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

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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.

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