There has been much recent press coverage about the demise of retailers in Northern Ireland and my own experience indicates that small retailers in towns are indeed finding trading conditions tough.
However, there are many things these local retailers can do to respond to market conditions. First they must re-examine their business and the marketplace they operate in. This involves re-considering their entire business model and formulating a strategy to respond to the changing market and economic conditions.
This requires asking themselves many questions. Below are just a selection of these questions to get you started.
What is the market? Who are the customers?
Has the market changed? Who are your prospective customers? The local pensioners with low incomes who live and shop locally? Or the commuters with higher incomes who live locally but call into larger retailers on their way to and from work? Are there other customer segments in addition to these? What are the characteristics of these customer segments? How many of each customer type uses your business? What percentage of sales, and importantly, profit come from each customer segment? Do you have a large customer segment that only buy low profit products and services? Could you improve your margins by selling more profitable products or services to the higher-income commuters?
If so, how? Do you open your shop after they leave for work in the morning and close before they get home in the evening? Do you need to re-align your opening hours to capture this customer segment? If so, how will you make sure they know you are now open and aiming to serve their needs?
Do you need to re-align the products and services you offer to meet the demands of new customer segments? What products and services do they want that you don’t offer? How will you find out? How will you get close to these customers so that you can understand them and their needs?
How can you get close to and understand your prospective customers?
We live in the information age where prospective customers expect to be able to rapidly find out about your business – without even leaving the house. Do you have even a basic website explaining the products and services you offer and when you’re open? Do have a Facebook business page? They’re free and can be used for displaying information about your location, opening times and holiday opening arrangements. It is also an opportunity to engage with prospective customers and showcase your products and services and promote special offers. You can also ask your customers questions – what do you want that we don’t currently provide? You can also use a Facebook business page to run competitions aimed at marketing your business.
What about running a shop local campaign? Get together with other businesses to share the cost of designing and printing a flyer and posters. Do a door-to-door leaflet drop. Use these to tell local people that you’re open when they need you, and that you supply the products and services they want and need. Ask the local paper to write about it too. Create a buzz..
How can you demonstrate the important part local businesses play in the town?
Town social events are another good opportunity for local businesses to engage local people. Do you have a local Christmas Lights switch-on? Do local retailers make the most of the opportunity by opening their shops and participating in the event? Do you venture out of your shop and hand out leaflets or free promotional products in the street? Do you maximise your exposure by having a satellite stand at the centre of the festivities?
Have you thought of collaborating with other businesses in the town to support a charity event. A good example recently was the Think Pink campaign run by the Ulster Cancer Foundation. The businesses in Killyleagh, Co Down, turned the town pink on the day and raised a lot of money for charity whilst also creating a buzz and good feeling in the town. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and St. Patrick’s day are just some of the other good opportunities for local businesses to collaborate and demonstrate why they are the heart of the town.