How's the store?

Posted by Robin Abel on

Most people know that opening a business takes a lot of work and changes your life in major ways.  But who knew it would change the opening questions people ask.  You know, when you run into someone at the grocery store there is an exchange of meaningless pleasantries.

"How are you?"

"I'm fine.  How are you?"

"Fine thanks."

This doesn't happen to me any more.  Which I guess is good because that little exchange drives me crazy because somehow you need to know whether they are asking to really find the answer or just asking because it's polite.  I digress, sorry... So this doesn't happen to me anyone.  The first thing people ask is "How's the store?"  But again, are they looking for the honest answer or the "Fine thanks" answer?

Since you asked for the honest answer, I'll tell you.  "I have no idea!"  Experts say it takes about 3 years to get a handle on a new business.  There are so many mistakes and lucky guesses and learning that goes on that it takes a while to figure things out.  Plus retail is seasonal, tied to the economy, and influenced by effective/ineffective promotions.

Although I have a business background, I've never run a retail store.  To supplement this knowledge hole, I've tried to research through the local library and internet.  It hasn't been very successful and it's a lot of hands on learning.  To other small business owners, here's what I do know at the end of 2 months.  Hope it helps!

1. Ask around - We have a mortgage with a bank and have had great dealings with them.  When we needed to open a small business account, we assumed they would be just as amazing.  Huge mistake.  While they are great in one department, they are not good in the small business area and have ended up costing us money, time, and sanity.  We needed to change and started asking other small business owners who they used.  The answers surprised us but we got good suggestions on banking and other items.  While "asking around" seems easy enough to do, sometimes you are just too busy or make assumptions.  Don't do it.  Get a referral, a story, a friendly piece of advice.  There are some things that are too important.  Banks, insurance, and locations are just a few items that should be investigated before jumping in.

2. Product placement - Grocery stores have this great thing called "end caps."  They are at the end of the isle where they place all kinds of things that people will impulsively purchase simply because of it's location.  In a small store, you might not have such clearly defined areas.  My store has lots of tables and cabinets, not much of anything resembling an end cap.  But I have noticed that there are areas that people buy more impulsively that others.  

  • One - by the front door - I had a spice kit in with other similar kits.  No one bought it.  I moved it to the table by the front door, people are picking up like crazy.  

  • Two - on the sales counter - I moved small, interesting items items to the counter and they sell much faster than on the shelf.  Nothing too expensive, but interesting enough for people to impulsively grab.  

  • Three - by itself as a surprise -  In one area of our store, there are lots of artist items like pottery and wood products.  And dog treats in eye catching bags.  They sell like crazy. 

3. Try as much as you can - Our store is food based and although it is small, there are a lot of items to try.  People ask me every day for my opinion on the items, how I've used them, and how they compare to others.  It's not a typical grocery store experience it's more of a team effort in shopping. I notice that I can really swing someone to purchase something simply by having a conversation about the item.  Not everyone has a food store but the suggestion is still valid.  In a small business, customers expect the personal touch and will respond when it's given well.

4. Keep listening - I've worked in many organizations where people share their ideas and options that aren't often helpful.  Starting a small retail business has been completely opposite.  Almost every time I talk to people, they have an interesting idea or a unique swing on something we're doing.  Go ahead and keep your ears open.  People shop all the time and often have seen something interesting or have a need that your can fill.

Hopefully this helps someone!  It seems like there is so much information out there but it's so hard to find focused information.  Opening a business is such an uphill battle that I would just love to a trainer for small businesses in the future.  You know, when I've got it all figured out.

Feel free to add your own brilliant advice about opening  small business. I'm sure it will bring a unique view to your journey that can help someone else.

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