Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Holiday retail sales forecast-- Are you ready?

So, it's finally arrived. The first news about the projected Holiday season. I'm quite sure that many outlets will pick this up soon.

The Question is - -How is your business prepared for this Holiday?
Are your inventory levels in good shape to weather this projected downturn?
Do you have a well planned and comprehensive marketing program set up to engage, excite and inspire your customers to make purchases at your store this holiday season?

If the answer to any of these questions is no- I suggest you start planning right now!
And don't stop until you come up with something that will wow your customers and win the $$$ out of their wallets at your store!

Good luck.

Monday, September 8, 2008

You Tube for Your Business?

or How to use Social Media Marketing for Small Business

As a supporter of small businesses, and one who understands the words "limited budget" I think it's imperative that small businesses use any and all ways they can to attract attention to their businesses. That is why I am so keen on including social media marketing to grow even the smallest of businesses.

To get you started, here are six ways small businesses can jump on the social marketing bandwagon with a moderate investment of time and/or money.

1 Start a blog. Blogging is old news to many (Web 1.5, perhaps?), but for many small business owners, there is a lot of uncharted water here. What is a blog? A weblog, or blog, is a great way to open up a dialogue with your customers, and that connection is the reason social marketing exists. There are many blog sites that will help format your blog- WordPress is one that comes to mind that is absolutely free. The time investment is completely up to you, but this truism applies: The more you put into it, the more you'll get out. Still, it's okay-and I'd even say it's recommended-to start slowly and increase your time investment as you get comfortable with using a blog.

2. Comment on other blogs. You can't blog into a vacuum. Blogging is about creating and joining conversations, and that includes reading what others in your industry are saying and joining the discussion on other blogs. It's free, and again, the time investment is up to you. You'll be able to supply your name and websiteURL when leaving a comment, and there's no debate that intelligent comments on other blogs helps build traffic to yours.

3. Make and share videos. Good video cameras are cheap these days, and a short video needs little editing/production. Even if you do decide to add some sizzle to a video, the required software won't break the bank. How-to videos are an obvious choice. "Tour" videos-tours of your business, restaurant, the homes you build or sell, etc. are also a good idea. In addition to using them on your own Web site or blog, YouTube is an obvious sharing destination. Local search is also embracing video: CitySearch recently announced that local video ads will be added to its listings, and is also pursuing video opportunities.

4. Take and share photos. I'm a longtime believer in using Flickr as a marketing tool. The time and cost investment is minimal. And thanks to Flickr's incredibly active photo groups, you can share photos of your products with people who are interested. A pet store owner could share photos with the 2,000+ members of the pet parade group, which is one of dozens of animal-related groups. A company that makes iPod accessories could post nice product photos in the Apple group, with its ~2400 members. And a construction company that makes custom homes could post photos in the appropriate city group, like San Francisco or Chicago.

5. Try StumbleUpon. Of all the discovery-type of social sites (Digg, Reddit, Netscape, etc.), I believe StumbleUpon requires the lowest time investment. Joining groups related to your industry and adding friends from those groups can be done quickly. Once you do that, as you add pages to StumbleUpon-including your own great content-other users will "stumble upon" what you've added. As those visitors give it the "thumbs up", your content is then shown to even more users. Best of all, you won't need to spend several months building up a great user profile.

6. Join groups & mailing lists. Social marketing is about finding your customers where they are. There's a good chance at least some of your customers are using Yahoo Groups or Google Groups to share interests. Much like the Flickr examples above, there are probably groups/lists that are highly related to the products or services you offer. And much like the Yahoo Answers suggestion, being able to help others in this community setting can be a great marketing tool.

Every social marketing opportunity will have its own rules to follow, and you should make sure you know those rules. But here's one general rule for using these sites as marketing tools: Don't spam the system. Flickr doesn't want your entire product inventory posted, and they have rules against doing so. But a few high-quality photo submissions that add to the community are fine.

