended them or there is something else going on. What do you think? —Mary S.

Dear Mary:

You were not specific as to what you sell, so let me be a bit more general in my answer than if I knew more about your business.

Retail is more or less a reactive business. You have a location, are open for business during set hours, and people visit you to look or buy, depending. If you have what people want when they are there, they will buy it, but if you don’t, they may either walk out the door or ask you to order it and they will come back when the product arrives.

I do not know your prime demographic, but if your loyal client base is getting older, it could well be that what you sell is no longer needed as often. Men, for example, rarely wear suits and ties once they retire from the “white collar world.” Women who retire do not spend as much on dressy outfits that they would have worn to work or parties because they no longer work or attend as many parties. I am making some generalized statements here, but my goal in doing so is to tell you that your market may have moved on from your offering.

I do not know what kind of marketing outreach program you have to bring new shoppers into your place of business. But if you want to replenish your loyal customers, you need to give serious thought to creating more attention getting reasons for people to become and stay your customers.

In many businesses, the loss rates of customers can be as high as twenty percent, which means constant marketing is required.

One thing that I have noticed these days is that more consumers, regardless of what they are buying, are seeking convenience. As an example, I needed to buy a certain type of marker the other night. I was told that they were available at only one store in my town, so I drove there, only to find that the selection was very limited and wasn’t what I wanted. I ended up driving home and ordering in on-line.

Did I pay more for the on-line order? Yes. But I needed those markers and that was the only option available. The shipment will be delivered to my doorstep.

Let me go back to my store visit. The service was okay, but would have been much better if the employees working had asked me if I needed anything else. If they had asked the question, I would have had them order what I wanted even if in a few days I had to drive back to the store and pick it up. That would have been easier for me; I could have taken care of it right then and there.

But no one at the store asked me anything and I ended up doing what worked best for me even though I would have been happy and preferred to make the purchase at that retail location.

I recommend that if you really want to turn things around, head to your local bookstore and see if they have books written by Jay Conrad Levinson. Levinson is the guru for improving marketing “on the street” and his books are educational and entertaining. And if the store doesn’t have them in stock, ask them to order them for you.