There are so many amazing ways our customers display our candles in their their store. The Fall and Halloween provide a great excuse to jazz up your display. Whether it is pairing our ghost candles or Halloween limited editions with some ghost themed literature as pictured here or with other candles and decorations. We would love to see what you have. Please share your store’s Autumn or Halloween display on our Facebook for all our followers to see. We will also be featuring some great candle combos that not only work great together but will also work wonders for your magic work!
Adding hot new products to your inventory is always exciting, but when you’re an independent retailer with a tight budget and tight quarters, how do you merchandise, introduce, and promote these unknown brands effectively? To help you debut what’s new in your store, industry insiders—from manufacturers and merchants to a feng shui expert and a marketing whiz—share ideas and recommendations for getting your creative merchandising juices flowing.
Think of manufacturers and distributors as your selling partners. Furthermore, don’t be shy about asking for complementary selling tools to help inform and educate your customers.
“We love to provide samples for store owners to try out,” says Jacki Smith, president of Coventry Creations, adding that her company is creating more and more point-of-purchase materials, such as signs and shelf talkers, to share with retailers.
Andrea Phillips, president of Zen-Zen Garden & Home, points out many wholesalers in the Fair Trade Federation (www.fairtradefederation.com) offer downloadable product information retailers can use to help displays convey key selling points faster. Beyond that, she says, you can talk to the wholesalers or scour their website for all the special facts about a new product or line.
In addition to offering pamphlets, display units, and samples for new products, some manufacturers have slightly flawed merchandise that can be added for free to a retailer’s order. “We might have a new product that was made in the wrong color, but nobody besides us would notice,” says Nora Monaco, CEO of AngelStar. “We’ll send it to a retailer who can, perhaps, raffle it off at an in-store promotional event.” Monaco says she always has a lot of extra stickers and bookmarks to send retailers, who can tuck them into customers’ shopping bags, possibly as a little thank-you bonus when customers purchase a new item. “Just ask us what we have that you can use, and we’ll send it along with your order,” she says. “We are so happy to help you with whatever you need.”
Independent stores must have superior customer service to compete with larger stores, says Monaco, and salespeople who connect with customers, even just by pointing out what’s new in the store, can make a big difference. Preparation and education are the keys.
Before new merchandise hits your sales floor, staff should be ready to answer product-related questions, says Bob Negen, marketing expert and founder of Whizbang! Training. “One of the keys to having a successful store is well-trained employees. Beyond being just kind and friendly, being a truly great salesperson is about knowing how to uncover what customers desire, as well as being able to answer questions about products with authority.”
According to Negen, it is also important to find out what each salesperson’s strength is and develop it. “Maybe one person excels with one type of product and another employee is great with, for example, everything incense. Keep your staff informed and listen to their ideas so they feel valued and a part of the team. It builds enthusiasm—and that’s contagious.”
Product knowledge can turn any item into a bestseller, notes Smith, but only if that knowledge is used. On this point, Felicia Riccardo, president of Starlinks, agrees: “There are a lot of products with symbolic meanings, and from an educational standpoint, staff should be prepared to discuss [them] with customers.”
Sales staff at Bodhi Tree Bookstore in West Hollywood, Calif., have new product information at their fingertips via a message board. Co-owner Stan Madson says new items are listed on the store memo board, which is then reviewed each day during a short staff meeting before opening. His staff also keeps abreast of new developments in shift downtime. “Additionally, we verbally introduce new products, and where they are displayed, to our staff,” he adds. “And while the staff is showing the product to customers, they get additional exposure to the product.”
The setting, mood, and arrangement of displays can either energize or deaden the impact of new merchandise. “You want to give a new product creative energy,” says Stamford, Conn.-based feng shui expert Christine Bové. She suggests retailers create vertically-oriented displays to move the eye up and down. “Also, use color when you can—a tablecloth, for example—to draw customer attention. But don’t compete with the product’s dominant color,” she says. “Understand that a big mistake is clutter. Take time to plan displays well. Less is more.”
