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Round Up the Usual Suspects

Marketing to the customers you already have

The title of this article is a line, spoken by Louie, in the movie classic, "Casablanca". They were looking for someone, and this was his command to one of his assistants. While it may be a classic line, it is unfortunately too often the strategy of many people within the world of retail. Our example is a lamp store which opened some twenty years ago. The owners decided where they wanted their store to be, and what type of products they wanted to carry. During the last decade, they have seen customers (and product lines) come and go. They have also seen a tremendous influx in competition.

There is an old belief within retail that one out of five customers move each year. Actually, the most current information indicates it is a little slower than that. With the aging baby boomers, instead of 20% moving each year, the number is now 16%. We are however, still dealing with a store that was designed for customers and a community that existed some twenty years ago. The point is that all of it has since changed, and many stores are still aiming at a target that has been moved.

Our effort today is to identify our customers; a statement which prompts the questions of, "Do we want to sell to the customer we have, is there a different customer out there that we are wanting, and are there any more customers?"

The questions are necessary, for without information on the customer we are targeting, we don't know what products to sell. Too often, we will find a store which is selling a broad variety of items. Unfortunately, it is an odd combination: a quality selection of robes and stoles for clergy, the usual top books by Christian authors (also sold at Sam's Club), and a low price line of greeting cards. Few stores can sell this variety and manage to get each of the different types of customers to come into their business.

If you want to cater to the customers you have, the best way to gather information about them is by utilizing a "pin map". This research is a street map of your trade area on which you ask each of your customers to place a pin on their home or office. The key to the pin map is that you are utilizing those pins with multi colored plastic heads.

You may give the blue headed pin to the customer buying clergy supplies, and the red headed pin to the customer buying a greeting card. You can ask the question keyed according to price. A green pin is someone spending over $100, a white pin for purchases $25 to $100, and the yellow pin indicating anything less. Coupling this information with similar answers regarding any other area of products you sell, and you begin to get a customer profile.

This information tells you where the customers are coming from. You will probably want to drive through the various areas to get a personal perspective of the homes and churches.

We should be able to see trends from our pin map. From our mismatched store, we will see the customers coming from a certain area to buy the greeting cards, and from another area to purchase our books. Purchases of gift items would probably indicate a third area.

The tough decision is deciding to aim for only one, as well as deciding which group that will be. The idea of adding complimentary product lines can also be complex. For example, if you were to decide to go with the high ticket items, you will probably want to hedge your bet by adding higher priced Bibles and reference books before you get rid of the old ones. Then again, you may decide to keep the lesser inexpensive line. These decisions can only be made by you, and by your gathering as much information as possible.

With most Christian book stores, you are not going to hire a consultant; you just have to gather the information, experiment, observe, and then make any adjustments. Again, continuing to use the pin map allows you to accurately track the type of customer currently doing business with you.

As you get to the question of which product lines to add, you will find four of your best sources of information to be consumer magazines, sales representatives, Christian Retailing magazine and other Christian retailers from outside your trade area.

In looking at the consumer magazines, note the ads and the photos of products. Are there any other items in the photo? These could represent other categories and specific items you may want to consider adding. Perhaps in articles, someone mentions several items that have influenced their life and you are selling only one of them.

With the sales representative, you are speaking to individuals who will probably see more stores in a week than you could see in several months. Ask them who is doing the best job of packaging the complete sale. And as they name the retailers, visit these folks to ask them how and why they assembled the various brands they are selling.

You will also want to take the time to size up your competition. Create a chart, first listing your store and your brands in each category. Then, list each of your competitors and the brands they carry. One concern you should have is that you are not turning your store into a clone of another store in your trade area.

With the information, you should see how each retailer is servicing a certain type of customer, as well as which customers are poorly serviced, or not being serviced by anyone.

Does this sound to you like a complex issue? Of course it is. But, retailing continues to be a changing business. And the business that fails to survey the land, and make the necessary changes, is looking to service the customer who last shopped in 1980. And that customer has moved!

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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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