Lessons independent shops should take from high street chains… and what they should change! #IndieRetail by @PeskyChloe

This post was supplied by Chloe McGenn of Life’s Big Canvas – http://www.lifesbigcanvas.co.uk. She is better know as “Pesky Chloe” and trades out of the amazing Bird’s Yard in Leeds – https://www.facebook.com/BirdsYardPage.

As an independent shop owner for the last two years, I’ve had a lot to learn, and quickly. I’d never run a shop of my own, hadn’t worked in one since I was 17, and had only sold my own items at craft fairs…

Make up your own rules!

Luckily, none of these things was a problem – craft fairs are an entirely different proposition for selling handmade goods than a shop, and selling handmade goods in a shop is totally different to selling mass-market goods. For me, I haven’t been hampered by prior knowledge of the way things should work in retail – I’ve made up my own rules.

Success measured by Customer Experience

I’m pretty successful at running a shop – I could be more profitable, but I’m in this for the long run.  There are various ways to measure success, and I choose to measure my shop’s success by the happiness of my customers. The following tips are not related to turnover or profits – they’re related to the customer experience.

It’s tempting to look at what you’re doing as an independent retailer in comparison to the high street. I can tell you now that I hate high street shopping. It’s too impersonal, sterile, and I can never find what I’m looking for. This has worked for me, because I’ve never tried to run it like a shop on the high street – I try and run a shop I would want to browse through, and stock things I would want to buy.

Learning from the best of high street chains… ignoring what doesn’t work!

There are some things that high street retailers do well, however, to keep customers coming back – the key is to take the best bits, ignore the worst bits, and come up with a whole new way for people to shop.

First – what to IGNORE from high street chains…

1. Vanity Pricing

You don’t need to make your items end with 99p – this is a form of undervaluing yourself, anyway, but there’s something more interesting going on psychologically. If it’s worth £10, you don’t have to make it £9.99. This won’t effect your profits, it’s only a penny, but it will effect the way you’re seen by customers. They’ll trust you – they’ll know you’re not trying to trick them into thinking something is cheaper than it is. You’re telling them exactly how much it is, and doing it proudly.

I have one supplier who ends all her prices with 25p, and another whose prices are even more random – but it makes sense when you’re explaining why your prices are different to the high street. That item costs £5.25, because the maker knows how much she needs to charge to make money on it whilst still being fair to the buyer – she could have made it £6, but she didn’t, because she respects you.

2. Sterile displays

If people want white slatted display walls, they can go anywhere. You need to make them notice why you’re different to them. Yes, use cabinets, lighting, and other props, but try and display things more unusually. High street shops keep you hanging around to buy by creating a maze of rails, lots of items to browse through, and generally confusing you. If you have a small shop, you need to keep people entertained in other ways. One seller we had used railway sleepers to hang clothing on, and had a massive pelican with sweets in its mouth – it was quirky, but well displayed.

3. Multiples of the same item

My mum used to point out racks of clothing all the same and say, “I’m not buying that, loads of other people might be wearing it.” It’s stayed with me. Of course not everyone wants to not look like everyone else – otherwise high street shops wouldn’t be successful either. You need to know what sort of customer you’re pitching to, and those who shop in independent stores will probably be more likely to want something unusual, or limited edition. You can have more than one of something in stock, but you don’t have to display it. The optimal number is 3 of the same item – 1 or 2 of that item, and people somehow don’t want to take it in case it ruins your display, 4 or more and there are too many.

4. Aggressive selling

I don’t think this needs elaborating on, but keeping someone in your shop for long enough doesn’t translate as bullying them. For a customer to stay in-store, they need to feel comfortable. It’s a delicate balancing act – if someone walks out straight away, your shop isn’t for them anyway, and it probably never will be. However, if you don’t give them space the minute they walk in, they’ll probably feel threatened and walk out, without finding out if it’s their sort of shop.

5. Competitive Pricing

‘But I can get something similar cheaper in Primark!’ says a customer. This does not mean you change the price to match or undercut Primark. Your price should be set properly in the first place, and you should keep it at your RRP – there are plenty of blogs around about setting your price, so I’m not going into that here – otherwise you look like you don’t value what you’re doing.

Great ideas from high street chains that you COULD use to your advantage!

1. Loyalty cards

Repeat custom at supermarkets was successfully achieved with loyalty card schemes – I’m old enough to remember the Clubcard and Nectar points being introduced, and it seemed alien. Having a loyalty card at a supermarket doesn’t mean you won’t shop at another one – but it might mean you’re more likely to go there than the local corner shop. We all know this is terrible for small businesses, and has been for years, so why not use this against them?

I got a pack of 250 loyalty cards for about a tenner from Vistaprint. They have ten little circles, which I colour in (and sign) when someone shows me it. No one has ever filled it, but there are a few customers who nearly have. It’s a gimmick, obviously – but I will, of course, honour that £10 free spend if they’ve been kind enough to come to  my shop ten times and buy something. A year ago, I couldn’t imagine someone coming to visit me ten times, but they’re close to doing so. That sort of loyalty is priceless, and easily worth £10 to me.