Displays also serve to inform customers who may be new to subjects such as fair trade or metaphysics. “Not everyone who walks into your store knows about crystals,” Bové says. “Give enough details to make customers ask for more. Add signage.” One way retailers can get inspired when planning a display or staging a scene, she suggests, is to flip through design and art magazines for ideas. “Remember, the product has to shine or people will pass it by. Make it come alive.”
When creating and positioning new displays, try to locate the main focal point of your store. “Every store has what’s called a hot spot or a sweet spot where products move the best,” says Negen. “Maybe it’s the light or the flow of energy. Find that spot and use it.”
When Bodhi Tree Bookstore gets in a new product line, Madson features it in front-of-the-store display areas. “We also promote these new product displays by posting photos on Facebook and Twitter,” he says, adding, “We do try to group like items together or in one area of the store.”
As a musician and the CEO of Woodstock Chimes, Garry Kvistad stresses the importance of hangtags and cards that impart complex information to customers quickly. “Our chimes are precision-tuned with specific melodies, so a hangtag conveys that effectively,” he says. He suggests retailers attach something customers can read to new products.
At Mystic Spirit Metaphysical Shoppe in Montclair, N.J., store owner Karen Aistars provides printed materials that explain all about new products. “For example, we have cards that say just what a candle or scent does and how it is made. People want all the information they can get.”
Likewise, Margaret Ann Lembo, owner of The Crystal Garden in Boynton Beach, Fla., personally designs product explanations. “I create my own little sheets about each gemstone so the customer is informed,” says Lembo. She also offers gemstone and aromatherapy sheets as giveaways for her customers. “The sheets educate the customers and sell products.”
Beyond physical in-store materials, your store’s website serves as a major conveyer of new-product information. “Have a content-rich, customer-friendly website,” advises Negen. “Then talk benefits, and talk regularly. Repetition plus frequency equals trust.”
Smith, too, advises retailers to develop a distinctive store brand and extend the look and feel of that brand to all your informational materials. “Matchy match everything: the cards, signs, inserts, everything. I hate doing that with my clothes, but with my brand I cannot match enough.”
It is easier than ever to broadcast what’s new at your store: email blasts, posting on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as an announcement-plus-photo on your own company website. However, doing it right is the key to success. “Email marketing is incredibly effective, but it needs to be about the customer more than you and your store,” says Negen. “Customers want to hear how this product can make their life better.”
And if you believe constantly emailing your customers is the best way to get results, think again. “Email blasts are great,” says Monaco, “but make sure you do them only every one or two weeks so it’s special.” Kvistad agrees. He often uses email blasts, but he says, “it is important to be sensitive to the amount of them you send so they stand out.”
Posting photos, blogging, and announcing new arrivals on social networking sites really spotlight new arrivals. “I use photo tours in my email newsletters, which entice people to come in and see all of what just arrived,” says Lembo, who adds that she uses Share This (http://sharethis.com) to Tweet and post messages on Facebook so that even people who aren’t on her email list learn what’s new in her store. She provides videos, too. “I use my Flip camera and provide short videos showing merchandise on the shelves, and I keep the videos five to seven minutes long,” she says. “People really like it.”
What better way to launch a new product than to hold an event? It need not be expensive, especially if you hold it in your store and utilize manufacturer sales reps or local experts with a passion for education as speakers. Many manufacturers will also donate prize items and free samples that can be used to fill gift baskets or swag bags.
“We love opportunities to help stores with events,” says Smith. “If there is a raffle or prize, especially for a charity, we would be happy to add to the pile,” though, she adds, Coventry Creations needs four to six weeks advance time to be able to fill a request for a gift basket.
Woodstock Chimes is always happy to participate in learning events, too, says Kvistad. He says retailers should give him at least a month advance time to prepare for participation. But a well-planned event can be a very effective selling tool.
Seminars and classes are quite popular at Aistars’ store, for example. “We do up to three events a month,” she says. “Besides selling products, they help us deepen our community bond.”
To keep customers engaged, retailers should present their store as an environment that is always offering something fresh and new. “Keep the flow of energy moving so customers can look at items from a new perspective,” suggests Bové. Riccardo advises rotating merchandise quarterly. And Monaco concurs: “Get creative with themes, events like trunk shows, graphics. Don’t do the same old, same old,” she says. “Be inventive about showing off items in a new way.”
