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Never Forget a Customer

A Year Round Promotion Idea

If you have attended a Jack Rice seminar at the SHOT show in the past few years, you have undoubtedly heard Jack remind you, "Never forget a customer, never let a customer forget you." Jack will then tell you the story of his years in retailing in which they had a unique job assignment for each new sales person as they joined the Rice family staff.

The new sales person was given a list of customers, none of which had shopped in the store in the past six months. The assignment given was to contact ten of these past customers every day. The conversation would go something like this, "Hello, Mr. Smith. This is John Doe calling from the Rice Retail Store. I have recently joined the staff here at Rice Retail Store, and noticed from our files that you had not shopped with us in the last six months. My purpose in calling today was to first ask how the item you bought from us last winter is working for you. My other purpose is to introduce myself and invite you to stop by and introduce yourself the next time you are near our store. I look forward to meeting you."

What good did this conversation do? Jack reports that within two weeks the new employee has introduced himself to 100 people that have previously shopped at the Rice Retail Store. Of the 100 people, Jack reports one or two will let you know they are an unhappy customer. While no one likes to have an unhappy customer, this situation allows you the opportunity to resolve any previous problems and win back the customer. Of the remaining 98 customers, Jack reports about 16 will be in your store within the next two weeks.

Is this a good promotion? Compare it to your traditional advertising in the media. If your local newspaper goes to 25,000 homes, and 16% of the readers would respond, you would have 4,000 people in your store within a few days; not a likely scenario.

What makes this promotion of Jack's into a great promotion is the prequalifier - all of the people called have already shopped in the Rice Retail Store. Other studies provide supporting evidence to what Jack and his family already knew; it will cost a business approximately $20 to gain a new customer, while it will cost only $4 to retain a current customer.

How can you and your business utilize what Jack and others have already learned? It begins with tracking all of the customers you do business with. Because you are selling products that require customers to provide identification, you already have access to their information that can help you retain these customers.

One of the best time investments you could make, in addition to the one already utilized by Jack Rice, would be to track the name, address, phone, birth date and information about their purchase. In a business owned by this writer, we tracked the sizeable purchases by customers for more than 30 years. With this information, which we were tracking for warranty purposes, we were able to create a mailing list for our newsletter.

We also gained new names for our mailing list by offering a birthday special. With a large sign hung in the middle of the store, any customer producing identification showing the day they were in our store as their birthday would receive a special gift. As we then added their information to our list, we then would send a birthday card to them each following year as a reminder to stop in for their birthday gift.

If you were to duplicate our newsletter effort, you could be telling them about new products, changes in the hunting and fishing laws, information about what your customers had caught or killed, and stories about each of the employees working in your shop. Having a newsletter today is even easier to create as you can find high school students with the creative skills, and necessary computers to complete the job in only a couple of hours.

Your newsletter also provides you the opportunity to create "newsletter only coupons" so that customers are asking to be added to your mailing list. As our list grew, and response increased, we were able to have our vendors underwrite the cost of the newsletter and provide us with great promotional prices for our coupons.

While we are not suggesting you discontinue your traditional forms of advertising, promoting to your current base of customers should produce the greatest return on your advertising dollar. There are many other ways you can promote to this group. Some of the best require your efforts to be thinking and acting ahead of the traditional time frame.

Look on the calendar to see when you traditionally sell the most fishing equipment, or when the hunting season first opens. Shortly before these days, your customers will be taking their equipment from the storage area and making sure it is ready for usage. This is an opportune time to send your customers a card promoting a pre-season cleaning and calibration.

Consider holding a preseason event in your business one evening, inviting representatives from your vendors to be present. Have some refreshments and unadvertised specials, and you have the making for a great sale. Of course, every person attending this event should be on your mailing list by the end of the evening.

What else can you do? Take a look at these unique ways of year round promoting offered by other dealers around the country.

Our first dealer strives to make a walking billboard out of every customer. Each day he has a drawing for a free t-shirt which has information about his business imprinted on the back and "It's a shooting sport thing, we'll help you understand" on the front. The humorous saying on the t-shirt makes it a desirable item. By emptying the barrel containing names each week, customers must return to the business each week to reregister.

Another dealer is often enjoying a free meal with the local Optimists, Kiwanis, Rotary, or other service groups. While not a professional speaker, he is provided with a 15 minute opportunity to speak on the sport of shooting and hunting. As this is a controversial subject, he receives many invitations to speak. During his presentations, he talks of education and gun safety. While he does not promote his store, he does leave each attendee with his business card an invitation to contact him to answer questions, and a free round of target shooting at his range. Many people accept these offers, and from this he has even had the opportunity to be interviewed on local radio and television shows. Now the local media considers him to be a source of knowledge and information.

Another dealer starts with young customers by participating in the school system where there are two events each year utilizing volunteers. Each November there is the annual teach-in day when he volunteers to spend a day in a local middle or high school. During his classes, he speaks not only on gun safety, but also on the operation of a retail store.

The second event, held on Ground Hog day, allows students participating in the distributive education program (DECA) to shadow the owner and other key employees for a day.

Perhaps one of the most unique, and free promotions, is the dealer who utilizes the Susan B. Anthony coin dollar and a two dollar bill. When applicable, these two unique currencies are given as change to a customer.

The dealer knew his promotion was working as he stood in line at a local grocery store and heard the cashier say to the customer in front of him, "I see you shop at Bobby's Gun Shop since you have one of those two dollar bills".

Another dealer, knowing he had many frugal customers, made arrangements with the local utility companies to become a bill payment center. Now his customers can save their 33 cent stamp by paying their electric, water, gas, sewer and trash pickup bills at his business. Of course the drop off point for these payments is in the rear of his store, so customers have to walk through the store seeing all his merchandise before they drop off their payment.

One last unique promotion is mentioned. One which eventually became a very profitable department for the dealer. On the opening week of hunting season, the dealer made a deal with a local grocery store to create a small delicatessen in his store. As he opened at 4am every day this week, he drew a sizeable crowd who came in for last minute supplies and a hot cup of coffee.

With the temporary addition of fresh sandwiches, he increased his sales substantially for the week. From this small beginning, he decided to add the deli on a full time basis. Sales were strong, and often the profit from a food order was more than the profit on a box of shells.

Each of the dealers we have mentioned have taken Jack's words to heart and found ways to apply them to their business. By creating promotions, these dealers also prove another business adage to be true: "If you are unique, you have no competition".

It is this type of year round promoting, and attention to the customers that will provide other dealers with the opportunity to hear of strong and profitable dealers such as yourself at the next SHOT show.

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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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