SCORE Mentors Sears Franchise to Success
Sales for Joe Stieber were up 20 percent from 1998 to 1999 at his Sears authorized retail dealer store, in Green Valley, AZ, 20 miles south of Tucson. He had a prime location in a strip mall just off the interstate, and the continued influx of affluent retirees seeking southeast Arizona's year-round sunshine promised a growing market of potential customers. Still, Joe was not satisfied.
While not a full department store, Joe’s franchise offered a wide range of durable goods for the home, as well as small appliances and electronic items. But perception is often more accurate than fact. Joe felt that many people mistakenly saw his store as only a catalog outlet, choosing instead to drive to larger Sears’ stores in Tucson's malls. He also wanted to sell to the area's home-builders, many of whom purchased large volumes of appliances either from discount chains or directly from manufacturers. Joe estimated that together, these factors were costing him as much as $1 million worth of business—an amount that could easily grow unless he did something about it.
But what? Certainly, Joe enjoyed the name recognition of one of the nation's largest retailers. But as with many franchise organizations, Sears' advertising policies limited what he could do. Fortunately, Joe found help through the Arizona Daily Star. The newspaper regularly presented articles in which small business owners worked through problems with the assistance of mentors from SCORE's Tucson chapter. In the spring of 2000, the newspaper put Joe in touch with Volunteer Mentor Jerry Moody, a retired advertising executive.
Joe first met with Volunteer Mentor Jerry Moody in 2000. "Jerry visited my store several times to discuss the business and what I wanted to do," Stieber says. "He asked a lot of questions, and offered a lot of good advice and ideas."
Jerry agreed that even though Joe had to follow his franchisor’s policies, there were still ways to raise the store's profile using the local media. And while Joe might not have had the resources to serve Green Valley's large home-builders, Jerry suggested that he actively seek out smaller contractors. By meeting with them face-to-face, Joe could better explain his store’s resources and capture some of the business he was missing.
Since meeting with Jerry, Joe has implemented several of his suggestions. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, Joe purchased an advertising trailer that is shown at the local cinema. He also frequently advertises on Green Valley's local cable television system, radio stations, and newspaper. "The key was being more aggressive," Joe says. "We want customers to consider my store before they make their purchase. They can buy what they need right here in Green Valley, and find competitive prices and installation deals."
Joe adds that he'll go back to Jerry Moody and SCORE if he needs additional help. "I don't mind getting advice from professionals who know the business," he says. "It's always good to have someone come in and give you a fresh perspective."