Madson follows this advice, frequently rotating displays at Bodhi Tree Bookstore. Recently, because of the ongoing economic downturn, he reduced inventory by about 30%. But he and his partners turned it into a positive: “This inventory reduction has opened up space on the bookshelves as well as on the product displays,” he says. “Our displays are now less crowded and a bit more artistic. The top shelf of each bookcase is now empty, and we can use it to display gift items such as statues and puppets.”
Capitalizing on point-of-service impulse buying to accentuate new items can make an even bigger impact. New products positioned near the register get a lot of attention, especially when they are accompanied by free samples or informational flyers. “One of the best ways to build the sales of a particular item is to move it, re-introduce it,” states Negen. “And watch the reports: your POS sales system will tell you more than anything else about customer demand.”
After customers purchase a new product, follow up with them via email or when they come back in to shop. You can also pass out surveys or ask for customer reviews. “New items are very exciting,” says Smith. “Pick a few customers to review new items and post on your social media, in your store, or on your website.” Staff picks are another way of getting customers interested in items, she says.
Sometimes, though, it simply comes down to the basics. “Just ask customers when they come back in to shop if they liked that new product they purchased,” suggests Monaco. “If somebody’s happy with something, they’ll let you know.”
First published in Vol. 25 No. 2 of Retailing Insight. © 2011 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.
In a small business, everything is a priority. Tracking your expenses, choosing your products, crafting your marketing program, hiring staff, connecting with the community. Oh, and don’t forget actually spending time with your customers and increasing your average sale. With all that on your plate, how in the world are you supposed to define your store’s identity and build your brand?
Just like having a business plan before you start a business, establishing an identity for your store and promoting it as a brand will make all those other tasks easier. It’s a critical guidance system helping you make decisions about everything from the products on your shelves to the events you sponsor to the colors you paint your walls. Everything you do in your store and out in the community adds to the perception of your business in the minds of customers. It’s called a “brand” because it quickly reminds the public of who you are and how they should view your store.
Examples of branding are everywhere. What do you picture when you think of Coca-Cola or Disney? Barnes & Noble or Ben & Jerry’s? A brand is created through both intentional and incidental actions, and entire industries are devoted to helping businesses find the right answer to the question “Who are you?” Chances are, you’re not in a position to have a PR company craft your brand. If you are like 90% of all independent businesses, you are doing it all yourself with a little help from your cousin’s neighbor who is really good with Photoshop.
This article is designed as a workshop to help you define your store’s identity, to create and actualize your brand so you don’t disappear down the proverbial rabbit hole of mixed messages, indecision, and confusion that plague many start-ups and small businesses. Follow the steps below to help you understand where you currently stand and where you want to go.
Many stores start as one thing and become another over time—with no central vision, they’re subject to the whims of market changes, mood shifts, or a great sales pitch for a best-selling line of “new.” This leads to mistakes, some of them quite costly. Before the next tie-dye purchase or impulsive advertising decision, ask yourself and your staff the following questions:
All these things together create the identity of your store. This identity steers your purchasing, décor, marketing, and even your hiring practices. Answer the questions for yourself, then ask your staff. If the answers are wildly different from each other, you are in an identity crisis. If the answers are close, then you are on track for capitalizing on the brand you already have established.
When you have a vision of being an artist’s collective with a body-mind-spirit theme, but you keep buying mass-produced items from China, you are setting the wrong course. If you want to be a respectable healing center with a gift shop but you keep hiring high school kids who are loud and whiny, you are off-track and inconsistent.
What’s wrong with that? Besides creating confusion and incoherence, you may lose customers. Clients who want a soothing, stress-free environment aren’t typically the same crowd that frequents a cutting-edge, high-energy, indie shop with trendy décor. Customers who understand what you’re offering, and can count on your store to provide what they need, will come back again and again.
Whatever your initial reasons for starting your store—money, community, spiritual calling, or it just seemed like a good idea—you have to take control of the vision for it today or risk losing focus and, consequently, wandering off track. Your vision is what energizes you to show up every day and keep going through the lean months.
The next group of questions is more personal and introspective and may require you to challenge your own beliefs to see whether they are viable as a business practice. By examining what motivates you, what you value, and what gets you excited about owning a store, you’ll discover more about the DNA of your business than you thought possible.
