by Seasons Koll, Margaret Ann Lembo, Royce Amy Morales, Leslie Neilson, and Bill Binkelman
Q: WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO ENCOURAGE MORE impulse buying, not just for small-ticket items at the cash wrap but throughout my store?
A: Encouraging customers to buy isn’t always easy. You have to be very engaged with them while they are shopping (but not pushy), believe in your products, and be knowledgeable about the items you carry. When you sell products you personally use and love, sharing your experience with customers often can prompt them to make a happy purchase they weren’t planning on.
For example, if someone is looking at my Himalayan salt products, I share the benefits of using these products and how much my family enjoys using them. I have write-ups on how to make a sole (a Himalayan salt infusion for health and wellness) and I offer them a copy when they leave. Most people enjoy being educated about things they are interested in, but it’s very important not to overreach and become pushy. If a customer is looking at jewelry or clothing, they may not be interested in hearing about the benefit of adding Himalayan salt to their diet!
Having items out on display for your customers to touch, feel, taste, and test is really important. Many vendors will sell items at an even more discounted price just for this purpose. I have to admit I love gadgets, and I’m always looking for something new and exciting to sell in my tea room. For example, I sell lots of loose-leaf tea, and I’m amazed at how many tea balls for infusing tea I sell, since I find them a bit cumbersome myself. Several years ago, I started carrying in-cup tea infusers. This item was life-altering for me and changed the amount and the way I drink my tea. I always keep an infuser out on display now, so I can quickly grab and demonstrate it for a customer. Nine times out of 10 they will buy, and I always feel really good about selling them one.
It also is important to make sure your employees are educated about the products you sell. To accomplish this, I sometimes give them my favorite products as gifts or bonuses for doing a good job. I am so proud when I overhear one of my employees sharing a positive experience about one of our products with a customer.
Lastly, many might not agree with this, but if I see a customer really struggling with an impulse buy, an expensive ring for instance, I will encourage them to sleep on it and wait a day or two. If it’s still here when they come back, it was meant to be; if it’s not, then it wasn’t. Why do I do this? Because buyer’s remorse is no fun, and you don’t want your store associated with negative feelings. Some store owners will jump in and tell the customer, “That’s the last one” or “Someone else is interested in this piece.” That’s fine if true, but if you have dozens on hand and no one has shown interest in weeks, be honest. It is much better to have a customer with a purchase they love and can afford and who likely will come back to shop with you again. With the hard sell, the customer who comes back and sees the item you said was “the last one” won’t have a good feeling about you or your store. My philosophy is love your products, love your employees, love your customers, and the money will come. — Leslie Neilson
Q: WE HAVE A VERY SMALL RETAIL space, 420 square feet, and if one person is talking loudly on their cell phone, it can be very distracting. What’s the best way to handle customers in this situation?
A: We all know customer service is the most important aspect of customer retention and word-of-mouth advertising. As the old retail adage goes: If a customer has a positive experience, they tell three people; if they have a negative experience, they tell 10.
So what constitutes a negative experience? Certainly, a customer might perceive being told by an employee to be quiet or to get off the phone as a negative experience. That customer might also feel publicly shamed, which could easily get blown out of proportion. On the other hand, a customer talking loudly on their phone could lead a fellow customer to feel they had a negative experience. Both could regard your store negatively and be turned off from returning.
In my experience, though, the customer being affected by the loud talker usually won’t find fault with your business and is more likely to just be annoyed by their fellow customer. Also, I think it’s unlikely today’s customers expect a business to step in and correct a problem we all experience in everyday life. However, the person who already has shown themselves to have little regard for others’ boundaries will very likely decide your business is at fault when their behavior is corrected.
So what can you do? Well, since your main concern is the effect on your other customers, focus on them. Make pleasant contact with each one. If they show frustration with the ongoing distraction, demonstrate in a subtle and casual way that you are annoyed as well. A defeated shrug, meaning “What can you do,” shows you are just staying pleasant and letting the distraction pass with a resigned patience likely will inspire them to do the same. Demonstrating you are dedicated to helping them through the distraction will endear you and your store to them, and in the end, you may bond over your shared frustration. Make sure any communication of your shared frustration is subtle, lighthearted, and kind, though, giving the person on the phone the benefit of the doubt. They truly may not be aware how they are affecting the people around them.
