Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
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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 store that opened 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 a community, one out of five customers move each year. Actually, the most current information indicates it is a little less than that. We are however, still dealing with a business 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 businesses are still aiming at a target that has been moved.

Our effort today is to identify our current 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 that is selling a broad variety of items. Unfortunately, it is an odd combination of which the commonality is that these are products the buyer likes. 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 spending less than $50, and the red headed pin to the customer spending $50 to $100.  A green pin is someone spending over $100, a white pin for purchases in excess of $200.  You can then repeat this process by asking mapping your customers according to the types of products they purchase.

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 businesses they come from.

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 one group of items, and from another area to purchase another. Purchases of another category of 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. You may focus according to product line or by customer type.  These decisions can only be made by you, and by your gathering as much information as possible.

With most small businesses, you are not going to hire a consultant; you just have to gather the information, experiment, observe, and then make any adjustments. 

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, trade magazine and other small businesses 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 been important and you are selling only one of them.

With the sales representative, they 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 business 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 it 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 twenty years ago. And that customer has moved!

Tom Shay is a fourth generation small business owner providing proven management and business building ideas through his Profits Plus Seminars, Profits Plus Solutions coaching, books authored, and articles written. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or through his web site:

Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
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St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
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