Your answers to the questions in this article will help you craft your vision and mission statements, which will further brand your store by directing your product purchases and marketing efforts. You also will use them to create your tag lines and your elevator pitches.
Vision Statement: Three sentences at most. Keep it simple—state who you are and what you want to accomplish.
Mission Statement: Three paragraphs at most. Here, you expand upon your vision and state how you will accomplish it.
Tag Line: This is not always necessary for branding, but it is fun, and you can rotate it in your ads, website, and other public communications. Your tag line will continue to define you as a business and keep you in your customers’ minds when they need what you sell.
Elevator Pitch: The “elevator pitch” is designed to provide a snapshot of your business in 30 seconds or less—basically, the amount of time you might have on an elevator ride with someone you don’t know. The pitch tells your business story—who you are and why someone would choose your store. You are already using an elevator pitch every time you run into an old friend who asks what you are up to. If it rattles off your tongue just right, you can turn them into a future customer.
Both the tag line and elevator pitch will evolve as you say them over and over again, so don’t try to perfect it today; just take a moment and write your ideas down.
Now you’re ready to apply what you’ve discovered about yourself and your store to unlock its potential. From your defined vision, you can craft the look and feel of your store and refine your logo. You can choose with intent the items you want to stock and sell in your store. When a customer walks into a well-thought-out store, they are more likely to buy; it makes sense in their mind and can ease the stress of their day. A store with no identity or too many identities will stop someone from spending money. No one likes to spend money when they are confused.
From your mission statement, you know how you will service your customers. You know what type of employees you want and what business opportunities to take advantage of. Your mission statement will help guide all those last-minute, difficult decisions you face on a regular basis.
From your tag line and elevator pitch, you can craft your marketing program to attract customers who will buy what you sell. Your advertising and branding efforts will be coordinated and effective. You will be able to see what generates a positive response in your customers, which will help you economize your advertising dollars.
You are now giving yourself a platform from which to launch your brand. Instead of reinventing the wheel with every ad, flyer, and event, you can stay within your brand and make it really powerful. This even helps you decide where you want to advertise and what events you want to sponsor, because you’ll know what fits best with your identity and brand.
In the end, after you have established your business identity, branding is simply how you communicate that identity to the world. Keep your message consistent and recognizable at a glance. Your business cards, bags, signs, flyers, ads, and even the look of your store should be coordinated. Everything about your store should tell the same story, the one you want to tell. And if it does, then your business is much more likely to stand the test of time.
First published in Vol. 25 No. 5 of Retailing Insight. © 2012 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.
Picture this: Your favorite author agrees to come to your store for a special appearance. You have read the book, developed a spiritual crush, and now want to shout from the rooftops, “The author is coming! The author is coming!”
According to some of my favorite authors (whom I have the joy of calling friends, too), they just want to meet you, the store owner who promotes their books and products. You are their rock star, because you believe in them. The sales in your store let them follow their dreams of keeping their fingers to the keyboard to write and their feet on the road to teach. This symbiotic relationship between the artist and the store facilitates everyone living their dream. Isn’t this world grand?
It’s almost grand—because this is where reality takes a seat and taps its fingers on the desk until you pay attention. You must market, market, market to create a successful event of any type. Throw out the adage, “If you create it, they will come.” Scratch that—don’t just throw it out. Tear it up and burn the little pieces of paper, then bury the ashes in a field far away from your store so they never find their way back into your vernacular.
If you promote it, 1 percent will come. If you market it and tell everyone you know about it, 5 percent will come. If you promote, market, talk about it, create an interpretive dance around it, offer prizes, and entice people with chocolate, 10 percent of the people you invite will come. Ten percent is a good return on promotion, so plan for it.
It’s not hard to host an event or launch a party in your store; it just takes some elbow grease and sweat equity and a commitment to making it profitable. A well-run event can be a hidden pocket of profit, bringing in foot traffic from customers you have never seen before and widening your base of regulars. This is one thing in life where size doesn’t matter—600 sq. ft. to 2,000 sq. ft., you can bring in authors or artists, have local launch parties, host charity events, and make your store the talk of the town.
