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Retail success demands some basics

The retail world is scary, especially these days. Perhaps, these are the scariest of times for many shop owners.

How did we come to this conclusion? Well, pretty simple, really. Take a look around at the empty store fronts. Look at what’s happened lately just at Kukui Grove Center: Foot Locker, closed; Radio Shack, closed; Payless Shoes, declared bankruptcy and closing hundreds of stores, including the one in Lihue. The vast space of Sports Authority, which closed last year, remains vacant.

Folks venturing into the retail business have to be ready for challenges, like downturns in the economy, the fickle shopping habits of consumers, not to mention finding an affordable place to set up shop and then find good employees who will stick around.

And then, perhaps number one on that list of challenges, there’s the millennial generation that prefers shopping online for the lowest price (can’t blame them) and feels no real connection to local stores or finds any compelling reason to support them.

Add the presence of Costco, which continues to expand products and services and stores (for good reason. Costco does the basics very well: Good products, good service, good price), and the squeeze is on the small- to medium retailer. Brutal is how some describe the retail world.

Even on Kauai, which has more than 1 million visitors each year, a store can’t simply open shop, fill racks with merchandise with Hawaii themes, and expect people to charge in and snap things up. It’s more likely the first place visitors go after leaving their plane is Costco, where they load up with all they’ll need for a week in their timeshare or resort room.

One thing we do know: No one should be overly confident in this economy. The best and the brightest minds are planning ahead and hoping for the best while being prepared for the worst.

If we may, a few basics that business owners should be doing to succeed:

w Friendly, prompt service. Customers like to be greeted. Whether you say aloha, howdy or good day, say something that lets your customer know you care, because there are hundreds of other places they can spend their money. It happens too often when a customer enters a shop and no one says anything to them. They browse the aisles, and no one offers to help. They turn to leave, and no one cares. That customer is gone for good. Not too many business owners can afford that, though many act like they can.

w If you’re the owner, be involved. Be present. Again, customers love it when the owner chats with them. An example is Tom Iannucci, owner of Pietro’s Pizza Kauai at Harbor Mall. Not only is he involved in all aspects of the operation, he does his best to get around to tables and visit guests and see how their dinner was. Why do this? It makes them feel good, you might make a new friend and they won’t forget it. And the owner could learn from the responses that may help them improve service or products. So listen to customers.

w Open early and stay late. We know. It’s more the standard here to open late and close early to get to the waves. But the more opportunities you provide for customers to visit your store, the better off you’ll be.

w Give good deals. Everyone loves a special. Buy one, get one free. Fifty percent off. Free ice cream cone with every purchase. Remember, pretty much anything you’re selling is available in some sort or model online or probably at Costco, and customers know this. Few are willing to pay regular retail anymore.

w Let people know who you are, what you’re selling, and why they should spend money with you. The best way to do that is advertise. Yes, by all means, use social media. Try Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. It’s all free, so why not. Whether it’s effective is another matter. One business owner recently told us her restaurant was struggling and she might have to close soon if things didn’t pick up. She didn’t underway why, because she was posting on social media all the time. Asked if she had an advertising budget, she said no, she didn’t need one. Problem with social media is, you’re reaching your same eight followers and friends every day. So have a budget for advertising in newspapers and radio and TV. It should, done right, more than pay for itself and fuel expansion. Have an ad representative sit down with you and spell out what they can offer you and explain why, bottom line, it will boost sales.

w And finally, love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, find something else. Life is too short and precious to squander it wasting days at a job or career you don’t like. If you’re passionate about your craft, about the merchandise you’re selling, about the services you’re offering, it will show and your customers will know. And success will follow you.

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