How to reinvent your business during tough economic times
By Paula and Lewis Turner
After surveying various on-line chat groups, we found this month’s topic to be quite popular, especially for the independents with one or two stores. We are facing the same decision ourselves … times are a changin’!
When we opened in 1991, we were the largest pet store in the South Bay (which includes Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach in Southern California). Now, big-box stores dwarf our 7,500 square feet and are opening locations within our customer base. Since December 2006, there has been a consistent loss of 320 customers per month.
A Year to Forget
We are currently seeking regression therapy, with the hopes of deleting 2007 from our memory. With this year looking as bleak economically as last, drastic measures were required. It was time to step outside our store, take a good look around and re-evaluate our business. Not an easy task, since any measure of change translates into spending money; however, doing nothing is unproductive, and customer loss could continue.
Where to Start
Help is needed from those who are going to be the most affected by any changes you make—your staff, referrals and customers. A staff meeting could be dedicated to the task of making suggestions, so be willing to listen to any and all, without criticism. Greater support will likely be the result.
There are other options than hiring a professional organization to run a focus group. Your team can gather the names and numbers of your best customers. Nothing fancy needed for a meeting place. A quiet section in a local restaurant will suffice. Money you would spend on professionals could be put toward improvements.
Take a look at the referral cards on your counter. How about consulting with your vets, dog walkers, trainers and pet sitters?
Willing to Let It Go
Our major change began with a new store logo and mascot. The staff voted on the artistic variations presented. When it came to naming our new character, we had a contest for our staff and customers. A large cutout of our new friend was put on display, and we received more than 100 suggestions.
Decide which areas of your store do well and what you could live without. Your purchases (and even reps) can act as your guide.
We totally removed our reptile department, but kept the most asked-for items, such as lightbulbs and food. Our bird section was cut in half, and the few fish supplies floated out into the bargain area set up for all the merchandise we were dumping. Net result was eliminating close to $10,000 in merchandise that we were not going to replenish, and removal of two 24-foot shelving units.
With the new open space, a defined traffic pattern could be created to our featured area of the store.
Lots of aspirin was needed to reduce the tension of the bargain tables at 50 percent off prices. Interestingly enough, even though we’re located in an affluent neighborhood, everybody looks for bargains. We were surprised at the amount of stuff that finally left.
Bargaining for Help
Realizing that we are experiencing the largest pet-owner population in our history, retailers shouldn’t be bashful about bartering merchandise for assistance. Your local paper probably lists handymen that service the area. Consider asking a few to come in to hear about the changes you have in mind, and then offer supplies as full or partial payment. Colleges are another good source, as well as your staff, friends and family. It’s easy to overlook what is right in front of you.
Decide on a priority list of projects. Realize and accept that everything won’t be done overnight, and your store might look a bit messy for a while. When your employees and customers begin to see progress, they will be motivated to hang in there during the transformation just to see the end result.
Our store has been a work in progress for the past several months. We are now at a point when customers are getting excited to see the improvements. Outside of repainting the exterior, there haven’t been any changes for 18 years. We remember greeting Chris Miller of Pacific Store Design in Garden Grove, Calif., at his booth in SuperZoo. He asked “Hey, when are you going to bring your store up to date?” His remarks resonated with us, and he was right.
After the Changes
Making improvements will impress your current customers, but how do you get those you’ve lost or never had in the first place without spending beaucoup bucks? Do your references reciprocate by passing out fliers or cards for your store? Pet sitters and dog walkers come into contact with a lot of pet owners. How about issuing them special discount cards to distribute?
Do you capture names and phone numbers from your customers? When was the last time you called that list? Paula personally contacted about 900 of our top customers. So far, the response has been absolutely amazing.
We’ve truly neglected these people, and for them to suddenly hear from the store owner was very well received. Why were we making time to reconnect? To inform them about the changes we’ve made in the store and invite them back.
Our final question—“What can we do better?”— received the greatest response. This was the best way to convey that we care. Be prepared to hear criticism as well as compliments. Outside of a car dealership, when’s the last time you received a follow-up call?
Tony Robbins and many other life coaches encourage their followers to reinvent themselves on a regular basis. Why should your store be any different? Isn’t it an extension of you? If not, maybe it should be. Take the plunge. <HOME>
Lewis and Paula Turner own The PetCare Company in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
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