Having recently tried to tackle the issues faced by small to medium businesses against the big chains, I thought it might be helpful to perhaps pass on some of the advice I have received and those tips that myself and my fellow traders have found to be the most useful.
1:Remember your customers are people, not numbers.
This is as basic as it gets;no one likes being a reference number. It helps the business admin to have a reference for each transaction but to the customer, it removes the personal touch and makes them feel unimportant and unwanted. Smaller businesses are more likely to have regular and locally based customers. Being greeted by name and by someone who can recall what you discussed on a previous visit is enough to warrant the small percentage difference in price for a lot of people. It makes them feel special and for all of us, that is something money cannot replace.
2:We are neighbours.
Chances are that your customers are also locally employed, meaning that if you shop locally or live within your own delivery or service area, you may well be their customer at some point. Treat them as you would expect or want to be treated.

3:Small details make a big deal.
Large chains often offer prices we cannot match due to buying power. What they can’t always offer are the small details that a small business can. The inflexibility of a large chain system can work in your favour. If the customer is on your route home, why not offer to deliver personally after locking up?
A £299 freezer with a delivery charge and a delivery date only means the customer has to wait in all day for the goods and pay extra for the privilege plus losing a days wages or holiday.
Offering a £330 freezer with delivery on a weekend or after hours , especially if its a free delivery and removal of the old unit, will often clinch the deal.

4.First amongst equals.

Treat people as equals with equal knowledge in a different field.No one feels like spending money if they are made to feel inferior.

5.Team work continues outside the office.

In any business community, the small businesses must work together to a common goal.What helps improve the business environment in your area will help all businesses in that area. Consider joining a traders group, such as your local Chamber.Larger chain companies cannot or will not contribute to local issues, thus alienating customers who feel strongly about those issues.

6.You are your own brand.Sell the brand.

How many customers buy a product because of a recognised name? Brands sell. Make your name/company name recognised locally.People don’t talk about popping out to the supermarket, they go to Tescos or Sainsbury’s. Make your name synonymous with your service and product and people won’t consider the competition.Make sure people refer to your business by name rather than description.Sell the brand ,then the product.

7.Knowledge is power.

Train your staff and yourself. Be able to back up the written description of the product with more information that the customer won’t find on the ticket.I have shopped in large department stores where, when asked about a product, the staff could only read off the shelf ticket. I can do that myself. Educate your staff and any knowledge will translate as specialist training to the customer and therefore value for money. Importantly, keep the knowledge fresh:Update training regularly.Use your local school,college or training  facilities.

8.We are all unique.

Try some form of exclusivity. A number of suppliers will avoid competing with themselves by only supplying to one outlet in a given area. If they themselves are a small business (by comparison) they will have problems with supplying to large chains. Make an exclusivity deal and eliminate local competition. Promote that exclusivity. i.e.’Approved Stockist’ .

9.Can’t compete won’t compete.

This is one of the controversial tips. Some deals you won’t be able to match. Economies of scale mean that unless you are promising orders in huge amounts and often, suppliers simply won’t give you the same prices as the chains.The answer may be simply to not offer that product. Accept you cannot win and offer something else:An alternative or a different product line alotogether.Putting all your effort into trying to run with the big boys may leave you more vulnerable than running your own path and picking up customers that way.

10.If you love them, set them free.

Sometimes it is easy to put too much pressure on the customer for that first sale.The ethos that no one leaves without a purchase can make uncomfortable shopping for the poor customer. Sending them away with information and a feeling that you are there to help rather than just to snatch a deal will make them more inclined to return. If there is no pressure to part with money immediately, they will feel more at ease and happier to trust you and ,hopefully to invest in that trust.In furniture sales, I have found a rushed sale often results in mistakes and returns. A customer at ease and reassured after up to three visits before the final decision is more likely to have made a considered and therefore correct choice. The follow up visits and subsequent purchases prove that. Someone is more likely to return and pay that small percentage more for goods if the environment is a happy and comfortable one and they don’t feel under pressure to buy.

 

 

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The Party’s not over..

March 28, 2009

Good couple of meetings this last few days.

First was a big black tie do. My first big do as President and my first black tie event full stop. Had to beg, borrow and not steal the gear to wear. In the end my director at work (Living Homes of Somerset, U.K.) happens to be the same height and build as myself and happily offered his suit for the purpose.

My eldest son offered, just before I as due to leave the house, to be my transport in return for ten pounds of fuel, leaving me the opportunity to have a couple or two glasses of house red, for which I am very grateful. The fact that I had been telling everyone who had ears that I was going to this auspicious event still left him puzzled as to why I was, at 6:45 pm on a Thursday evening, sat in the lounge at home  in a full dinner suit. It was only when I mentioned why he offered his services. Maybe it was the fact I mentioned needing to put some petrol in my car that pricked his ears up. A chance to get someone else to pay for petrol is always an incentive!

The meal, The Bristol Chamber Annual Dinner, was a wonderful event with some very informative and friendly fellow diners and a highly entertaining guest speaker in Sir Richard Needham.

The second meeting I enjoyed for some of the same reasons and for a few different ones too.