Any event you host is a partnership between you, the talent, and the customer; everyone wins. The customer gets to meet their favorite author/artist/musician, you get additional sales and enjoy the celebration, and the talent gets to meet and wow their readers or listeners.
Once you plan a great event, you will see how all of this information can be used to ensure your store is the celebrity. You will be sought after by local artists, musicians, and authors to have their launch parties, thus making you the talk of the town. And, best of all, you can do this without breaking the bank.
I went to the experts when writing this article: the stores that throw successful events and the authors who attend them. I took notes from events that were wildly successful and picked their brains for their magic formulas. I also called my friends: Christopher Penczak, Dorothy Morrison, MR Sellars, and James Wanless. These folks took time to share the top three things that can be done to create a prosperous event and the top three things they require from an event. They want to help widen your customer base, generate traffic, and create a profitable experience for you both.
Also, keep in mind while many of the tips you’ll find here are described as being for author appearances, the same principles easily can be applied to in-store events of all kinds—artist and musician appearances, parties and celebrations, charity events, specialized workshops, and more.
Everyone wants a fun, rock-star-like event; it also needs to be worth the presenter’s investment, as well as yours. The strategies for creating a profitable event also can be used in marketing your store, so any time spent doing so will pay off many times over.
Talk to the author beforehand. Ask them about past successful appearances and what worked for them and how you can partner together to increase everyone’s sales. Get any and all press releases, bios, pictures, and product lists from them that you can. Create a promotions checklist for yourself starting with the bio of the author, because you will use it at least a thousand times before the event.
Ask the author or publisher for a PDF of posters, bag stuffers, and flyers. Printing and distributing them locally will give you the biggest return on your investment. Bag stuffers that you give to each customer with an enthusiastic “Oh, you have to see who’s coming to town!” will get you the most attendance for the event. Personal invitations are the cheapest and most effective strategy.
Ask the author to promote the event on their site, too. Ask them to send notification for the event to their mailing list, particularly the individuals in your local area. Also ask for a list of their media appearances prior to your event so you can promote that socially, giving your customers a taste of what they will get when the author shows up at your store.
Continue to communicate with the talent; update them on the status of the event and any changes so there are no awkward surprises for either of you when they get there.
Put posters in the front window and post the event on the front page of your website before you do any other marketing. Ironically, this is often the most forgotten method of free marketing.
Next, create a social media game plan to tease your clients with quotes from the author’s books and products. Use all your social media sources, and in every posting or tweet about the event, include a link to where customers can sign up for the event online.
Having a social media plan is just the beginning; no one pays attention to Facebook event postings unless you get them to start looking for it, so don’t make that the core of your plan. If you use every social media site available to you—Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Witchvox, and so on—you will get one to five more customers attending for each outlet you post in.
It’s worth repeating: Social media is not enough; personal connections are where you’ll get the greatest number of attendees. Use bag stuffers to invite every walk-in customer to attend the event, get a reading with the author, and come to the meet-and-greet. Invite them, tell them to be there, tell them you know they will love it and to mark it on their calendar. Be enthusiastic and tell them why you are bringing the author to your store.
Press releases can get attention, but writing one from scratch can be intimidating. Here’s one solution: If the author has a press release for their book that you can modify and use to announce your event, ask the author for permission and then simply rewrite it a bit, adding your event’s information. Research and create a distribution list of local publications, broadcast media, and internet radio shows to send the press release to. You will use this list over and over again for each event and promotion you have in your store. On a slow news day, you can get some surprising coverage.
Take the same press release and turn it into an email blast with an invitation to the event. While you’re at it, give people an incentive to sign up and pay early. A 10 percent discount goes a long way toward filling all the seats. Getting attendees to pre-pay for the event ensures they will show up. Nothing is more frustrating to everyone involved than a high percentage of no-shows.
Spread the word locally. Take some of the posters and flyers around town. Brainstorm with your staff and customers to create a list of places to promote—and then actually go do it. Make it a contest for your staff. Ask the author if they are willing to offer a prize to the employee who signs up the most attendees.
