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Many US shoppers today are looking for merchandise they want, not necessarily merchandise they need. They search for the unique and exciting, not the usual. However, what they find is virtually the same merchandise in every store they visit. This sameness does nothing to inspire customer loyalty or promote driving a few extra miles to another store. Vendors sell the same package deals to retailers at the same markets season after season. This reduces retailing to a price competition. Successful, independent retailers know they cannot win a pricing war, but they can win big at value.

Customers reward the stores with the best value at the cash register, but make no mistake; price is only one piece of value. Value includes the bright, clean store stocked with unique appealing merchandise and staffed with knowledgeable customer-oriented sales representatives focused on customers’ satisfaction. Value means a good location, adequate parking, a well known brand and a varied merchandise selection at a fair price. It is a store that is the happening place. The store is a stage--a place to excite, involve, educate and entertain customers.

For customers, value answers the question “How satisfied am I with what I paid for this?” What the customer is considering is ease of the trip, ease of finding the item, presentation of the merchandise, enjoyment of the shopping experience, and finally the enjoyment of owning the item. Independent retailers succeed by focusing on these valued extras. Notice these are all based on the customers’ perspective. If you haven’t considered this lately or haven’t mentioned it to your staff lately, the only reason there is a store is for the customers.

If your value presentation could use improvement, consider the following. Your store brand is a big part of your value. It must be both recognizable and respected. Brand is more than just a logo; this is a reflection of your reputation within the community you serve. Your brand is also your promise to your customer. It tells them what to expect from the products and services you market, and it differentiates you from other retailers.

Branding is not price but price is part of your brand. Price addresses integrity in your reputation. Do your customers trust that you are offering the best quality items for the price point? The customer will discover if you vary from a fair price and then integrity is lost. Integrity is also established through each interaction with your customers. It involves knowing who your customers are and why they chose your store. Are your customers 60+ company executives or 40-50 year old mid-level managers or young professionals just starting out? You should know the answer to these questions without wondering. Remember you cannot be everything to every person. The best performing stores have a narrow, well-defined customer base that is well provided for in the store.

The interaction and integrity brings an intimacy to the relationship and the relationship is about the individual customer, not the retailer, not the merchandise, not the profit. Here is a truth—no loyalty card program, no matter how generous, can replace integrity in a customer / merchant relationship. Building your brand does not happen overnight and it takes planning. Always think about how your words or actions will reflect on the business. Display your logo prominently with pride. Be ready to share your knowledge and teach your sales staff. Being a customer-oriented sales representative takes training and skill.

Next, consider your merchandise variety. Does your store have an exciting assortment of merchandise? What can you do to improve selection? One recommendation is to always hold back some of the Open-To-Buy for testing a new vendor or two each season. Remember, your customers are looking for the unique, the next new fashion statement. If you have the same merchandise as your competitors, there is nothing to inspire customer loyalty or excitement. Aside from giving some unusual and unique choices to your customers, these merchandise selections (from lesser known vendors) generally offer a higher IMU% for the retailer. If the customer is satisfied, isn’t extra profit good?

Aside from merchandise variety, what else sets your store apart from the competition? Do you host regular events, like trunk shows to spark the interest of your customers? Do you offer specialized services such as personal shoppers or on-site tailoring? Do you benefit a local charity? What about customer games or contests or other events to arouse customer curiosity and excitement? How do you celebrate and market the holidays? Have you considered creating a holiday unique to your store? If you are unsure how to plan your own holiday, study Christmas ornament stores. They sell Christmas ornaments all year round but they have a host of special holidays designed for their customers’ enjoyment to peak interest and curiosity and get their customers in to their stores multiple times throughout the year to purchase Christmas ornaments.

Successful independent retailers must be open to innovation and walking away from the “sea of sameness.” Find your niche and create a retail experience that your customers will look forward to. Retailers cannot sit back drifting with the tide. If they do, they may find themselves drowning in the sea of sameness. As an independent retailer, your choices are to innovate or evaporate.

Look around your theater (store). Do you feel excitement? Is it a clean, bright, uncluttered stage ready to entertain? Is it stocked with the unique? Are your sales staff well-trained?

If you would like more suggestions or help with inventory management and budgeting, please contact us. Our purpose is to help you succeed.

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