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One of our business strategies is to visit retailers regularly to keep track of our vendors’ shelf presence and how well our distributors are penetrating the market with our products.

So when I say that there are different levels of ability and competence in building retailer outreach programs, you will know that we have a broad sampling of stores to draw from, for our information.

I’ve seen single unit stores that are on the leading edge when it comes to advertising and customer interaction, and I’ve seen chains that are haphazard in their customer outreach programs. So it’s not necessarily the size, or sales volume, of a store that allows the retailer to run successful programs.

Many stores run some type of outreach program in their market area, but it’s my opinion the secret to success is to run them regularly, creating a calendar to fully maximize the vendor and distributor resources to help control costs and make the events more meaningful to the retail customer.

Here are some great ideas that some of our leading retailers are using today to keep and build their customer base.

Once-a-Month Contact

Incentivize your customers to supply their email address, name and street address. This can be done with free samples or loyalty programs that give something back to them. It takes continuous effort to build a customer database, but it is worth its weight in gold if used regularly.

Also, remember customers do not like to be spammed, so keep all of your contacts to no more than once a month and make those communications appealing to a broad base of interests. Cover each category in your store with products or services that will pull your customer in. Your database will become one of your most valuable assets for advertising, so keep it current.

Loyalty Programs

Whether they are purchase punch cards or an ongoing 10 percent discount for regulars, loyalty programs are the most offered program in the stores that we visit. The reason they are popular with retailers is because they really work in building customer loyalty.

Everyone likes to save money and customers who visit you regularly will think twice before answering someone else’s ad.

In-Store Events

Yes, they are a lot of extra work, but they will increase your visibility with your customer base and, if well-advertised, bring in new customers. Fish and aquarium sales or dog-food sales in conjunction with vaccination clinics, or flea and tick dips, are just a few events that many stores offer.

Event days can be as often as monthly, or the once-a-year big blowout, but unless the deals are great, consumers won’t come back the next time. Remember, in order to get meaningful deals for your event, you should work them out with your suppliers at least one month in advance.

Special Outside-the-Box Promotions

Always pass along ISO discounts. Most manufacturers offer big discounts on initial stocking orders on their new products. When these become available, pass them on in the form of super specials.

This will accomplish two things. First, you will be one of the first stores in your area to showcase a new product.

Secondly, the discounts will be subsidized by the manufacturer and their distributors to help protect or reduce any lost margin.

Personality Check

I’ve left the most important customer incentive program for last: customer service. The best incentive to get repeat business is to let your customers know they are important by being friendly, outgoing and helpful.

Product knowledge and a ready smile will grow your business, while customer outreach programs and special events will ensure a future for your business, giving it a public face that is lacking on the internet and from mass-market outlets.

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