Whatever social marketing you do, ONE KEY RULE APPLIES-- Be An Active Contributor. Add to the signal, not the noise. When you do that, you're on the road to social marketing success and to driving both sales and awareness for your business- no matter what size it is.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Learn the Fatal Flaws That Can Lead to Fabulous Failures at Retail

5 Fatal Mistakes for Small Retailing

In today's fast-moving and ever-changing business environment, mistakes can be fatal. Even at best, statistics show that about half of small businesses last less than two years. Even though the list of potential mistakes that retailers can make is long, with the help of our friends at we offer five of the key areas to watch for where a mistake can be costly- and devastating for your business.

  1. Failure to plan effectively and objectively: Many new retailers plunge into business with little more than a prayer and a lot of optimism. In today’s challenging economy, prayers won’t even be enough! It takes time and discipline to prepare a business plan and estimate your financial needs. Nothing kills a retail business quicker than being underfunded to whether slow times, or to cover unexpected start up costs. Planning should also include location research, target market definition and appropriate product selection to meet your target markets needs.

  2. Focusing on products and not the market: Too many small businesses hang on to products well beyond their optimum selling lifetime. True, key items provide sales and profits that are hard to give up however the law of diminishing returns says too much of a good thing can be a bad thing for your business. Don't become married to your products. Look for signs that the selling is slowing down, and plan for the end of one good item by constantly testing new items and finding new products that can fill the sales revenue you once had!

  3. Failure to change with the market environment: Where customer’s shop, how much time they spend shopping and what they will pay for products has dramatically changed since the advent of the internet as a viable shopping destination. Don’t let your store get caught in a sales slowdown by not anticipating the changes you need to make to keep current- and relevant- for ALL your customers. For some of you, this will mean an inevitable crash course in marketing online and using technology as a business tool, but trust me, if you don’t study, you will eventually lose out to more updated and sophisticated competition!.

  4. Underestimating the demands of retailing: Those of us in the retail industry are some of the most passionate people in the world, however, passion doesn’t always translate to profits. The constant demands of operating a successful retail store are all consuming and many times, retailers mistakenly underestimate their abilities to service all the needs of their business. For instance, many retailers don’t carve out enough time for marketing their businesses. They assume that because they have a good eye for choosing product, customers will come. Trust me, if you can’t create effective marketing campaigns to tell your potential customers that you carry those products, your store is a candidate for failure. If you're not prepared to commit a large portion of your life, at least in the beginning, perhaps owning your own store should wait a while longer.

  5. Neglecting customer service: This may be the single biggest cause of failure for retailers today because so many of them take it for granted. Customers are not there for retailer convenience, in fact, it's quite the opposite. Retail businesses can succeed or fail because of their locations, but wherever you are located, not having business hours to accomodate your customers needs will hasten the process of failure for sure. The other major sin in this category is failing to treat all customers with courtesy and respect. I'm constantly amazed at the treatment customers receive from retail employees. Things as basic as not greeting customers when they enter the store, offering help in merchandise selection, and ignorance about the store policies and stock are commonplace occurrences. Key lesson: Train your employees--and yourself--on the basics of customer courtesy and service.

Although avoiding these five fatal mistakes won't ensure retailing success, committing them will surely bring you closer to the brink of failure. There are so many risks and pitfalls in today's rapidly changing marketplace, it makes sense to increase your odds of success by avoiding them.

For other great tips on small business, CBCG recommends visiting

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On The Shelf Or In The Bank?

Where would you rather have your inventory dollars situated? It sounds easy to answer, but those in the business know that it is a tough thing to execute for even the best retailers in the marketplace.

Think of it this way- every item you have sitting on your shelf should eventually be transformed into cash in your bank account, and the sooner the better. As long as it's inventory, it's basically dead weight. If it is not moving, you're not having cash flow. So, what is YOUR plan for turning inventory into cash for your business? Here are some of our favorite ways. Want to add your own? Drop us a line.

