A Lot of data has been published lately indicating that consumers prefer local businesses. They have the chance to develop a relationship that can be handy when they have a need that requires quick attention. They can be known if they shop regularly. But being local doesn’t automatically make you attractive. People expect local businesses to be as professional as the “big guys.” There are a few easily-addressed areas that will affect how potential customers will view your business.
On-Line Appearance. Your customers will expect your website and your other online (and mobile) tools to be attractive, informative, easy to use, and current (emphasize current). Your web presence should attract them to your business and make it easy for them to find what they want. If it doesn’t, they won’t come. If this is too much of a challenge personally, there are low-cost service firms that will do much of the work for you (but the responsibility for staying current remains yours). Also, consider having a place on your website for reviews. People subscribe to Angie’s List for a reason.
Attention. Customers who feel wanted will come back. Establish rules for dealing with customers, and make sure your employees are trained in them. An employee who stops stocking to wait on a customer will create a more favorable impression than one who continues to the stock until the customer asks for help. The resolution of customer-employee conflicts is also important. Ensure that your employees know they should turn problems over to you before they get out of hand. Even customers who don’t get the resolution they want can leave with a warmer feeling when they see the owner involved and interested in their satisfaction. Remember too that a quick response to online inquiries is also important.
Store Appearance. One discouraging aspect of the business is the manner in which customers often toss the items they have decided not to buy haphazardly in any available spot. That makes your business look sloppy, and it’s not your fault. Cut it off at the source. Establish a location clearly labeled as the place to put items one has opted not to buy. That will reduce (though, sadly, not eliminate) the clutter. You can catch the rest by having staff monitor for discarded items and restore them to their proper place in the displays. And don’t forget about dress codes for your employees. You can’t do much about the tattoos and piercings of the younger generation, but you can forbid torn jeans and bare midriff tops. Uniforms (even as simple as a shop apron over the employee’s street clothes) can make a big difference. Provide name badges for all employees. It makes them seem more personal to customers.
The other aspect of appearance is maintenance. Fix things when they break—don’t leave an eyesore sitting for weeks as a negative flag for customers. Paint the building’s façade before it starts to fade. Replace bins and racks (which receive daily wear and tear) on a regular basis. Change displays at least monthly. Change signage if it starts to look tattered.
Be Active Locally. Customers view your community interest as part of your professionalism. Show them you are interested and active. Join the chamber of commerce. Sponsor youth sports teams, and put their team pictures in a spot where customers will notice. Contribute to fundraisers. Allow charities to put fundraiser announcements in your window or near your cash register. Mention what you have done on your website and in other online communications. Don’t be bashful.
Don’t Be Static. Once you have all of the above in place, keep your eyes and your mind open for other ways in which to improve on what you’ve already done. Your competitors are always trying to improve. You can make sure you always remain better.
A successful local business is usually one that takes professionalism seriously.