For many, the new year is the chance to hit reset. To get fit, to try something new, or to apply for a job you’ve always wanted.
For busy retailers, it’s a funny time of year: it’s right after the holiday rush then it’s straight into it again with the January sales.
Finding time to take a breather and get planning for the year ahead can be difficult – but it’s worth doing. We talked to retailers and businesspeople to get some of their tips for setting your store up for success in the year ahead.
How to achieve business success in 2020 for your retail store
Find the value of looking back to move forward
Peter Gianakopoulos, of The Old School Records, believes that January is the perfect time to optimize what you already have.
“Having worked in retail on-and-off for 40 years, I’d say success in the new year is always achieved by working any dead inventory,” he says. “If you can move the bottom tier, everything else will work itself out.”
The bottom tier is a line above sludge: it’s that hard-to-move stock that has started to gather space in your stockroom or warehouse. In some cases, you may just have to cut your losses and bin it – but it’s often not actually a lost cause.
Reorganizing your shelves and displays can help to move dead inventory, as can bundling it with low-hanging fruit such as bestsellers and anything near your POS. You can also consider pricing it to move – some revenue is better than none at all, or emphasizing patience and persistence.
If you have faith in the product, keep pushing and it’ll find a home. For Peter, his top tip is to add a budget aisle for stock you’re struggling to shift.
When you do crack the case and make that sale, take a moment to consider where you could improve next time and bring that forward into your store’s merchandising and inventory strategies.
Pete Mulvihill, Green Apple Books, suggests taking a similar approach and focusing on something you’ve been meaning to get around to – both in business and life at large.
“You should resolve to finally do that one thing you’ve been meaning to do forever but haven’t gotten around to,” Pete says. “Use others around you to help clear whatever hurdles remain.
“For us, it will be to finally test a “round up” program, raising funds from our community for a different good cause each month.
“We hope it empowers our customers to give back, harnesses our collective strength, and builds community ties to new, worthy non-profits in our community. If it works at one of our stores, we’ll roll it out at all three and help improve our beloved city.
“I’ll rely on my team here for help – I can’t do this without buy-in, support, and feedback from staff.”
Identify and capitalize on the factor that makes you special
It may sound a bit twee, but the thing that makes you special is the thing that keeps your customers coming back.
At any one time, they can choose from any number of local stores or online outlets.
So why choose you?
For U.K.-based market, deli, and food retailer, The Norfolk Deli, the secret is in doing your research and using that to bring customers through your door. “Identify something unique to you and then focus on that,” says Mark Kacary of The Norfolk Deli.
“Don’t sell generic products when there’s a supermarket right next door to you. If necessary, create a SWOT chart. Work out your strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities against everyone in your locality.
“If you don’t know your unique strengths and how you’re going to be better than anybody else, how are you going to position your business in the marketplace? Customers want different; they don’t want carbon-copy businesses. You don’t want to fall into the trap of doing something that might work well for someone else but not for you.”
It’s a thought that’s echoed by Giulio Graziani, President, of videogamesnewyork.
“Success in retail is all about specialization and niche markets,” he says. “Amazon is the new Walmart – where people used to do their shopping there, they’ve now swapped it for online.
“And Walmart destroyed many other retailers. Now Amazon is threatening to do the same. As a retailer, you can’t aim to be the next Amazon or Walmart. Instead, you need to be the first version of your store and the niche that helps you stand out. The secret to surviving and prospering is to evolve into a unique business.”
In real terms for Giulio’s store, this ethos comes to the fore in the unique collection of video game systems, games, and imports. It’s the store’s calling card, alongside combining the traditional shopping experience with a cultural one.
Its USP, ultimately, is to provide warm service, gaming culture in its blood, and a unique collection of products to stand out from big-boxes and faceless online stores which Giulio calls, “a cold mechanism of money-making.”
Put the customers at the heart of everything – and mean it
No doubt, online shopping is a faceless endeavor.
It’s a thought echoed by countless independent retailers who – in many ways – are the soul of their community.
But even more important than the store is the customer. Without one, the other can’t survive.
CBD e-commerce store, for the Ageless, has put its customers at the center of everything it does – and it is thriving in a quickly-growing market.
“What we find most important is listening to our customers,” says for the Ageless’ media coordinator, Kim. “We’ve devoted our entire business to them. Our choice of products is based on their feedback and most of the changes we’ve made in the past two years have to do with their reviews or comments over the phone and email.”
And for the Ageless, it’s a case of putting its money where its mouth is. In its first two years of operation in 2016 and 2017, CBD was starting to take off – but customers had endless questions and concerns.
They collected these questions and put them into a comprehensive guide and FAQ page, as well as sending out informational emails with product deliveries.
Likewise, product sourcing is a collaborative experience with an engaged customer base who are already doing a lot of research. Many of the brands stocked by the business were suggested by customers.
And “most radically,” Kim says, “we now feature product certifications under each CBD product. In a market where it has been proven that many products do not contain what they claim, third-party certifications are a must.”
It’s extra work for the business, but it’s worth it for the customer – so it becomes a self-fulfilling circle of happy customers and happy retailers.
Carlos Castelán, Managing Director of The Navio Group, a retail consultancy firm whose clients include Target and CVSHealth, is keen to compound the importance of customer service above all else.
“Retailers who provide a strong customer experience or find a way to create a shopping experience that doubles as a medium of entertainment will attract and win shoppers and boost sales in 2020,” he says.
“The shopping experience is now about so much more than buying a product. As consumers can shop online for many different products, in-store owners and managers must offer outstanding customer experience and service to attract and keep return shoppers. Small retailers can compete with the giants by providing great customer service, or an imaginative experience.
“Make the shopping experience more than just buying a product,” he advises, “but think about the experience that accompanies visiting a store, such as in-store demos or events that showcase products and entertain shoppers.”
In-store experiences range from elaborate activations to small-scale roll-outs of features costumers will love. Nordstrom’s Local, first launched in 2017, is a departure from brick and mortar: it’s the department store’s merchandise-free concept store.
The concept here is that it’s all about services: online order pickup and return, alterations, style advice, tailoring, nail beauty services, and in-store bars.
Further afield in uber-cool Seoul, Korea, uber-cool store The Conran Shop has turned a multi-story carpark into a gorgeous, Instagram-friendly retail store with Instagram-friendly products to match.
Meanwhile, in mid-2019, The North Face grabbed headlines with its “basecamp for exploration” – a new store in New York with experiential elements including light-up displays, historical display boxes, chairs made out of its duffle bags, and a scent piped through the store that represented the smells of Yosemite.
However, it’s not all about showy pop-ups or concept stores – especially as these big launches are expensive and outside of the budgets of regular retailers. Often, it’s a case of going back to the basics.
An Accenture survey of more than 20,000 consumers found that 47 percent of respondents who were frustrated with a recent shopping experience said they wouldn’t purchase from that retailer again.
Of course, in the grand scheme of independent retailers vs big-boxes and online giants, a personable shopping experience is where smaller stores tend to excel.
On that ground alone, it looks like it’s going to be a big year for independent stores.