Strategies for Retail Success

Grow Your Retail Business with Expert Advice

Retail is one of the most popular venues for aspiring small business owners. In fact, more than 24 million people make their living via small retail operations, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. But as rewarding as owning a small store can be, its challenges and frustrations can be daunting, particularly in today’s highly competitive environment.
 
That’s why many retail entrepreneurs often call on Edward O’Malley for help. His 40-year career in the fashion industry includes owning and operating two clothing companies, giving him a unique insight into starting, building, and maintaining a successful retail enterprise. 
Q:
In an age where so much shopping is done online, and large chain stores can offer deep discounts, what advantages can a small retailer offer his or her customers?
 
One is the ability to offer unique products. For example, many artisans cannot support the volume demands of a big store. But customer service is particularly important. A small retailer has the opportunity to build more of a personal relationship, and have a better understanding of the customer and his/her needs.
Q:
How have customers’ priorities changed from, say, 10 to 20 years ago, if at all?
 
They are more focused on customer service, and more demanding. Customers are sensitive to what they feel they deserve in return for shopping at a particular store, particularly if they go there often.
Q:
Research and planning are essential to every start-up. But are there some factors that aspiring retailers often overlook that may compromise their chances of success?
 
Entrepreneurs are eternal optimists. They’re confident they can handle all the expenses of a start-up, and maybe they can. But expenses have a tendency to grow unexpectedly, and a small business owner may not have enough money or access to money to survive the early stages.
Q:
Knowing one’s customers is critical for every business, but demographics can tell you only so much. What’s the key to identifying attributes of your target market that will lure them to your business?
 
You need to be a student of your industry and your community. What’s happening that affects what people buy, and when and why they buy it? Which products are selling well and which ones aren’t? Why do some customers come to your store, and others pass you by?  It’s the responsibility of the business owner to be attuned to what’s going on.
Q:
What can retailers do to stay on top of changing customer trends and tastes?
  • Watch your inventory for shifts and sell-throughs. Getting the data for these analyses is easier your check-out register can be tied directly to your back-office system. But you need to review sell-throughs constantly.
  • Talk to your customers about what’s affecting them, and to other businesses in your area, including your competitors. Chances are other people are feeling the same effects. Or you may be alerted to trends early enough to prepare for them accordingly.
Q:
Convenience is important for time-stressed shoppers today. What are some tips for creating store layouts that will not only support the “drive-by purchase,” but also encourage other customers to look around and, perhaps, buy more?
  • Clear signage to direct them to products/areas they want.
  • Creative displays that organize categories of products in ways that get customers’ attention/interest.
  • In-store demonstrations that introduce customers to new products and features, or help them get the most out of what they buy. They can get people to linger, or even come in when they hadn’t planned to.
Q:
Can a small retailer learn from the strategies or tactics of larger companies? 
 
Yes, you should visit big stores to see shifts in products, and categories. You may spot something that’s being de-emphasized at a big store, but can be offered or highlighted at your business. Big stores are also good at using space for maximum results, which can give you ideas for your own layout.
Q:
How important is an online presence for a small retailer, even if he or she is mainly a “brick and mortar” business?
 
Not having a website is like not having a business card. It doesn’t need to be fancy or have a lot of features. Just provide basic information like your location, hours of operation, products you offer, and so forth. But be sure to keep it up to date. Customers often use websites to see what they’ll find when they get there, and pictures of your Easter displays in December won’t get many people in your store.
Q:
Employees are a retailer’s direct link with customers. What can be done to not only attract, but also keep good retail employees?
 
You need to involve employees in the business so that they are aware of what is going on, what the goals are, and how they can contribute to the results. People like to be challenged, and will try to do better if they feel like they’re part of the team. But the onus is on the owner/manager to bring in people who can get involved in business, then provide the leadership to sustain it.
Q:
Initial success often leads small retailers to consider growth with additional locations. Does it get easier or harder the second and third time around? 
 
Some things like logistics, buying, and stocking get easier. You may also get better prices because you’re buying in larger quantities or serving attractive markets. But supervision because a challenge because you can’t be in all these places at once. You need to find supervisors and managers who best represent you and your vision for the business.
Q:
People often associate SCORE with getting a new business started. Why is it helpful to regularly work with a SCORE mentor as a retail business grows and evolves? 
 
Actually, this is when you need SCORE the most. The initial enthusiasm and emotion of getting started often tails off into going from solving one problem to another. As a result, the owner starts being reactive when he or she should be planning ahead. You need a mentor to come in and review numbers, discuss current and long-term issues, and help with strategic planning. 
Q:
You’ve worked with many entrepreneurs as a SCORE mentor. Is there one piece of advice you’ve drawn from your experience that you’ve shared with each one?
 
When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Planning is like an insurance policy that gives you best chance of success. 

 

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About the Author

Edward O'Malley, SCORE MentorEdward O'Malley has owned and operated 2 of his own clothing companies. He's considered an expert in retail and wholesale business strategies as well as small business trade.

His previous experience includes roles as a department store merchant and buyer. Edward also has wholesale and manufacturing experience in women's, men's and children's clothing and fashion accessories.

Get free, small business advice from Edward today.