Retailer Tips November 2000

Focus on retaining your customer base.

In the never-ending quest to increase sales, one can often forget the importance of customer retention. Retaining customers and transforming them into loyal and lifelong patrons is the most important way to build a solid retail business. Before spending money on print and radio ads to get more customers, work to keep the ones you already have–loyal customers will spend more in your store than hit-and-run bargain shoppers.

Devoted customers are the best advertising tool you could hope for, freely distributing their priceless “word of mouth.” Below are some reliable ways to build a following that will allow your retail business to thrive for years to come.

Providing superior customer service is the first and most important step in retaining customers. Start by knowing your frequent customers by name. Remembering a customer’s name tells them they are important to you. This holds true for parents and kids alike. At The Board Asylum in Petaluma, California, manager Tim Soya says their loyal customer following is built on a friendly store atmosphere: “We put out a positive vibe in the shop and really hype up the kids by knowing their names and making them feel important in front of friends and family.” For a young kid, it can be quite prestigious to be known on a first-name basis with the staff at the local skate shop.

To keep your customers coming back, you will need to treat them right. Unfortunately, the adage “the customer is always right” was written for retail, and keeping your customers content can often take some work. Be willing to look at the big picture when it comes to making your customers happy, and do your best to exceed their expectations when it comes to resolving any problems.

Forgoing some immediate profit is negligible when it comes to keeping a customer for life. It’s imperative that you empower your employees with the ability and authority to make decisions that will ensure customer satisfaction. One of the worst things about losing customers who feel they weren’t treated right is that they probably won’t take the time to tell you.

The staff’s willingness to go out of their way has kept Sidewalk Surfer’s clientele coming back for 22 years now. Located in Scottsdale, Arizona, owner Sandie Hamilton says, “Our customers like the way they are treated, and to accomplish that, we put the customer first.” Putting a customer first can encompass many different things: a readiness to do special orders so that your customer gets exactly what he or she wants, staying open late to accommodate a customer’s schedule, or honoring a warranty claim with product from your inventory. Whatever it may be, when you treat customers like they’re your only customers, you are bound to win their continued business.

Rewarding your loyal customers with special offers is another great way to retain them. Cash-back bonuses on credit cards, frequent-flyer miles from airlines, and special savings for card-carrying members are designed to persuade consumers to remain loyal by making it less lucrative to shop the competition.

Issuing VIP cards that offer discounts of five- or ten-percent off any purchase is one way to increase consumer dedication. These cards work well for those “special” customers who you regularly give discounts to, and allow them to get their “special” discount even when you’re not in.

Unlike discount cards, frequent-buyer cards reward customers based on what they purchase. This makes them much more effective than a discount card because it also entices customers to buy more. There are several ways to implement this type of reward. Dale Smith, owner of the six Go Skate stores in Northern California, uses a nice laminated card that is punched after every sale. Once the card is commpletely punched, it’s worth 25 dollars off anything in the shop. “Giving a customer 25 dollars to once again spend in the store is just a small reward for spending 500 dollars,” says Smith. “But the customers love it and never miss a chance to get the card punched.”

How would you like to have all of your customers’ shoe business? Start issuing frequent-buyer cards every time someone new buys a pair of shoes. After they buy so many pairs, they can earn a free gift certificate. This type of program is a big hit with moms who have more than one child, or one who is growing quickly. Be creative. You can start a frequent-buyer program with almost anything you sell in your store. Sales of shoes, decks, and T-shirts can all increase by giving your customers a good reason to only buy from you.

Using an in-store mailing list to keep in touch with your customers is another tool that can aid in customer retention. Keep your customers informed about upcoming sales, demos, and video premieres. Take another step to winning them over by allowing these special customers to get sale prices the day before the sale begins, maybe a free raffle ticket at a demo, or even a discount on the hottest new video coming out. A mailing list includes people who have already bought from you at least once. These customers should be targeted and every effort made to get them back in your store.

A regular store raffle can encourage patrons to frequent your shop, not to mention increase your mailing list. Many skate companies will give you a free deck after buying a certain quantity. Rather than putting it on the wall for sale, raffle it off instead. T-shirts with your shop logo are another good item for store raffles, and are great for advertising.

Retaining customers and converting them to lifelong patrons in today’s competitive market takes superior customer service and maybe a few creative gimmicks. In the long run, it’s much more cost-effective to increase sales with existing customers than attracting new ones. Customers who like you will come back, but customers who love you will go out of their way to patronize your shop. And they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you–they insist that their friends do business with you. When you pay attention to customer retention, you may find that you have all the customers you need.

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