Create a frenzy of anticipation for your guest’s arrival by having a full display of his/her products and books prominently featured at least one month prior to the event. Promote the sales of books early and encourage your customers to attend the meet-and-greet, or better yet, to get signed up and take the class. When an author comes to town, customers can get intimidated with paying for the event, buying the book, and then spending money in your store. Help them budget it out so on the day of the event they have the funds to buy whatever additional items inspire them.
In your pre-marketing plan, create a secondary order with the publisher or distributor to restock the week before the author arrives so everything is in stock and fresh. For author or artist appearances, many publishers allow returns for full credit, and it’s better to be over- than under-stocked. For the guest, it can be frustrating to show up at an event where none of your products are in stock and ready to sell.
See your event—from the initial stages of promotion to the moment the last attendee walks out the door—as a symphony that ends in a crescendo. Every aspect of the event should be built to get more people into the seats. More people in the seats is more money for your store and more opportunities to sell products to the people who attend. A natural course of events is to start with a meet-and-greet on a Friday evening, book readings or consultations on Saturday during the day, and culminate with a paid class Saturday evening or Sunday midday.
A casual 7 p.m. meet-and-greet with snacks, music, and your star guest can be a great money-maker. Create a way for the author to mingle, sign the pre-purchased books, and inspire some of the attendees to sign up for the paid class and fill any remaining consultation slots. Offer a discount for that night only or a contest to win something special from the author, but only for those who are present to win.
Your visiting celebrity may require time to do private consultations, which is their opportunity to profit from the visit; and your customers will likely be thrilled to have one-on-one time with their favorite author. After a private consultation, more seats for the paid class will be filled on “wow” factor alone.
During the entire event, your new titles will be Grand Host(ess) and Go-To Guide; the author needs you to make sure everything runs smoothly, have everything they need, and move the display of their goods from book signing table to reading room to classroom as their location changes. Your author doesn’t know where anything is, and they don’t know who the crazy customers are, so they’re relying on you to rescue them when they get cornered. Have enough staff on hand to handle the extra customers that will be in the store. The presenter is promoting and should never be considered a salesperson.
Money, money, money is the goal of any event, both for you and the guest celebrity. Establish clear expectations before the event—clarifying when and how the guest will be paid will help you avoid a lot of awkward moments and potential misunderstandings.
In my conversations with authors who regularly travel to stores for signings and other events, they shared with me some of their thoughts about what tends to make their visits a pleasure rather than a chore. Most of these suggestions may seem like common sense—and common courtesy—but you’d be surprised how small gestures can go a long way toward making your author happy and your event a roaring success.
It can be a day of travel for an author to get to your location, and the first thing they anticipate and desire when they arrive is that the store is ready for them: Clean and decorated with their books and products on display. Being welcomed with open arms is a balm to travel-weary souls. Guests just want someone to show them the ropes, offer them a cuppa’ something and a chance to catch their breath.
They also ask that you please feed and water your presenter. Talking for hours on end with no water or refreshments in sight becomes torture for the presenter. If they’re from outside the area, they won’t know what coffeehouses are nearby or where to get a bottle of water or a simple bologna sandwich. A store owner who anticipates these needs will be forever loved by the author, especially if they are offered an opportunity to have some quiet time before and after their appearance. A presenter does a lot of smiling, and their face may need a break.
The third item on everyone’s lists is to house them in a safe, clean, and reasonable facility. If you wouldn’t put your mother, little sister, or a child in that room, don’t put the presenter there. They ask for electricity, access to food at any time, cleanliness, and safety. Remember, as you go home at night to your comfy bed, the presenter that traveled to appear at your store is not. They are in a strange bed in a strange place, so a bit of human kindness can go further than a fully booked schedule.
Book signings, guest presenters, launch parties, and seasonal product events can all bring a surprising boost to your bottom line. A great event can bring in an extra $1,000-plus in a weekend just in classes and consultations, not to mention the extra product you will be selling. When customers come to an event, they are inspired, excited, and want to take a piece of that feeling, in the form of products, home with them.
Take a chance and talk to your favorite author or artist, invite them into your world, and treat them like royalty. Chances are they will become a fan of you and your store as much as you are a fan of them.
First published in Vol. 26 No. 3 of Retailing Insight. © 2012 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.