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Published on May 25, 1998

HOW TO OUTPERFORM RETAILING'S GIANTS

OK, it has happened. You knew it was coming. You lost sleep over it. One of the retail giants has arrived. There's a ``big box'' in town—whether it belongs to Wal-Mart, Circuit City or someone else. But whether your tire dealership is big or a small mom-and-pop operation, it can survive and prosper.

Here are nine steps to help your business outperform the retail giants:

1) Keep everything clean and neat. The giants are new, clean and neat. So keep everything in your store the same way—everything including personnel.

Make it easy for customers to find what you sell and your pricing easy to read and understand. Make employees stand out from the customers with professional looking service uniforms and appropriate business attire.

2) Understand why the customer contacts you. Every customer starts out with a problem. The tire store or salesperson offering the easiest solution to that particular problem will reap the sale.

3) Become 100 percent customer centered. Don't add to the customers' problems by offering them anything but the greatest service, most positive attitude and the ability to solve their individual problems.

4) Become the expert in your market. Your salespeople must know everything about the products you carry in order to sell their benefits. Being an expert includes looking and acting like an expert and knowing how each product benefits the customer.

5) Make it easy for the customer to buy. Arrange all like and related items in the same area. Line up products in order of price, features and benefits. Use clean, neat signs to inform customers about those products. Offer every possible payment method—cash, national and store credit cards, short- and long-term financing, same-as-cash financing, etc.

6) Service, service, service. The retail giants are adding more service to their operations. But we still can outservice them on their best day.

Fast effective deliveries by polite, knowledgeable salespeople will impress the toughest customers. Prompt, fairly priced repair service will make sales and build repeat business.

7) Get help. You are not alone in battling the giants. Local, regional and national support groups can offer you special purchasing deals, educational opportunities and merchandise on which you can remain competitive in your market.

8) Advertise and promote. Build store traffic using unusual promotions. Don't try to outadvertise the giants in their chosen media—you can't do it.

Advertise in places they overlook such as car shows and exhibits, free seminars, car bumpers, park benches, etc. Consider advertising an investment in your business—not an expense.

If you budget advertising as a percentage of sales, you will increase advertising in high selling periods and reduce it in slower periods. It is less expensive to increase sales during good selling periods than in slow selling periods.

9) Survey your customers as to why they shopped your store, how they learned of it and what they like and dislike about it. Use their answers to help plan your attack on the market.

Remember, no retail giant is going to come along and eat you. It's a swarm of gnats in the form of complacency and fear that ultimately may take you down.

Mr. Janet, a former tire dealer, is president of Marketing Consulting & Retail Advising, an agency in Lock Haven, Pa.

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