Working with small business for over fifteen years, I’ve seen the high level of resistance to planning. With so many day-to-day tasks to complete, taking time to plan ahead can be a daunting – seemingly impossible – idea. In an article I wrote for the November/December 2017 issue of Archery Business, I provide specific ways archery retailers can plan for success in 2018.
While written for professionals within the archery industry, any small business can use the following recommendations. Which of these suggestions will you implement to grow your business in 2018?
1. Invest in bowhunting expertise (Replace “bowhunting” with a term that applies to your business.)
No matter the business you’re in, your job is to be the most educated in your community/neighborhood. Keep up with trends in your product categories but more importantly, understand how people are using your products. For example, bike shops should know all of the local biking routes including difficulty level, the best apps for biking (through the personal trial of them), and the best indoor workouts for bikers.
In an article from May 2017, Lightspeed, a Point of Sale company working in the industry, suggested staying on top of trends in electric bikes and bike tourism. In the clothing or spa industry, professionals should understand not just the latest hair, nail and clothing styles, but also body proportion analysis to help clients look and feel their best. Dog kennels might be knowledgeable about dog sports like rally, agility, herding and disc dog. Every industry has room for additional competence. If you and your staff members make learning a habit, your customers will notice and tell others about your expertise.
2. Increase range income (Replace “range” with your supplemental products and services.)
I suggest businesses consider hosting special activities on a regular basis. Offer fun events related to products you sell, workshops led by industry experts, and any event you can relate to self-improvement. Plan these activities throughout the year, especially during months when you expect a decrease in income. And, to get the best return on your investment, make sure you assign someone to plan, market, execute, and report results on your events. Keep track of things like food, partners, and attendance so you won’t have to start from scratch when you plan the same event next year. Always make adjustments based on feedback from those who attend and be sure to introduce new topics to attract repeat attendees.
I recently went to a ladies night at the local Ace Hardware store. During this event, a carpet company demonstrated their product’s stain-resistance abilities. The store owners said that because it typically takes six to nine months from query to purchase, there isn’t a good way to determine sales from the ladies night. However, the ladies’ reactions suggest they’ll remember when the time comes to replace the carpet. I know I will. Another table had a wine tasting with wine made from kits sold at the store. One of the staff members actively participated in this craft and answered questions. There was excited chatter about this craft from the attendees and I’m certain the store sold products and generated new interest in the local club for home brewing.
3. Expand your community engagement
I suggest networking within your community by joining and attending Chamber of Commerce events. Look for unique ways to develop partnerships and bring together social groups. In the case of archery or other recreational activities, local parks-and-recreation agencies always make good partners. If you plan events that require food, consider working with a local restaurant or two. Any business offering birthday parties should partner with a local baker and offer various options to make planning easy for the customer.
In the case of Ace Hardware, the staff is knowledgeable about, and active in, the local brewing club and as a result, are carrying and selling products related to home brewing. An ethnic restaurant might look for local cultural clubs or cultural awareness events within the community and suggest ways to work together. Get to know what’s happening in your community’s recreation programs, and activity clubs and organizations, and you should be able to find partners and stay engaged with your customers.
4. Understand your customers
How much do you know about customers that don’t fit your “regular” mold? When was the last time you looked at some outliers, the people that aren’t your typical customer? Find a few of those outliers and start observing them and asking questions to understand why they’re in your store. Ask for customer feedback through surveys or posts on your social media page, or just pay close attention to what people are saying online about you. If you don’t already have a way to track customer data, consider ways to add customer relationship management software. These are important tools that can help you understand your customers and provide personalized service, which is vital in today’s economy.
5. Upgrade your facility
Buildings age and need repair, flooring needs to be replaced, walls and displays need to be updated – not just for the sake of maintenance but to feel modern and current. Consider developing cleaning schedules, maintenance plans, and a budget for regular improvements to merchandising areas and product displays. Continual small changes that have been planned and budgeted for are easy to manage long-term.
6. Invest in your people
One of the most common complaints I hear from small businesses is their inability to attract and maintain good employees. While some employee losses are due to pay, there are many other ways to ensure you acquire and keep good people. Consider clarifying job roles and responsibilities, improving hiring and training processes, and providing opportunities for learning and growth. Any business strategy can be tracked backward all the way to hiring with better job descriptions and interview processes that get to the heart of the skills and character needed for each position.
What will you accomplish in 2018 and beyond? Take time now to plan for a successful year. If you aren’t planning, you’re just hoping because “A goal without a plan is only a wish.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)