2. Multi-buys

This is another balancing act – you can’t offer too much off your items, or you’re setting yourself up for your customers to distrust you.

Boots have their 3 for 2 offer every Christmas time – but think about that for a minute. That means that every item in that offer is more expensive than it has to be. For example, you buy 3 items, priced at £4.50 each, and pay £9 instead of £13.50 – You make a saving of £4.50, it seems like a great bargain. However, Boots aren’t going to lose money, so that means those items should actually have been priced at £3 each instead of £4.50. They’re actually ripping you off, but making it seem like they’re doing you a favour. If you do buy one item for £4.50 singly, they’re just making more profit than they should do.

So don’t treat your customers like morons. Offer them the matching earrings to go with their necklace for a £1 discount – it’s a gesture of goodwill, rather than treating them like a mug. If a bracelet is £6, maybe offer them two for £10?

3. Seasonal stock in good time

Follow the lead of high street shops on when they have seasonal produce in stock. If you run a card shop, and there are Christmas cards in high street shops, you need to have your Christmas cards out. Otherwise you’ll miss people buying them.

A lot of the time, people want to buy from independent sellers, but they’re disorganised and don’t have what they want in time, so they go to a high street shop. Just this week, someone bought Christmas earrings from me – I didn’t know whether to have them on the website, it felt too soon, but my customer congratulated me on having them on the website already, so I knew I’d done the right thing.

I’ve stopped thinking about Christmas stock, and I’m working on Valentine’s Day now – I suggest if you run a creative business and you don’t have your Christmas stock already, then start planning for February now.

4. Clear prices

This is the worst mistake indie shops make. You must make your prices clear. Think about high street shops – how often do you find an assistant to ask the price? Almost never, I’d guess. You might find them to ask for a different size, or ask about the material, but almost never the price. We’ve grown out of asking for prices since the introduction of scanners at the tills. Instead of price tickets for us and the assistant to read, it says it on the shelf, and then they scan it at the checkout.

Imagine how frustrated you get in the supermarket when something has been put on the wrong shelf and you can’t find the price for it – don’t make your customers work to find the price. Always have tags and tickets on everything, and an extra price list on the wall too, just to be on the safe side. It’s better for them to see the price twice, than not at all.

5. Branding

You can recognise the shop you’re in all around you on the high street – whether you’re aware of it or not. The colours, the packaging, the smells. Green circle? Asda. Blue stripes? Tesco. Orange? Sainsburys. Get the picture?

If you’re an independent shop, it’s even harder to make an indent on your customer’s subconscious  I’ve written before about loyalty by creating an experience in a shop – I use air fresheners, the same shade of pink, and, yes, even myself, to create an atmosphere. When I moved from one shop to another, people knew I’d moved to a different shop. It’s one of the more successful things I do in my shop. I might not have branded carrier bags, but I use pick and mix bag with pink stripes to put jewellery in. It’s my form of cheap recognition – it creates a sense of fun and playfulness, which is my branding.

But you’re INDEPENDENT – So focus on the things which must be different…

1. Don’t undervalue yourself

We’ve touched on this, but it’s vital. If you don’t value what you make, no one else will. Don’t haggle with customers. If they don’t want to pay the given price, you don’t have to sell it. It’s not a car boot sale!

2. Do custom pieces

This is one way we can differ from the high street. You can’t go into Top Shop and ask them to change the skirt they have on the rails so it’s 6 inches longer because you’re tall – but if you make clothes in an independent boutique you can. Personalisation is what makes sites like Not On The High Street the driving online force it is.

3. Be friendly

This is blindingly obvious to me, but within that balancing act you must be polite and friendly, and then give the customer their space. If I’m in a bad mood, I sincerely hope anyone visiting my shop doesn’t know that. I’ll smile, and be nice to them, and be narky with my colleagues.

4. Host VIP events

After hours service is a fantastic way for independents to get ‘one up’ on the high street. It’s very easy for me to stay late to provide good service because I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. The other week, we kept our shop open after hours because some people were stranded outside. I’m not sure a chain like Starbucks could do that, even if they wanted to.

5. Explain why the price differs to the high street

If anyone questions exactly why you are more expensive than the high street, tell them! Your fabric might be sourced from overseas, your jewellery might be made out of sterling silver rather than Tibetan. Most importantly they know exactly who has made it – you made it, you can tell them where you got all the pieces and how you did it.

‘It wasn’t made by some unfortunate, over-worked, exploited child in a sweatshop’ – don’t phrase it like this though – it’s terribly preachy, and they might have high street stuff at home. Don’t make them feel guilty for something they’ve previously purchased! That’s not what I mean at all.

Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated!

So, treat your customers how you want to be treated – be polite, but not aggressive, don’t judge them for what they’ve purchased previously. They’re not stupid – but always remember that shoppers, on the whole, are lazy – make it easy for them to know what they’re buying, and why it costs what it does. Most importantly, don’t undervalue yourself – how can you expect anyone to respect handmade items if you don’t respect yourself for making them?

This blog was kindly provided by Chloe McGenn – you can tweet her your thoughts via @PeskyChloe – http://twitter.com/peskychloe… and here she is 🙂

About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email champion@retailchampion.co.uk.
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