This was one of our many business breakfasts, held at Rookery Manor http://www.rookery-manor.co.uk/

in conjunction with our sponsors for the breakfasts, Burroughs-Day Solicitors

http://www.bd4law.com/

We always get a good turn out at the morning meetings and this is not in any small part due to the organisational skills of Eleanor Rendall and her team from Burroughs Day. They normally drum up a decent enough speaker, last time it was the West of England Agents for The Bank of England. This time we were lucky to have our local M.P.

Now, that in itself doesn’t sound too bad but the bonus is that our local M.P. has recently been promoted to Shadow Ministerfor Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. So, with the present financial crisis seeing the government suffering badly,  having the opposition minister for business speaking at our event was a  bit of a coup.

John Penrose spoke well, didn’t dodge any questions and explained things well and the guest diners were all very keen to fire questions his way.

The minister didn’t use the opportunity to attack or blame the opposition, or to push a sales pitch for the Conservative Party, but did admit that Whitehall was partly to blame for the present situation. He explained just how and why the country is in the mess it finds itself in, not laying the responsibility at the feet of just the banking fraternity or the government or Whitehall but also explaining that in order for banks to lend such ridiculous sums as 125% mortgages, there had to be a demand from business and the house buying public.

It was felt by all after the meeting that we in the business world and the public in general need a change of thinking, a whole new mind set where greed is no longer good. Gordon Ghecko has left the building.

Our next scheduled chamber evening meeting will be held at Howard’s Honda dealership in Weston-super-Mare and will start at 7pm on Wednesday the 15Th.

A good start to the year.

January 15, 2009

bec_crunch_6

Last night (14/01/09) we co hosted our biggest meeting so far, with 50 people in attendance from businesses and groups of all sizes and levels of success.

Christopher Batt of the Weston College Business Centre, organised and hosted the evening with speakers from King’s Ransom, Barclays Bank and the H.R.Department as well as Christopher himself.

The event was held in The Bistro , Knightstone Campus , a wonderful venue , and started promtly at 7:15pm after a short introduction from The President, Chris Knight.

The theme for the evening was Commerce in the Credit Crunch.

A buffet was provide midway through the event and refreshments were at hand throughout. The President thanked everyone and brought the evening to a close at 10pm although guests were invited to stay and network after.

Our netx meeting will take place at the new venue, The Royal Hotel,on February 18th at 8pm for members, 7pm for executives.

Speakers will be present.

bec_crunch_1bec_crunch_3

Recent activity

November 3, 2008

It’s sometimes a boring, thankless task being President but recently, things have become interesting and, to some extent ,worthwhile.

One of the things that I have been involved in setting up is the chamber website.

It costs very little to host and was constructed with a grant from the government and some chamber funding and with the expertise of one Mr Murray Ambler-Shattock. In fact, without him the site would never have been even started.

Don’t misunderstand that last comment. It is not just the knowledge of website building that makes Murray priceless but his unbowing faith and enthusiasm to the whole chamber concept. He is one of, luckily, several members who believe in the chamber unerringly. Our web master is one of a big team of dedicated members who give their own time and resources freely to help grow the chamber.

Now, one recent meeting I attended was for another group in which i am a member. I joined in order to foster relationships between them and us. Them being the local Industrial association. They had attended the Big Meeting I have previously blogged about and we were discussing ways of improving the Industrial group when one prominent member suggested a website. The Chamber website was quoted as a good example of an informative well planned site. That  was a small thing but a very proud moment for me and my team. Another member also mentioned producing a small fold out leaflet explaining the benefits of membership to the Industrial association to potential new members and he cited the chambers own leaflet, which he had seen and taken at that recent big meeting. more pride although the leaflet had been in existence since before i joined.

Another glow moment: I was at a meeting for another affiliated group. I attend a lot of these because I feel it is important to keep in touch with the people who have something to say and something to give in Weston. Anyway, at the meeting, it was being discussed, in some detail and at a basic idiot guide level ,about the new website this group had just launched. The site builder was going to great lengths to explain how the various members could link to the Group’s site. I listened to him say how links to other sites helped boost the ratings for the site. When one of the older established members of that group looked across to me I simply smiled and commented that the chamber already had a link set up which would direct people to this new site. It was like giving a nod of approval to a young apprentice. They had looked to me for confirmation and I felt great. It felt like the chamber was being regarded as a mentor to other smaller groups, someone to guide and help protect or teach them.

It was good. it makes me proud of the chamber just to know that people feel we are a reference point for how a group works is very very good news. It means that, despite our own fears about dropping membership or activity, we are making things work.

I get a buzz out of helping people. My next thing will be to contact the organiser of a local carnival which ends it’s tour of towns at Weston. It collects for local charities and always needs helpers to collect the pennies and pounds. Last year a colleague and I did the job for the first time and it was extremely hard on the legs but very worthwhile. The fact that a small share of the collected money is divided between the charities of the collectors was a bonus as it meant £60 went into the chamber charity fund but the main benefit was the feeling you get from seeing people who want to give money on a cold, usually rainy winter evening. I hope to do the same again this year.