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Fighting City Hall

In this corner is your business

Most of your time as store owners and managers, is spent managing your business, planning and working towards growth and profit. Most people work hard at being an aggressive retailer, trying to implement new and innovative ideas. Making a comparison to football, you spend your time playing offense. And with stores that are growing today, they have done it by being a team on offense, retail wise.

On the other hand, it is hard to win the football game when you are playing defense. Not impossible, just difficult. The same is true for stores. A store that is trying to defend its' market is more frequently trying to stave off losing, as compared to working to win.

There is another type of defense that retailers have to occasionally play. Unfortunately, there are situations when you have to go to battle to protect what you have worked hard for. Sometimes, the battle can be with a landlord when it is time to negotiate for a new lease, or with a landlord that is refusing to uphold their part of the lease. We have had the misfortune of watching retailers that have been through both of these battles. One retailer even had to be a part of a lawsuit in an effort to require the shopping center owner and management to maintain the plaza. These types of circumstances rarely increase profits, or make other contributions to the growth of the business.

More frequently, they are stressful both mentally and physically. When they are resolved, there is usually a feeling of relief as compared to having a feeling of satisfaction or accomplishment.

In addition to the situations already named, we have observed merchants with the misfortune of being unwilling participants in several other incidents. One of these began when a new store leased space in a shopping center. As a way of advertising, the new merchant created several of the old style "sandwich board" signs which promoted their products and hours. The signs were placed along the two major roads that accessed the shopping center. Unfortunately, these types of signs are illegal in that city. And, eventually, representatives of the code enforcement department cited the new store.

Instead of simply complying with the law, the merchant chose to fight - not through traditional means, but by verbally abusing the city employees. Unfortunately for all of the other shopping center merchants, the "rebel" merchant submitted photos of the fronts of all the other merchants saying, "What about their violations?"

Most of the other merchants were simply given citations, and promptly removed their banners and other illegal signs. In this case, our retailer friend was cited for banners as well as several other violations that were found.

The first was the selection of merchandise that was displayed each day on the sidewalk in front of the store. The illuminated signage was also cited. The city maintained that this retailer had not applied for a sign permit, even though he produced the receipt from the sign company which noted the fee paid for a permit.

The response of this retailer included visits to the heads of the various departments of the city, visits with the city council representatives, and even an appearance before city council.

The code department stated that the merchandise on the sidewalk could be dangerous. While the retailer did not know how his merchandise could be dangerous, he stated to the council that four of the ten council members did shop in his "potentially dangerous" store. The codes were not rewritten, but the code department did decide to leave the retailer alone.

Another retailer explained how she had experienced battles with vendors. There was the manufacturer that did not want her to sell the merchandise because there was another dealer in the same city that had already carried the line. It took a year of letter writing to the president of the company to convince him that the retailers were some six miles apart and had their own customers with few shopping at both stores.

It might appear that we have selected to interview retailers that have made a habit of picking a fight. Quite the contrary, as we have interviewed retailers that have made a point to look for as many business opportunities, or ways to promote, as they could find. It seems that when you go looking to grow your business, you will undoubtedly find some roadblocks. You can accept the roadblock as being impossible to overcome and turn the other way, or you can attempt to remove the roadblock to business growth.

And, as you do so, there is another benefit that you may find as you meet these challenges. Make a point to keep your employees abreast of each situation that you experience. Explain that with each of your efforts, you are working to give your store the opportunity to increase business.

And if you have a monthly bonus for increased sales, your staff will be more than understanding of your efforts. "They were our best cheerleaders", reported one of our retailers. "They were thrilled as we worked hard to make our bonus program increase, and in knowing that we were working hard to be on the offense".

There are many roadblocks to successful retailing. The key is in knowing which roadblocks can be removed, and which roadblocks are worth the effort (and profit) of removing.

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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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Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179