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Calling on Commercial Accounts

A technique for increasing your commercial business

We are always looking for ways to increase our sales. In today's economy, maintaining our position will not work. Rising costs of doing business, declining margins of many items, and the warehouse stores that are looking for ways to decrease our sales for us, are three strong reasons for our continued look for growth. Like any other retailer, we look for ways to bring in new customers from our advertising. And once we have the customer in the store, we work to find ways to sell more merchandise. No longer can we settle for just letting the customer come into the store and selling him what he needs to solve his problem. And to sell more merchandise to those customers, we are making strides to have our end caps sell more merchandise for us.

We also tell all of our team members that empty peg board space will not make any profit for any of us. What we need them to do is constantly search our wholesalers' catalogs to find new items to stock.

We also have several incentives for our team members. There are a number of products, that when suggested, lend themselves to an add on sale. These products now carry a cash bonus for their sale.

In addition to showing our team members our daily gross sales, we now show our average sales ticket to our team members. There is a new incentive program for increasing our average ticket just $1.00 for each month.

While these types of sales and inventory efforts, and incentives are constantly being performed by many stores, we have now added a new dimension to our search for new customers, and our search for more business from our existing customers.

We started on this task as we noticed that some of our commercial house charge accounts were listing us as a trade reference as they applied for credit at some of the specialty suppliers. While we would not expect to receive all of this customer's business, we saw this as an opportunity to expand our value to these customers.

We now spend several hours each week making face to face visits to our commercial accounts. By way of our computer, we have a printed list of these accounts, their credit limits, contact person, and total purchases.

We supply our "on the road" representative with a number of tools to make the most of his time and to help him make a good impression on the customer. The rep carries a letter of introduction which tells our customer that we appreciate their business, and that the purpose of our call is to make their job easier by attempting to stock additional products that they are having to search for.

We remind the account that our stocking more of the items that they need will cut down on the number of stops that their maintenance people have to make. We even tell them that we provide free coffee, soft drinks, and popcorn to their people so that they won't stop at a convenience store on their way back to the job.

The bottom of the letter is a coupon which can be redeemed for a quart of an all purpose cleaner which is a private label item. We think that the $4.00 coupon makes our letter worth reading.

The second tool which our representative carries is an offer to sample six quarts of products from our cleaning supply department. If the customer will charge the six quarts to his account and try them for 30 days, we will give a full refund to the customer when he returns a product evaluation sheet to our store.

The third tool is a list of products which are items which we would believe to be most frequently used - 4' fluorescent bulbs, brooms, mops, and floor waxes. When we call on these customers, we do not have any prices, only information. It has been our experience that these customers are more so looking for availability and convenience. We have so far, not had to get into a bidding war with a warehouse store or lumber yard for someone's business. And, we probably won't, if we are invited to do so.

We ask the customer to give our sales representative a tour of his facilities. Not only do we want to show our interest in his business, but we want to look about for items that we aren't selling to this customer. We will ask our customer where he is buying the product and with what frequency is he using the item.

It is important to take notes, ask for questions, and make sure to get back to the customer with answers within a few days. In addition to visiting with the maintenance staff, there are occasion when a visit to the individual responsible for processing the invoices is helpful. Even if the account has a history of being slow to pay, this visit can be helpful in getting their attention to process our statements promptly.

These visits have been helpful when we have identified accounts whose purchases have recently dropped, or when we find multiple location accounts where one location's purchases are lagging far behind. Another of our objectives that we hope to accomplish is getting the attention of schools, hospitals, and churches.

Finally, most every store can relate to the situation of having received a request from one of these groups for gifts, prizes, cash donation, or buying an ad in their publication. We are now taking the opportunity to stop this organization while making their pitch to ask what we need to do to get more of their business.

With one of the local colleges we reminded them that it would be of no value to us if we were unable to capitalize on receiving the business of the school or the students. Their sales representative left without a firm commitment of advertising from us, but also with an assignment of opening some doors for us at the college.

In the movie Field of Dreams, the saying about a baseball field was, "If you build it, they will come." In today's market the saying is not true for most of us about our hardware store. And with thought in mind, we go about our job of calling on our existing accounts and eventually, we will call on potential accounts as we look for more sales.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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