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Counter Points: Retail & Management Strategies

Posted: July 10, 2013, 12:00 p.m. EDT

By Barry Berman

When the ancient Greek hero Achilles was an infant, his mother lowered him into the River Styx, an act that was supposed to confer immortality upon the anointed. Achilles’ entire body became invulnerable except for the heel from which his mother held him—the very heel that when fatally wounded was his undoing.

Everyone knows an Achilles heel is the one weakness that could ruin an otherwise successful person. The scary thing is that one may not be aware of such a fatal flaw until it’s too late.

Over the years I have witnessed the failure of many stores, even ones that were doing well just two to three years before they closed their doors. The following are three problem areas I see often in stores that begin to falter. Could your business be threatened by an Achilles heel?

Barry Berman
Barry Berman.

Weak Selling Skills
One difference between successful and so-so stores is the selling ability of owner and staff. Just because your product knowledge is strong doesn’t mean that your selling skills are, too. I have seen some owners—ex-owners now—in action who failed to recommend a product they carried as a substitute for an item they did not stock.

Don’t take for granted that your staff is trained to recommend products—quiz them to see if they are. Educate your staff to understand that when a customer asks questions about shampoos, the dog may have a scratching issue. Selling shampoo is fine, but most customers spend less than $40 a year on that category. On the flip side, a customer with an itchy dog may be open to trying a food you recommend to reduce or eliminate itchy skin, on which said owner could spend $500 a year.
Also, everyone in the store should be trained to start a personal conversation with a browsing customer, ask probing questions, recognize buying signals, gently begin to close a sale and handle objections and hesitations. If you and your staff, by exercising these sales skills, could persuade one customer every other day to switch to a food you recommend and continue to buy it, your sales would increase almost $100,000 per year.

If you haven’t taken some sort of course or provided to your staff formal sales training, you might be missing huge opportunities to thrive next year—and survive in the long run. Improve this aspect of your business now, even if you are doing well. If you don’t know where to acquire this training, contact me via email or phone.

Unprepared for New Competition
I talk to independent store owners all over the country, and many of them are now finding one or more new competitors opening up nearby. Sometimes a new rival is a Petco or a PetSmart, usually in a town where the independent was sure their market was too small for such a chain. Or that new store is some other rapidly expanding chain, such as Tractor Supply, Pet Valu, Pet Supermarket or Pets Supplies "Plus” Pet Club, that carries "independent-only” food brands. Wherever you are, more competition is coming. How can you prepare?

Here’s a quick list of the most important things to tackle first.
• Make a house or exclusive brand your go-to dog food, and make it big in your store.
• Look for small supplies brands at national shows that will make your assortment store unique.
• Keep re-merchandising, change your signage, and move departments around; doing so will make your store look new and keep people coming back. Do what remodeling you can.
• Ask your POS guy to delve into your database to find your biggest customers in each category, and send them coupons regularly.
• Hire someone to run events in your store at least 20 times a year—more in year two. Emailing your customers regularly is not number six, because you’re already doing that … right?

The Wrong Space
Some stores are too big; others too small. What’s your plan to fix your space issue? Move? Sublet? Regardless of whether you suspect your space is the appropriate size, maximize the productivity of every square foot by figuring out whether you are devoting too much space to some products and not enough to others.

To find out whether this is the case, divide the store into product categories or sections, add up the sales for each, and calculate each one’s sales per square foot or per linear foot of shelf space. Compare these figures with a number that tallies target sales per square foot for the whole business (your total target sales divided by your total square footage). If you can’t come up with a target, $300 per square foot is a good benchmark in this industry. Categories or sections that perform below average in sales per square foot should be re-merchandised or reduced in size and the winners expanded.

There’s also a low-tech way to accomplish this. Find a time when you can place Post-it notes on every product in a section and write each item’s sales on the note. Once you have compiled a good deal of this information, it will become clear which products or areas should be expanded or contracted. This analysis will force you to keep your merchandising approach current and your store up to date. <HOME>


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