You also might consider how you could help your small space absorb sound more effectively. Even without cell phones, plenty of people just naturally speak loudly. I would recommend looking into flooring and wall-covering options that reduce noise. The solution may be simpler than you think!
— Seasons Koll
Q: WE OFFER A VARIETY OF CLASSES AND WORKSHOPS IN OUR STORE THAT we list on our website, and our customers are asking for a more convenient way to sign up and pay for them besides coming to the store to sign up in person. Do you have any recommendations for an online appointment-scheduling program that would integrate with my website?
A: Automating tasks such as this can be incredibly time saving. While I don’t have specific recommendations for an online appointment-scheduling program, we have come up with a system we find efficient for processing class payments at our store: A shopping cart integrated into our website.
We use a calendar plugin on our WordPress website that has a place for a link to obtain payment. Customers can easily click on the link to register and pay. The link brings them to a product page, which uses a shopping cart plugin for payment. The option of using PayPal or a credit card (Authorize.net) is provided. When the payment is made, an email is sent to the shop’s address. With that email, the payment is processed in our point-of-sale program, and the customer is manually added to the class attendance list.
In the emails sent to notify our customers of events, we provide the option of paying by phone or paying online within the website. The offer to pay online is hyperlinked to the event “product” page. The majority of our customers call the store to reserve their spot using a credit card. Approximately 70 percent call to buy their “ticket” and 25 percent reserve online. The remaining five percent stop by to make payment in person.
A number of online storefront options are available. Look into Cart66, Shopify, Marketpress, WooCommerce, X-Cart, Magento, and so many more. Take a look at which shopping cart plugin works with your current website.
It is also possible to use MeetUp.com as an avenue for prepayment for events when using the payment option within their system. Many customers have found The Crystal Garden through our MeetUp account, and it has become a worthwhile marketing tool to advertise events. I have not used the payment option on MeetUp, but rather provide the phone number or the link to the event product page on our site to reserve their spot. — Margaret Ann Lembo
Q: I HAVE HAD MY BUSINESS for 24 years, but I am burning out and would like to sell it. What is the best way, and should I keep it quiet or let the world know?
A: If you’ve been a successful business owner for 24 years, here is my recommended step-by-step for exactly what to do: Get out your trumpet and brag to the world what you’ve accomplished! Have a “Two Dozen Years in Business” party and sale. Send out press releases to local papers boasting your accomplishment. In other words, go out with a bang!
Then, if you are certain you are completely burned out and not just temporarily stressed out, find a local business broker who’s willing to determine exactly what your business is worth. Make sure they are a good match for you and check out their track record before establishing a working relationship.
Once hired, your broker will do extensive research to determine an accurate calculation of your business’s value. They factor in such things as: location; customer base; profit and loss; expenses; inventory and fixtures value; outstanding debt, rental, and operating costs; time left on a lease; years in business; current public desire for this type of business; current market value in the area; and more. From that information, they will create a detailed report that gives an accurate sale price with justification. Similar to selling a house, you present this report to any potential buyer, who can either counter with their own purchase price or agree to the estimate.
It’s important to get your ducks in a row before starting this process, since you’ll need to provide the broker with lots of accurate information. Doing this will help them come up with as high an asking price as possible. Needless to say, you want a high number!
You may need to defend why you believe your business is worth what it’s worth, but, unfortunately, emotional attachment doesn’t cut it in the world of business sales.
Once you get a valuation report on your business, you can theoretically advertise and sell it yourself. However, to relieve some of the stress, you may want to have your business broker handle everything. Of course, they will take a percentage of the sale, but the angst and the time you save in legal research might be well worth it.
Feel free to shop around for a broker who understands your particular type of business, as well as one with a proven track record and references to contact. Commissions vary, so find one who won’t skim too much off the top.
Some brokers have no upfront fees. However, oftentimes they charge money to generate this highly detailed, incredibly valuable business assessment. They may waive that fee if you choose them to represent you in the sale.
The other option is to ask around to see if someone might be interested in purchasing your business. You might be surprised to find out that one of your loyal customers has always wanted to own a shop, or that your neighbor was just thinking about investing in a small business. Talk to your local Chamber of Commerce, since they have their finger on the pulse of local business and might connect you with someone interested in taking over yours.
