OPINION: Claire Franks’ new column

Lingerie and swimwear business guru Claire Franks, founder of Intimate Apparel Consultancy, offers her regular insight into lingerie retail, fitting and design.

This is a worrying time for business, especially in retail. So what do we do when business is tough and customers are few and far between? Some businesses feel that nothing they try seems to bring in the additional business it should do – but in reality the worse thing you can do is to do nothing.

Smile like you mean it

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However bad things seem, it is absolutely essential to keep morale and staff motivation high and, above all, to keep smiling. Retailing is like being on the stage whenever a customer is present, the “act” should be on – although you should also make sure your staff are genuine in their approach and helpfulness.

Staff training is always so important whatever the climate. You need to ensure every customer that comes into your shop is acknowledged, approached and served by a happy, well-trained member of staff, who knows the stock and how to fit a bra well and close a sale. Conducting regular refresher fitting courses on your premises is a must – choose an impartial fitting school who can train your staff to fit with the bras you sell. If this is achieved with every customer then they will leave saying how great you are. That is the best form of advertising – and it’s free!

Keep asking questions

During tough times, many businesses are solely focused on improving their cash position by finding ways to improve working capital, such as reducing stock levels, increasing profit margins and reducing overheads.

Such a focus during tough times may increase cash reserves and improve your profitability, but this alone is not be enough: you should also try to think differently about your company. Look at your business with fresh eyes and question every part of how it operates.

Don’t change for change’s sake, but do challenge all aspects of your business on how it runs and whether a change will make it better. Some core values of businesses should never change, of course, but everything should evolve and can be improved upon in some way. Don’t be afraid to test yourself.

Plan for promotion

Creating a promotional calendar in advance might be a bit time-consuming, but it could prove one of your most valuable moves, by providing promotions, activity and events to buy for, plan and focus on.

This will add a sense of excitement to the business and, if done well, can offer far more value for money to the consumer – as well as profit for your company. It is, therefore, important that the marketing plan is focused on your business, improving its cash position, profitability and promoting any new or revived products and services.

A good starting point could be to review the effectiveness of any previous social media marketing activities or events: did they work? Can you improve on them? Identify what successes you had and why and how can you build and improve on them for next time.

These activities should not all be about discounting, unless of course you are a discount retailer. They should be about giving value for money to the consumer, which can be achieved through a gift with purchase (GWP), joint activity with a local fashion or beauty shop, fashion show, launch of a new loyalty scheme or the good old fitting event.

I don’t doubt that during these times there will be limited resources to put towards any marketing activity, so any marketing calendar needs a clear focus on factors such as cost and return. See the box, above right, for the essential elements to think about.

Create great incentives

Every business should focus on products and services that can turn into cash very quickly. So ensure you have your bestsellers in stock all the time but don’t forget to keep looking out for new experimental products, something exciting to add interest to your shop window and broaden your product range to ensure those add-on purchases and to increase your average sale per customer.

Also think about how to keep your staff enthused. Do you reward or incentivise them? Perhaps your staff could work on a commission basis in addition to a basic salary. And it’s worth considering a reward or bonus for being sales person of the month. Happy, excited and competitive staff can lend energy to the business and make the
shop a more pleasant place to shop.

Look inside and out

Lastly, brace yourself and take a really objective view of the exterior of your shop. Does it look beautiful, fresh and exciting or is it a bit tired? Be brave and honest with yourself and look at it with fresh eyes – and if you can’t bring yourself to do it, get someone in who can, and who will be honest with you. After all, times may be tough and some days customers are few, but the last thing you need is to make it appear that way.

Keep active, keep moving stock and displays around and generate a natural buzz and activity in the shop, and the customers should keep coming back.

The Checklist:

1) Weather the storm with a smile on your face.
2) Question every part of your business methods: is there a better way to run things?
3) Think of ways to promote your shop, keeping the customers coming back.
4) Incentivise your staff with commission or rewards, to keep them enthused and the shop exciting.
5) Take a cold, hard look at your shop exterior: is it really as appealing as it could be?

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