Here are six recommendations to minimize the cost of your inventory:

· Attempt to forecast as accurately as you can the day, week and month what you expect to sell. We all know that inventory levels grow during the fall season as Christmas approaches-but do you plan to taper your stock levels as Christmas draws near so you don’t end up with overstocks in January and February?
· Determine which item accounts for 80% of your sales. Staying on top of the best sellers will allow you to focus your attention on items that are driving sales and profits for your store. Likewise, I also suggest focusing on the worst selling (I like to use 10%) items in your stock. This will allow you to cut your losses and stop funding items that bring no revenue back to the store. You’ll be amazed at what focusing on the top and bottom can do in a very short time.

· Determine how fast you can get inventory, once you order it. Push your suppliers to deliver as close to your time of need as you can. Better for your cash flow to have it sitting on their warehouse shelves than yours when you don’t need it. Example: Some firms can use "just-in-time" inventory which enables them to receive their order the day they need it.

· Determine your economic order quantity and don't order too much inventory just to save a few pennies. Remember—once you take delivery of the merchandise, you are expected to pay for it. If it sits on your shelves for 3 months and you save 10 cents—is it really good for your businesses cash flow? Could you have been using the money you paid the invoice with to do some marketing for the store during that same time period?

· Shop around and make sure you are getting competitive prices. The internet provides a great opportunity to see what selling prices are at retail these days. If you see a much lower retail price from one of your existing suppliers, you should ask for a discount on the same products. It’s not competitive of you to have higher priced merchandise than your fellow retailers!

· Develop a policy for determining what is obsolete inventory, and how you can get rid of it. One of my favorite sayings holds true for retailers across every product category. “Slow moving inventory is NOT like fine wine, it DOES NOT get better with age!” Come up with a plan to assess and then dispose of slow moving merchandise. This should take place all year long. Not just after Christmas!

So what are you waiting for? Go turn that inventory on the shelf to cash in the bank! And let us know how it goes!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Strategies: Set goals to make things happen in 2008

Your list of things to do is still 2 pages long and you still haven't gotten that well deserved vacation after the holidays, have you? Ah, the life of a retailer is never easy.
But no matter how busy you are, to be a truly successful retailers, you MUST take some time out to set some business goals for 2008- AND DO IT TODAY!

Now these goals aren't written as full fledged business plans (hopefully, you already have one that guides your business decisions on a daily basis, right?) but they are the steps that should help you achieve your business goals for 2008 and make the planning of your daily business a bit more strategic- even when it gets crazy in your store!

So where do you start? What should your goals look like? I propose this:

Ask yourself and answer the question "What do I most want to accomplish this year for my business?
Now-- write down the answers.
  1. Make your goal specific. Be very clear, "I want to make more money this year" is nice, but how are you going to get there? Instead of "Send emails to customers" how about writing your goal like this? "Create an effective email marketing campaign each month that generates an additional $2,000 in retail sales for my store and gather 20 names each week to add to the email distribution that I am sending it to." This goal clearly defines the goals for distribution as well as sales that will come from this effort. It also clearly states the message so that all of your employees know that collecting email addresses will be a priority this year.
  2. Make it positive. It's usually easier to add something good to your life than to remove something bad. State your goal in positive terms. "I am excited and looking forward to creating new and unique marketing messages for my customers via email this year."
  3. Set a time frame. Even the smallest task has a deadline. Shouldn't your very important business goals have deadlines as well? Don't give yourself too much time to achieve the goals. Make it realistic, but push yourself and your employees to get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible. The sooner it gets done, the quicker you will see the measureable results you are looking for.
  4. Make it achievable. Choose a goal that you have a realistic change of being able to reach. Don't set a goal that has continually not been achieved; start fresh and give yourself a chance to succeed.

Wha'ts next? After writing down your goals, choose three of the goals you have written down and COMMIT to achieving them in the first quarter of this year. Seeing yourself achieve these goals so early in the year (and reaping the business rewards because of it) will give you energy and momentum to set out achieving the others on your list just as quickly.

And what to do if you finish the list of goals mid way thru the year? Add new ones! Continually pushing yourself, and your business to new heights will bring financial and personal rewards for everyone involved!

Start today, set goals for your business, and go out and make it a great 2008!