The unfortunate truth for independent retailers is that big-boxes and online giants can slash their prices without taking a hit.
They buy and sell such large quantities of products that a couple of dollars doesn’t matter – but for an independent business, it could make or break them.
Independent stores need to play smarter to compete, and actively engaging with local people is a big part of that. While big-boxes and online stores can be slow to change and try new things, independent stores have the advantage of speed and superior customer service.
Give customers extra reasons to come into your store
Less is more may be the case for fashion and design – but it doesn’t translate to retail and pleasing your customers with great local marketing.
If anything: more is more, as retailers scramble to offer extra services to get customers into their store.
Case in point: CVS, the chain pharmacy brand, announced in late October that it is expanding its BeautyIRL concept into nearly 50 stores by the end of 2019.
BeautyIRL is roughly double the size of the usual beauty section at CVS and features 30 new brands, an accessories shop, a Test-and-Play Hygiene Bar, a Mini Must-Have boutique, and a range of services across hair, makeup and more.
However, additional services aren’t just in the wheelhouse of physical stores with big budgets and a chain of locations.
New York’s Black Mountain Wine & Liquor is a liquor store with a difference. Owner Deana wants the store to have a boutique feel, which is reflected in the unique décor. A sign above the door offers ‘Harleys welcome’.
While a consistent customer experience is important, Deana prides herself on her wine and whiskey tastings, which continually get punters through the door. Recent themes include ‘A MidSummer’s Night Taste’ and ‘Indian Summer Wines’. Customers who come to the tasting get to try the drinks and are offered discounts in the store if they buy.
Darkside Records, a vinyl store based in Poughkeepsie, New York, partners with breweries and event spaces to throw parties and music sessions, while offering services in turntable cartridge and stylus upgrades, vinyl starter kits, turntable setup and maintenance, gift-wrapping and a range of CBD edibles.
Likewise, the Norfolk Deli, a marketplace and health food store in the U.K., is known for its Saturday showcases and farmer’s markets. Donnybrook Fair, based in Dublin, Ireland, run a range of events for its target audience in everything from veganism to student cooking on a budget while ‘Waterclour & Wine’ gives patrons the chance to paint watercolors and enjoy wine and food tasters.
The event is ticketed and drives great local awareness for Donnybrook Fair’s more premium customers.
Events and services are an excellent way to get local people into your store or to advertise your products in a way that feels both interesting and novel. It’s a step above mailing coupons or running print ads as it gives local people an in to engage with your store on a deeper level – and you always have the option to run promotions before, during, or after the event to maximize your takings.
Merge offline and on for better local marketing
For many brick and mortar stores, the idea of being found online is attractive – but it can seem unobtainable. Retail SEO can seem overly complicated, particularly if you don’t have a technical background, while social media marketing and digital advertising can be hit or miss or expensive.
Many retailers understand the need to be online – but can struggle to connect the dots. Pointy is a retail tech platform that plugs into a retailer’s POS and puts their products onto Google so that local people can find them.
It’s been a crucial tool for Franklin Liquors, a 40-year institution in Maryland. A decades’ long tenure has seen the store go through several iterations and embracing technology and digital has been a big part in reaching local customers.
“We are all about technology and social media,” says Mark Lenzi, of Franklin Liquors. “Anything that helps us be found on the internet and get our products out there is a plus. With Pointy, we scan our products and Pointy puts them on the internet for us. That’s step one. Step two is using Google Ads to put our products in front of potential customers when they search for products on Google. Uploading our inventory is a simple five-minute process.”
“With Pointy,” Mark says, “we see what internet searchers are looking for, which ultimately is the best industry trendsetter.”
The data can be illuminating for retailers as, often, the products you might think people are searching for actually end up being something different.
Of course, Pointy is most useful as a tool that facilitates the customer.
In a fascinating example, one Pointy retailer, Payless Drugs, Alabama, actually sold out of Oscillococcinum during a winter flu epidemic. Local people were making the search online and seeing that Payless Drugs had it in stock, so they turned up in droves to buy it.
Peter Gianakopoulos, owner of The Old School Records, is quick to confirm the merits of Pointy. “We scan all our new and used items that come in so that they show up on our Pointy page,” he says. “It’s great to help people find us.”
Peter is also a fan of using social channels to help nearby shoppers find products they stock. As a record store, many of The Old School Records’ customers are looking for specific albums so posting about them to the store’s social channels makes sense as a marketing tactic.
Paired with Pointy, it’s an effective strategy to reach customers as Pointy covers the search/SEO angle, while social ticks boxes for local discovery too.
“We give descriptions for everything,” Peter says. “It takes longer but it’s worth it. We post a lot of photos with descriptions and keywords for hashtags to draw in web surfers. It’s all another way for them to find us and for us to compete online.”
The tactic has worked really well for The Old School Records, which now boasts coveted high rankings for product searches in Forest Park, Illinois, where it’s based, in everything from classic albums such as The Beatle’s ‘White Album’ up to DVDs such as The Dark Knight Rises.
‘Fear Inoculum’, Tool’s first release in over a decade, was also a big draw for the store, and quickly became one of its most viewed products for online searches.
Superior customer service is the strongest local marketing tool you have
Beck Hardware has been in operation since 1959 – and the store has become an integral part of the local community.
Undoubtedly, it’s their place in the community that’s the lynchpin of the store’s local marketing. Amanda Beck, of Beck Hardware, believes that it’s not enough to bring customers in – instead, retailers should treat them such that they want to come back. It’s why many of their customers have been coming back for decades – some of them recall seeing Amanda in the store as a child.
“Where we really try to strive is with customer service that you can’t get in a big-box,” says Amanda. “We have customers who come in every day – some of them have been coming in for 20-something years – and they still need help or are doing a new thing.
“We have customers who have just bought a new house and they’re looking for someone to help walk them through wiring a light. We take the time with these customers – it might be five minutes, it might be 10, it might be half an hour. You don’t really charge for that; you just do it!”
This superior service has been a big part of the store’s continued success, but it also echoes in its place in the community. While many stores try to build a community on social media or online, it’s rare for it to translate offline too in such a real way. With Beck’s Hardware, the community began before the internet was even invented.
“You build a long-term connection with the community when you’ve been there for a long time,” Amanda says. “When you have those connections, truly customers become friends. It’s a long-term relationship: we’re not going anywhere, and neither are they. In a way, it’s home. It’s our name on the door – and we really want to ensure that people leave here satisfied.”
Local marketing should be a vital part of your retail marketing strategy. While big-box stores and online giants have certain key advantages, brick and mortar retailers have the ability to move faster, to be better at customer service, and to trial new technology that will bring more customers into their store.
Put simply, local marketing and great customer service are what will set you apart – and what will keep you afloat as big-boxes and online giants continue to squeeze independent retailers on price.
Want to help local customers find your products?
Pointy is a retail tool that connects local searchers to stores that sell what they’re looking for.
Pointy connects to the store’s POS and puts its in-store products on Google so local people can see if the product they want is available. The customer can then see the store address and get directions to complete the sale.