A decade ago I posted some of my top advice to retailers – this blog was only a year old at the time, but I already had over 30 years of experience as a shopkeeper.  I thought it might be fun to revisit the ten points that seemed important back then, and am pleased to find that they all still ring true.  As the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

1) Remember every day why you opened your store. Even if you have to write it down as your vision statement, keep the idea that inspired you when you started in mind. Don’t lose sight of that vision when you get mired down in the day-to-day minutia.

2) Listen to your customers.  The only merchandise that will sell is the merchandise that your customers want to buy.  If you don’t stay in tune with what they are asking for, and pay attention to what they are buying from you — and your competitors — your merchandise decisions will be based on guesswork. 

3) Involve your employees.  It’s a whole lot more difficult to be a top-down boss who tells her employees what to do than a team leader who motivates her colleagues to do their best.  Reward your employees fairly, and let them know they are appreciated.

4) Set high standards for customer service.  Customer service is what sets independent retailers apart from their bigger competitors, and frankly it’s usually easier for us to provide stellar customer service because we can directly train our employees in product knowledge.

5) Cultivate your top customers.  Put a system into place to help you identify the customers who shop with you regularly, and those that spend the most money in your store.  Do something each month to bring these customers in and reward them for their loyalty. 

6) Continue to promote your business.  Unless you are a store located in a very busy location, you will need to bring new customers in every day.  You can save money by cooperating with other businesses and by doing promotions that garner you free publicity.

7) Don’t let your merchandise become stagnant. It is important to have new lines to keep customers interested in coming back. Don’t fill your store room with back stock if money is tight — buy shallow so that you can offer more variety.

8) Maintain your margins.  The markup you take on merchandise can be eroded by too many discounts and sales.  Make sure that you are taking freight costs and eventual markdowns into account when you set your retail prices.

9) Watch your expenses. A small change in any one expense category can have a big impact on the narrow profit margin of a retail store. If you don’t know how to read a profit and loss statement, hire a CPA to teach you this skill.  And before you sign a long-term lease, get legal advice.

10) Get help from outside sources.  The fact that you are reading this blog shows that you are open to learning new skills and looking outside your own store for answers to some of retailing’s persistent challenges.  If you find yourself in a bind, communicate with your banker, sales reps and vendors. They want you to succeed – and may be able to find ways to help you.

I want you to succeed too, and hope that you continue to find these blog posts helpful for years to come.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder