Early in the New Year is the ideal time to put in place new and better practices, to clean up your act and move the business forward.
Happily, much of this can be done at next to no cost.
Since lots of people are going on diets, giving up smoking or drinking, this is the right time to do the equivalent for the business.
The key difference is that for the people in the business this can be totally pain-free.
It’s about finding a new and better habit, rather than self-denial.
Start with your store. That might need an old-fashioned spring clean, the sort done with a mop and bucket and a variety of cleaning products. I have been into plenty of independent retailers in all sectors where I never want to go again.
They are scruffy and they look and smell dowdy. If you want business from customers who are used to quality surroundings when they go shopping, that’s what you have to deliver. But putting right those initial weaknesses of perception is usually about elbow grease and commitment.
It’s a problem you can change fast. A key factor in improving the store’s appearance is lighting. When shop-fitting experts talk on their subject, lighting is what they all stress. You probably know a good electrician. Ask him where to source the product and get him to fit it.
The difference will truly amaze you and the price is unlikely to scare you. But it’s how you and your people act that will make the biggest difference. So start by cleaning up everyone’s sales technique. This is definitely about developing one good new habit.
The key one is using the power of the voice: talking to people about all the products you have that they don’t know about. Aim to have a series of sales ideas to introduce to customers. Change them regularly, say once a month, perhaps more often. The calendar can help here. If you play tennis we can have your racket re-stringed. If you ski we can have your edges re-sharpened. Asking for additional sales might have attained music hall joke status – something for the weekend sir? – but the fact remains: it works. Most purchases prompt another and if you don’t ask, you’ll miss out. Just by asking one question consistently, you can increase sales by at least 10%, without incurring any costs. In the same vein, go for upsizing, for example multiple packs of tennis balls, shuttlecocks or running socks. We’re all creatures of habit and will buy what we usually buy. The larger size invariably comes with a price benefit, so offering it is good service to your customers, who may not know you stock it, or how much it saves them. Again, it’s just one question.
There are two sides to profit (and that’s what these ideas are about). As well as increasing sales look at cutting costs. You probably think that you buy well. But it’s easy to get into a cosy rut with reliable suppliers.
Establish the principle of a regular, structured check with their competition. If nothing else it will satisfy you that, yes, you’re buying well. It might, equally, open your eyes to new profit avenues. Can you reduce your fixed costs? Does your rent reflect the going rate for your trading area?
Clearly, moving to reduce your rent is a serious step, but if you can demonstrate to your landlords that you are paying 15% over the odds, they should be ready to review. Remember, if you should move they won’t relet at an inflated rate to a new tenant.
Much the same applies to business rates. We all get hot under the collar about these (especially if we pay Council Tax to the same authority), but you may have the opportunity to reduce your liability.
If improved parking facilities, street lighting, pedestrian crossings and the like have been promised but not delivered then the council owes you a rebate. Your elected councillor should be as keen as mustard to help if you find the local authority a maze.
Look into the valuable deals offered by utility suppliers. If you can achieve 10% off your annual running costs on electric, gas and telephone, that’s money straight into the bottom line.
They’re all making promises of at least that size. Then there are new products. Your customers have all seen them advertised in the media and you’ve got them. But unless you bring it to people’s attention, they may well not notice. I can’t be the only person who regularly shops with his brain in neutral.
The same applies to promotional offers. People love free, win and save, which is why manufacturers run promotions. When the rain is lashing down in February, telling customers that they can win a holiday if they buy product x is going to lead to sales, isn’t it? Always use the suppliers POS to support this.
Incentivise improved sales. In retail it can be tricky to know who drove that extra sale. Do it as a part of team-building: anyone who fails to be involved will soon get earache from the rest of the team. A simple low cost route is a company lottery syndicate, funded by you.