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Staying in contact with your customers

When this writer was a retailer, I fully understood the story told of Wanamaker Department Store. It was said that John Wanamaker told of his advertising experience, "I know that half of my advertising does not work. I just don't know which half it is."

Surely this was my experience with advertising as well. The biggest response I ever saw to any effort to reach customers was when we noticed that as we sent statements to our customers each month, we were usually sending about 150. The problem was that 300 people had charge accounts. So, where were the missing 150 customers?

One month, we triggered the computer to print statements for all 300. For the 150 with a zero balance, we hand wrote this note on the statement and mailed it to them: You owe us nothing. We wish you did. Please come see us. And lots of folks came in to tell us they had received the note. We took this as proof of another old business adage. The one that says it will cost you $20 to get a new customer but only $4 to get one to return.

We began to include coupons for a free giveaway with the 300 statements we were now sending each month. And we continued to see a good response. Some months the response was as high as 40%. Clearly what we needed were more names and addresses of customers. And over the next couple of years, we collected an additional 2,300. Each month we sent them something. Our handwritten notes and coupons grew to become a monthly four to eight page newsletter.

The idea worked well as we continued to experience a strong response. The idea was "cutting edge" promoting at that time. And while the idea of a newsletter is still good, there is a new idea from "out on the edge" of promotional ideas.

Some folks call them an "e-zine" or an electronic newsletter. If you are among the millions who are "surfing the net", you probably are receiving a couple every month. You may even receive the one from this writer entitled "the e-retailer".

The electronic newsletter is another way of keeping your name in front of your customer. The biggest plus to the newsletter is that it has a minimal or no cost for you to produce. You create your newsletter using your computer and a word processing program such as Microsoft Word. Create a format for your newsletter that you will duplicate on a consistent basis and you are on your way to communicating with your customers in a manner that can be as recognizable as your distinctive newspaper ads.

What would you want to tell your customer with each newsletter? No, what would your customer want to read? This is the real question. When the customer opens your e-mail, what can you interest them with that will make them want to read the entire newsletter, and then decide to do business with you - whether it be in your store, on the phone, or by way of the Internet?

Well, you may want to actually have two electronic newsletters. If you have residential as well as commercial customers, you will want to consider having two versions of your newsletter. For what will be appealing to the homeowner will probably be of little interest to the person taking care of schools, office and public buildings. In the residential newsletter, if your entire newsletter talks about draperies and window coverings you are going to have two problems. One is that you are going to run out of material to talk about in a couple of months, and secondly it is going to become boring for the homeowner to read.

While you will want to put in a statement or two about what is new in your store, the newsletter will need to contain information that the consumer can use every month. If you are looking for ideas, just watch a couple of episodes of television shows like Martha Stewart and you will see what grabs the attention of your customers.

For the commercial customer, you can share business news such as staffing ideas, recommendations of business books to be read, and announcements of interest from other businesses you serve or associate with.

Where can you find the news for your electronic newsletter? One source of news is finding other retailers who have both print and electronic newsletters, subscribe to their material, and then rework parts of their information. Searching on the Internet is another way. Using any of the search engines, look for material using a variety of word combinations and then note which have produced the best results so your job will be easier in the next month.

And for both the commercial and residential customer, look to find other businesses that have newsletters that you could exchange referrals as well as information in your newsletter. Perhaps there is a local carpet cleaning service that would appreciate a mention in your newsletter in exchange for a mention in theirs.

What length can the electronic newsletter be? This is going to depend on how interesting your newsletter is. You can test a couple of versions by asking friends and customers to tell you how well your material holds their attention. For the commercial customers you will also want to think about the reader being more pressed for time than the residential customer.

The length is also going to depend on the size of the type, the headlines, and the spacing you use. Select a clean and easy to read type such as Verdana and use a 10 to 12 point type. Another idea that can enhance your chances of getting business is to create active links in your newsletter so that readers can easily get to your web site. An active link is the underlined blue type that you see in a newsletter or web site that when you move the mouse, the arrow becomes a hand.

Clicking on this active link will immediately take the reader to that location on your site. For example, you may be telling your customer about a new product that you have featured on your site. When the reader clicks on the link, they will see a photo and additional information. In making these links you will also want to make sure that all readers of your newsletter will be able to have the links as workable.

Most notable is that AOL subscribers will be seeing things a bit different from the majority of other viewers. Because of the overwhelming popularity of AOL, you will want to make sure to include them. Undoubtedly, your first e-newsletter will not be your most read, or most responded to, piece of advertising. It will however, probably be your least expensive. And like a good bottle of wine, your monthly e-newsletter will become better month after month.

To gauge the success, create a coupon in the newsletter. Or with an active link, take the reader to a spot on your site which will reward the first dozen customers who call your business. Most assuredly, your e-newsletter will assist your business in fulfilling an old retail adage; "Never forget a customer, never let a customer forget you". I wonder what ol' John Wanamaker would have thought of an e-newsletter?

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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