RDC Hosts Business Seminar
MainStreet Arkansas small business consultant Mark Miller was the guest speaker at a seminar Monday night sponsored by Rector Downtown Central. He gave advice to several small business owners and entrepreneurs interested in competing with big box stores.
Miller's presentation began by showing attendees the evolution of downtown shopping centers and the giving way to big box stores. Big box stores came in with one stop shops, but over the years Miller said he sees many more people wanting to bring their downtowns back to life and return shopping to local businesses.
Miller said one of the advantages a small business has is good customer service where everyone knows your name, which he called "the Cheers syndrome." One of small businesses' biggest assets are employees who care about their work, which creates a community pride and friendly environment. The biggest reason for losing customer base is poor customer service.
He said there are three primary areas of customer service -- operations and policies, appealing to customers' five senses and an easy to shop store design.
The main reason people like to shop downtown is because it's like a treasure hunt where one visits several stores for different kinds of items.
He then showed the group how to develop an image and the importance of maintaining interesting products and changing the environment, so it doesn't seem like the exact same environment every time someone steps in the door. "Something as small as an end cap changed in a small store is noticeable and draws the attention of the customer," Miller said. "Little changes can go a long way."
Miller said reasons customers don't shop downtown can be as simple as inconsistent hours, a stale store image, difficulty getting to merchandise they want, outdated items and overbearing sales people. However, the biggest reason people won't go in a store is a lack of cleanliness. He gave the example of a store he visited that had a cat's litter box in the front window, which reduces a customer's opinion of the store's standards.
He said factors that help a small business thrive are a consistent store image from the walls to the floor, finding a niche market that works, and having the ability to change and continue learning.
Another key factor in small business is the look and feel of a store. Fifty three percent of shoppers base their decision of where to shop on their initial perception of the store, which leads to the "billboard principle." The principle means everything a customer can see as they walk or drive by including storefronts, window displays and signage. He said, while it's important to maintain a good looking store front, signs are usually the first thing noticed. He added that signs that stick out or are projecting that can be read from down the street draw a customer to your business as well as sidewalk or sandwich signs and spinner signs. "If a customer is walking by you have three seconds to appeal to that customer," Miller said. "If driving, it's one second."
To conclude his presentation Miller spoke about his grandfather, Ralph Barlett, who was an auto parts salesman in a small downtown. He said as a child he would eat with his grandfather often and more often than not the meal would be interrupted by a phone call of someone needing something from his store. Instead of telling them when his hours were he would tell them he was eating a meal and to meet him at the store in an hour.
"I asked him one time why he allowed them to interrupt our meals and he said 'If it weren't for my customers, there wouldn't be any meals to interrupt'," Miller said. Taking care of your customer keeps a customer base more than anything.