It is that time of year again, time to sit down and set goals and targets for the coming year. With the economy finally beginning to show some solid signs of life, there is no reason 2015 cannot be a great year for your business — as long as you have a plan and stick to it.
After speaking with experts, it is clear that success in the retail sector will require retailers and vendors to be more nimble, more flexible, and more connected to their customers than ever before. No matter whether you run a small flea market stall or an upscale boutique, you will be facing the same pressures as every other retailer, including intense competition from online retailers and vendors, rapidly fracturing sales channels, and empowered customers who have a universe of choices before them.
Here are five tips to succeed in this brave new retail world:
Tell a Good Story
Consumers are beginning to rebel against the limitations of the online experience, with its lack of personal service and attention. In response, successful vendors and retailers are creating more immersive shopping experiences through effective merchandising and exciting in-store atmospherics.
“I always emphasize the importance of strong visual merchandising,” said Rob Sieban, CEO of Mile High Flea Market. “You need to tell a good story with the product you are selling. So if you are selling clothing, for example, cross-merchandise with a jewelry retailer and put it together for the customer. Create a story for them, so they do not have to.”
Remember when merchandising that you are not just competing against other retailers. You are also competing against higher customer expectations, according to Leah French, About.com flea market expert. “Even if you are selling in a humble market, your shoppers have seen photos of well-styled displays via Pinterest, online magazines, marketing emails, and print catalogs,” she said. “It is not enough to have great merchandise. The displays have to be creative and attractive.”
This goes hand-in-hand with keeping it fresh. Change up your displays and product offerings regularly, tell new stories, and keep it interesting. Customers do not want to simply shop, said Sieban. They also want to be entertained.
Be an expert
Customers have more options than ever before to buy products—most likely including yours. Yet even if they will not pay more for the same product just because you are offering it, they will pay for expertise. If you are selling apparel, stay up on the colors and trends. If you are selling electronics, be ready to explain your products at a moment’s notice.
“Once you find your niche, become an expert, especially if you are looking for repeat business,” French said. “If you are the seller who warns me not to spray that antique table with Pledge and explains why, I am going to trust the rest of what you say. You become my antique furniture guy.”
The benefits of expertise can be profound and long-term. Get in the habit of updating social media accounts with great insider tips, send out an information-packed newsletter with the newest trends and product advice. Offer excellent customer service with a smile. You will create a sense of loyalty that will keep customers coming back to your booth or shop even if cheaper options are available.
Meet Your Customers Where They Are
It used to be that consumers had one or two basic sales channels. They could go to a shop or buy from a print catalog. Those days are long gone, as sales channels have multiplied. Today’s shoppers can buy products from flea markets, print catalogs, kiosks, their computers at work, and on their phones through apps. This is especially true for younger shoppers, who channel hop without even thinking about it.
To stay relevant, try to occupy as many channels as you reasonably can. Why give up on your smart-phone shoppers? Target them with an app or mobile website. If you are really savvy, combine channels so your newsletter subscribers, for example, will have access to special promo codes that can be used in conjunction with in-store or in-booth purchases. Create a complete ecosystem that is ready to service customers wherever they are. “Repeat business is important,” said Sieban. “Build a client list and a database. Do an email blast and let them know what you are doing and promotions you are having.”
Mobile technology is proving highly disruptive to commerce—in a lot of good ways for retailers. Especially younger consumers who are virtually glued to their mobile devices, where they can hop from social media networks to email to apps to websites seamlessly. Think of ways you can reach these people through their phones. What is your market doing? Can you participate? Can you text special offers? There are ways to create a free app with geotargeting that automatically sends promotional codes to people when they walk into your shop. The horizon with mobile marketing is virtually endless.
And do not forget about mobile payment technology. This area of the economy is still developing rapidly, but it is possible that 2015 will be the year that mobile payment goes mainstream. With mobile payment, your customers will be able to shop anywhere, at any time, perfect for a vendor on the go. You can take your wares anywhere, whether it is simply visiting a new weekend fair with a table of goods or taking advantage of a “pop-up” in your city.
Network, Network, Network
This last tip has less to do with customers than refreshing your own knowledge and keeping your enthusiasm up. Retailing can be exhausting. There is no better way to stay current and excited than to meet other people in your own industry, share tips and ideas, and see what products are hot. No matter what business you are in, there are likely several tradeshows or expositions that cater to your market.
This year, consider taking a weekend off and booking a trip to a tradeshow, whether you are going to buy product or just walk the floor and talk to other people who know your story.
For more tips like these, be sure to join PROVENDOR for monthly deals, news alerts and a free digital subscription to the Merchandiser Group Publication at fleamarketzone.com/provendor. Launched in 2012 and the first of its kind, PROVENDOR is a members-only association created to bolster the growth and development of retail entrepreneurs in the flea market and swap meet industry.