Most business owners are familiar with their store’s natural ebb and flow in volume based on predictable seasonal changes in the marketplace. In our business, volume is likely to drop during summer months, when people are wearing fewer and lighter clothes. Conversely, things will pick up again in the fall, when schools are in session, and heavier clothing is needed.
The challenge for a store owner facing a decline in business is to determine if it is a naturally occurring downturn or cause for alarm.
It is helpful if the store has been open for more than one year, and one has the perspective of an annual, rolling calendar. This will provide a baseline of customer flow and utility usage to compare against previous years. Comparing the data can help determine whether a drop in business is a normal, annual phenomenon or a sign of something worse.
If you see a drop in traffic and revenue, resist the temptation to automatically lower vend prices. Cutting prices will just dig a deeper hole, and is not a good long-term strategy. Consumer studies show customers would rather pay more and get a great service than pay less and feel as if they are being taken for granted. Instead of cutting the price, look for external factors that may be impacting business and internal ways of addressing the issues.
KNOW YOUR MARKET
The best way to analyze a business is to review the market, and the best resource for gaining market insight is a distributor who can pull demographic data. This professional will know the activity in the market and any laundry projects planned for the area. The distributor should also have insights into the customer base.
The marketing intelligence provided should be timely, accurate and actionable. He can help you identify the many external factors that could be impacting your store.
Has a new competitor opened a store nearby that is siphoning off customers, and if so, what are they offering that you are not?
Has a neighborhood school opened or been closed?
Are there new apartments in the neighborhood? Has a large construction project recently been started or completed? New apartments should increase business, unless they have in-unit laundries or a nice laundry room, whereas a large construction project winding up could cause a drop in traffic as workers leave the area.
Once external forces impacting the business have been identified, and the market demographic is understood, take a good, hard look at the store to see if the drop in clientele could be connected to poor customer service or an unengaged owner. Think about the customers — what are they looking for?
When negotiations with vendors and placing of orders, are you thinking about what the customer base wants? If the store caters to the college crowd and young professionals, should the store offer Red Bull or mineral water in the vending machines? Should free WiFi be part of the equation? If the store sees a lot of traffic from families with children, should juice boxes and animal crackers be added to the mix?
If the store is like most stores, with an 80-percent female customer base, pay close attention to the things women desire. You win women over with cleanliness, safety and comfort.
Start with the storefront. Is the parking lot visible and well-lit? Are walkways clear of debris? Is signage well- maintained? Are the windows clean?
Once inside, take a critical look. Are there handprints on the walls and stains on the floor? Maybe it is time for a major scrub job. A few hours of elbow grease is an easy way to make a huge difference in the impression that your store makes.
To really make female customers happy, provide them with clean bathrooms. Little things like making sure that toilet paper, soap and paper towels are replenished in a timely manner can make a real difference.
Are your female customers comfortable bringing children to the store? Again, cleanliness is critical, as well as safety. Simply designating a small area for children can greatly enhance the store’s desirability for parents. Add some small chairs and simple, easily cleaned toys to a corner of the store, and you show customers that their children are welcome.
The story concludes Friday.