10 years ago, even Patrick and John Collinson couldn’t have predicted the runaway success of their payment platform, Stripe.

The brothers grew up in small-town Ireland in Dromineer, County Tipperary, amongst a population of 102 people.

Now operating out of Silicon Valley, Stripe is worth an estimated $22.5 billion and is the payment provider of choice for businesses including Shopify, Salesforce, Lyft, and Target.

It’s an inspirational story for an any entrepreneur – and it’s a showcase for how hard work and ingenuity are the bedrock of growing any company.

how to grow a small business

How Stripe grew – and what independent retailers can learn from it

As with most big businesses, Stripe’s beginnings were humble. A good idea, however, is everything – and it’s key to Stripe’s growth.

Essentially, the Collinsons identified a problem and offered a solution to fix it. The company was founded during a boom in e-commerce when making online payments was unnecessarily complex. Even PayPal had too many steps – so the Collinsons were determined to create a solution that finally made making payments online easy.

And they did.

In an interview with Fast Company, John Collinson said, “Stripe really did come about because we were really appalled by how hard it was to charge for things online.”

Stripe’s early growth came from word-of-mouth. The second growth strand was in being really, really good at customer service. Stripe’s customers are the priority.

Lastly, Stripe’s ethos is to look to the future and to invest in researching new ideas to reach customers, to make the service even more seamless, and to have a clear direction as to where they’re going next.

While most independent retailers aren’t about to become a $20 billion-dollar company, there’s still a lot to learn from a business born in a tiny village on the southwest of Ireland.

retail marketing tactics that work

Marketing for small businesses

Look, the vast majority of small businesses are never going to be the next Stripe. It was an ingenious idea that launched into a perfect storm of circumstance.

The truth is that competition is tough: according to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, there are 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S.

Even if you’re super niche, chances are that you have competitors. And in the digital age, it pays to remember that your competitors aren’t just similar businesses on your block – they’re also online, selling on Amazon or social media or with e-commerce shops.

So just how do you grow your small business?

Retail marketing ideas: 1. Define your sales funnel

Many small retailers (especially those in a family-run business) tend to fall into the trap of doing things how it has always been done. Your store is still around, so something has got to be working, right?

Your sales funnel is a set of steps that leads towards a purchase from a customer. Sales funnels are typically represented as a pyramid or a set of steps moving towards an end goal.

The pyramid starts broad at the top (this is where you’ll see the most people) and narrows down as people take action, ultimately choosing whether or not to buy your product.

retail marketing funnel example

In the example above, the customer travels from their initial stage through to being a loyal customer of your store.

What the actual process looks like will vary depending on how they discover your store (for example, can they find you online or are you missing out on potential sales?) or what are the touchpoints in-store (does someone offer to help them; do they need a lot of information before buying)?

Retail marketing ideas for each stage of the funnel

Each stage of the funnel will require different actions, which will help to move potential customers along the funnel. Of course, not all potential customers will buy from you, but it’s still worth defining a funnel and using it as the backbone of your retail marketing strategy.

  • Research: Having a website; optimizing your website for search; putting product information online; visible signage; mail drops.
  • Awareness: Paid advertising in print, radio, TV, or on digital on social media, Google, etc. Going to events or tradeshows.
  • Evaluation: Engaging your customers with emails, content, classes, mailed newsletters, social media marketing.
  • Purchase: Product demos or assisted sales on the floor in-store. Upsell/cross-sell at the point-of-sale with display stands.
  • Loyalty: After the sale. You can send emails or direct mail to customers with newsletters, offers, or content they might like. A loyalty scheme is an option too.

For most businesses, the perfect sales funnel is a mix of digital and traditional marketing tactics and it’ll find new customers while turning current customers into brand advocates who love your store/what you do.

Many businesses get caught up in winning new customers, but current customers are the sweet spot – a survey from Invesp found that it costs five times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an old one.

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Retail marketing ideas: 2. Realize the importance of professional development

Your employees are one of the big selling points for your business. Sure, employee turnover rates in retail are particularly high, but that doesn’t mean it’s an excuse for ignoring professional development or having non-productive staff.

Productive employees are better engaged and more invested in their work. They’re more likely to work harder and to earn more money for your store.

The key is to create a great brand. You might think that your brand is the name of your company or the colors you use, but it also includes the kind of company you are and what you stand for.

People want to work for great brands; there’s a reason why Facebook and Google and companies like them have such involved hiring processes.

While asking a potential employee what color crayon they’d be is an unnecessary step, it’s still good to build a company that values its employees.

And it doesn’t just apply to massive tech companies. Food chain In-N-Out Burger often finds itself on lists of the best places to work as it offers great training and support, while Trader Joe’s encourages its crew members to have fun with customers.

They’re simple things but they go a long way in creating a happy, vibrant business that appeals to customers and employees.

person shopping retail marketing

Retail marketing ideas: 3. Analyze opportunities by being where your customers are

If your store has been around forever, it can be easy to presume that the locals know who you are. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they prefer your competitor or maybe they can get a cheaper deal by buying online.

Here’s the thing: your customers have more choice than ever. If you’re not in front of them as an option, they’ll forget about you and go somewhere else. It applies to everything, from high-ticket tech items right down to last-minute drop-ins to buy toilet paper or milk.

More than ever, customers are taking to the internet to research products. If you’re not coming up at this stage, it’s unlikely they’ll come back to you later.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re doing their shopping online.

Only 9.9 percent of sales in the U.S. for the fourth quarter of 2018 were e-commerce. The other 90 percent were in-store.

It may seem like everyone is doing all their shopping online, but it just isn’t true. Instead, many customers are starting their buying journey online before going into a physical store to finish the sale.

This is a big opportunity for your store, so you need a web presence to compete. Depending on the marketing you’re already doing, this could include everything from creating social accounts to running paid digital advertising or writing a blog that your customers would like to read.

You can check out a full list of retail marketing must-haves in our two-page checklist here so that you can get in front of potential customers.

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