Good luck and congratulations on making this big change in your life! — Royce Amy Morales
Q: WE HAVE A LARGE SECTION OF BOTH GUIDED AND music CDs with a listening bar. Our sales are okay, but they have fallen over the past few years as people are using other technology to access their music. What is the industry saying about the future survival of CDs, and do I have a valid concern?
A: Would that there was an easy answer to this question! The viability of music on CD fosters nonstop debate on the Internet. I moderate a Facebook group for artists and industry folks (with a membership of 655 people), so I asked them what their physical CD sales are as a percentage of their total music sales. Those who responded put their CD sales at between 20 and 40 percent, and the good news is none said they are abandoning music on CD.
The simple truth is that the CD format is a vastly superior way to listen to music compared to its predecessors— and compared to today’s digital downloads and streaming options. Since most guided and New Age music Cds are designed for sound healing, having top quality WAV audio that has not been compressed to “lossy” MP3 files is vital to the listening experience. The only real advantage digital downloads and streaming offer are cost and the intangible “convenience.” However, digital downloads are susceptible to hardware/software failure, including complete file loss from something as ordinary as dropping one’s smartphone. Streaming requires an Internet connection, which is not always available or reliable, and if you don’t pay for premium streaming, your listening experience is interrupted by ads. You also don’t get the full benefits of listening to a soundhealing album in its entirety, as the artist intended.
Another art form undergoing a digital/streaming change is home video. There is no denying that streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu have diverted sales from DVD and Blu-Ray discs. However, people still buy—and major retailers continue to sell—physical video media. It’s not just that some people prefer to own the physical video itself, but also that discs, Blu-Rays in particular, offer the hardcore movie buff something streaming services (and even point-of-sale rental services like Redbox) cannot offer—extra bonus features. Similarly, many people like “holding the music in their hands,” in the same way people still buy DVDs, books, and magazines.
A Future of Music Coalition web article from December 2015, “When Are People Going to Stop Proclaiming the Death of the CD,” (http://tinyurl.com/zzt8qjl), noted that ever since 2011, reports of major labels abandoning the CD have been circulating. Yet, as the author points out, in 2014 Cds generated “more than six times as much revenue as ad-supported streaming.” A January 2015 Billboard Magazine’s web article, “The Act of Buying Music Isn’t Dead,” (http://tinyurl.com/ztmjk3s), came to a similar conclusion. Author Glenn Peoples wrote, “Transitions often result in strange predictions. Just a few years ago, there was a warning that sales of downloads and Cds ‘will fall off a cliff’ in ‘two to three years,’ as Bob Lefsetz wrote at the end of 2011. Those two to three years have passed and the cliff hasn’t arrived.”
This April, a Digital Music News web article by Paul Resnikoff, “How Well Your Genre Sells on Streaming, Downloads, and Physical …” (http://tinyurl.com/jkk97qo) listed Nielsen Music sales data for all three media (streaming, downloads, and physical sales). New Age as a genre is not represented in its own category, however, Jazz and Classical (which, arguably, represent a similar music-buying demographic as New Age) are the third and fourth top CD sellers, with sales of 46 and 45 percent, respectively, (The number one and two genres are Holiday/Seasonal and Children.) It is true, based on my informal anecdotal study, that even New Age artists are seeing physical CD sales shrink in comparison to downloads and streaming, but when compared to other genres, the New Age CD share is still relatively strong. (The Nieslen percentage for physical sales in the Electronic/EDM genre is a meek 7%, with Latin at 16% and Rap/Hip-Hop at 18%.)
In the end, the real issue is not whether Cds are dying as much as what retailers can do to resuscitate their lagging CD sales. Cds will never generate huge profits, although cutting out the wholesaler and buying direct from artists will greatly improve your margins. With a little marketing imagination and merchandising inspiration, you can improve your CD sales. Strategies like a frequent CD buyers’ club, bundling with related products (e.g., relaxation music bundled with candles, journals, or bath and body care), and in-store artist appearances are just a few ideas (see my Take Five in the June/July 2015 issue for more). — Bill Binkelman
Published in Vol30/Issue 6/2016