September 1, 2015

In business, you can’t worry about being everything to everyone, but you better know your customer demographics or you might not have a business to worry about.

Location, Location, Location

If you’re planning to open a new pet store or pet-related service, before committing to a location, take the time to check with its local chamber of commerce. Also, ask your commercial realtor to provide you with local consumer demographics. Most of the information you will need is available online. There are many websites you can check, so here are a few useful ones to start:

City-Data.com: Provides a quick overview on the most-important demographic data.
Zillow.com: Provides every bit of information on the real estate market of any area.
FactFinder.Census.gov: Provides accurate data, although sometimes is outdated.
Censtats.Census.gov: Provides extremely accurate information that is updated every one and a half to two years.
Maps.Google.com: Provides the ability to locate potential competitors and also synergistic non-competitors.

For those who have already committed to a location or those who have been in business at the same location for years, it won’t hurt to keep up to date with changing demographics in your neighborhood. Having said that, no business can prosper on statistics alone. Once your business is up and running—even if it’s fully established—you should refresh your consumer strategy to keep the inflow of customers coming through your door every day.

Who Lives There?

Assuming you’ve done some basic research and know the key demographics about your local community, such as disposable income, cost of living, population, average gross income, median age and locations of nearest competitors, you should be able to form some idea of what price range and style of products would sell best in your store.

Once you understand demographics, you will be able to use that information when deciding what type of inventory and services to offer your customers. For example, if the area has more apartments than houses, you may want to focus your dog department on products for small breeds and your aquatics department on desktop and other small aquariums.

Always consider your customers and what will sell best, but don’t ignore trendy items or higher priced products. Just make sure your supply of demographically relevant items never runs out of stock. Keep in mind when developing your margins that customers like incentives and sales, so take that into account when pricing items in your store. If possible, keep a war chest of cash in reserve to buy no-brainer promotions on your best selling products to advertise on sale. This will not only bring in new customers, but reward loyal ones.

Be the Customer

Another aspect to successful customer interaction is to try walking in the shoes of the customer. Try using the products you sell. This will lend credibility to your business and reassure your customers that you are the expert, knowing from personal experience about the products you sell. Also be aware of potential customer issues, such as parents with children or the elderly who may have impaired movement. If you’re located near retirement communities or young family neighborhoods, ease of access and child safety could become an issue, and you should consider these factors when designing or remodeling your floorplan.

If you offer services such as home aquarium maintenance or provide grooming, take the time to be the customer and try to experience what it might be like for your customers to find, interact and complete a transaction with your business. That will allow you to smooth out the rough edges, making it easy and hassle-free to interact with you and your staff.

Once you have spent some time walking in your customer’s shoes and you know your key local demographics, you will be prepared to offer the customers what they want in the way of products and services. You also can offer them a more comfortable, reassuring experience that will encourage them to recommend your business. As a small business, knowing your customer should be the big advantage you have over the big chain stores.

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