Adapting to the Changing Retail Environment


Is your store experiencing a selling slump? If it is, it’s a tough situation. It can not only hurt you financially, but it can damage your morale and your ego — especially if you believe you’re doing everything right but still can’t make progress. And, needless to say, a consistent decline in sales can also cause you to worry about whether you can stay in the retail environment.

If your business has been down lately, you are certainly not alone. Economic conditions and changing retail environment have caused sales to drop dramatically for many retailers. It’s very easy to place blame for your problems, but can you afford to? Not if you want to move forward.

Sitting behind the counter and hoping people will walk through your door is not the solution. Neither is worrying yourself to the point where your lack of confidence is obvious to customers. Taking a pro-active approach to turning around your store’s fortunes is the only option. If you have been one of the fortunate retailers whose sales are up this year, consider yourself lucky — and read on. You never know when your time may come.

The art of asking for referrals

Challenge yourself to make it a habit to ask for referrals. There is no magic bullet to approaching customers for that all important referral. It just takes good instincts, honesty, and professionalism.

Timing is everything

When should you ask for a referral? The ideal time to ask is simple–whenever your customers tell you how pleased they are! Depending on what you sell, it’s often best to ask:

– within three days after a service has been delivered.

– just after a project has been completed.

– when they say they have received the benefits you promised.

Use your professional judgment

Asking for referrals is just one aspect of doing business. You do everything else well, this should be no exception. A face-to-face request is best. A phone call is the second best. In this manner, you’re more likely to receive quality leads. Always ask for referrals graciously and not in a pushy manner. However, if asking directly for referrals makes you uncomfortable, you can send a letter or e-mail to your customers.

The three-step approach to tapping your customer base

To obtain a substantial number of referrals, you will need to focus first on your existing customer base. Use the following three-step technique:

1. Ask for feedback.

2. Reply to their response with a statement.

3. Ask for the referral professionally and let thm know how much you would appreciate their help BEFORE they reply to your request. Be sure to use their name—it makes your appeal much more personal.

Making a strong case

The following examples of referral questions will

Become a chameleon — When its environment changes, the chameleon’s biological process enables it to readily adapt. For human beings, change doesn’t come as easily. These are changing and challenging times for many business owners, so you must become like a chameleon and adapt to changing trends. What changes have you made to your store in recent months? Have you changed the product mix in your store to adapt to consumer trends? Are you offering new products that compliment your existing products?

Stop fretting and take action — Fretting and worrying will not boost your sales. Keeping yourself in the right frame of mind requires balancing your ability to be realistic and objective, and not worrying about things you can’t control. Excessive worry will block you from functioning effectively and it will also block your creativity — something you need more than ever when sales are down. Channel that negative habit of worrying into action to drive traffic into your store. Remember the old saying, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It keeps you going but gets you nowhere.”

Eliminate negative thinking and sound confident — Think about how you SOUND when you’re talking to customers. If they sense your apprehension or pessimism, they’ll be more likely to go to another store where the owner and employees sound more confident.

Talk smart — I believe 85 percent of your success in life — not just business — is in direct proportion to the ability to communicate your ideas and needs to others. If you are in sales, you must be a master communicator, especially when it comes to your ability to generate enthusiasm for a new collectible, ask questions about customer interests, express your hobby expertise, and convey honesty, professionalism, and integrity.

Re-think your approach — When a hitter goes into a slump, they make adjustments to their approach at the plate. When you experience a sales slump, think about changing your approach when interacting with customers, as well as your methods of advertising/marketing.

Make an effort to apply creativity to help increase store traffic. What more can you do for your potential and existing customers? Is it time to change the look of your store? Can you arrange for a special store event or autograph signing? If store traffic is slow, don’t just sit behind the counter and watch television. Use that extra time to plan an event or create a new service that will interest your customers.

Get visible — How many people outside of your core group of customers know you exist? Attending business events such as chamber of commerce functions are likely the kind activities that helped you get established. You may need to go back to those practices to get up and running again. If business is down, attend networking events, meetings or even an industry trade show.

Attending a trade show is one of the best things you can do for your store. Not only is it an excellent opportunity to see upcoming products and learn about future trends, but you can attend educational sessions to improve your business skills and also network with other retailers who are as anxious to share ideas with you as you are to talk with them.

A trade show provides an opportunity to meet and talk with vendors and manufacturers. Learn from their expertise and figure out how to leverage it to drive your business. When you return, you will be loaded with ideas that you can put into action. Strive to leverage your vendor expertise, and enlist their help in growing your business.

Focus on the voice of the customer — The customer rules! You may be tired of that old adage, but the truth is you can never hear too much about the importance of customer service.

You, and everyone who works in your store, must be more than just friendly. You must also be competent and knowledgeable. Today’s customer expects you to anticipate their needs even before they become aware of them. That’s why industry expertise is so important. You must have an idea for what the next hot product will be. If you are committed to providing service excellence, the rewards will be yours. And, your customers will have no reason to go anywhere else.

Maximize your productivity — Here are a few hard questions to ask yourself if you’re in a slump: Have you been working efficiently, but not effectively? Have you been making the best use of your time? Have you prioritized your to-do’s each day and gotten them done? Is what you’re doing ultimately going to generate more revenue for your store?

It takes work to be successful in any business, but you must work smarter to be successful in an industry that is slumping. That’s why you must prioritize your efforts. If you don’t have effective organizational skills, get them. Your alternative is to AGONIZE over missed opportunities.

Set, reset and work toward your goals — Not your style to set goals? Big mistake. Even the most sophisticated store owners set goals. Write them down, LOOK at them on a regular basis, then DO them. Setting goals is a way of making things concrete. It’s a sure way to focus your energy if sales are down.

Before determining your goals, get into a non-business setting where you can think clearly and there will be no distractions. Write down what action you’ll take. Establish your priorities, and set practical goals so that you’ll move forward. For example:

* “I will set aside time each day to check out my competition on the Web.”
* “I will suggest additional products with each transaction”
* “I will create one in-store promotion every month.”
* “I will contact 25 of my best customers and offer them a special gift for referring customers to us.”

Make sure your goals are specific in nature, as opposed to something as generic as “increase sales.” Review your goals regularly, such as every 30 days, to analyze your progress. And while you should strive to achieve all of your goals, it makes sense to revamp your goals, if needed.

Outshine Your Competition — Find out what your competition does well, and make sure you do it differently, and better. Portray a higher level of service in every aspect of working with customers. And, use highly creative marketing, advertising, and in-store promotions that drive traffic into your store.

Invest in yourself — Spend more time and energy on learning new business skills and self-improvement. Take a local college course on marketing and advertising. Make it your top priority to continuously sharpen your skills.

Learn to love what you do — Have you lost that lovin’ feeling for the business that you had when you first opened your store? Despite all of our economic uncertainty and instability, if you can remember how much you enjoy your business, and learn to love what you do, you’ll be more creative, and sound more positive when interacting with customers.

Alleviate the pressure — Being in a selling slump can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to ruin your life. Laugh a little. Let your customers see you smiling. When you do, and you show a genuine interest in them, they’ll want to come back.

There is no mystical magical secret to success in the retail environment. It comes from your ability to be like a chameleon and adapt to change. It also comes from your enthusiasm for your business and your ability to allow the customer to feel that same enthusiasm


Photo Courtesy of (Scott Maxwell) – Flickr

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About Christine Corelli

Christine Corelli is a motivational, keynote, business, leadership, sales, and customer service speaker, sales trainer, and author of six business books. As a keynote speaker, she is known for her high energy and interactive speaking style.

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