Leave it to the Leprechaun Village at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest to be up to date with the latest small business trend: multipurpose retail spaces. The challenges of online competition are making it essential for independent shopkeepers to do everything they can to give customers a reason to come into their store. This is especially true in smaller communities, where the number of potential shoppers is limited by the population size.

The Spring Fare in Birmingham, England encourages retailers to consider the concept of diversity. It means “more opportunity for your customers to find something a bit different every time they visit your shop; a reason (apart from your solid core offering) to visit again and see what’s new.”

A varied and ever-changing inventory selection is one way to draw a range of customers. In our shop, we carry everything from hand puppets to hand-forged kitchen knives. It is not accidental that this was also true of the general stores that used to serve as the only retail option in small towns. While we don’t carry basics such as groceries, hardware or clothing, our customer base is much wider than if we were just a toy or cookware store. (I should mention that we only have about 2,700 square feet – but we make use of every inch!)

Offering coffee, wine or food is a popular option for a secondary business within your retail space (see my column on this topic in the August, 2019 issue of Gifts and Decorative Accessories). You could also just add a cooler with cold beverages, or a small food section. Shoppers looking for antiques or art supplies still enjoy taking a snack break, and if you become known for some special local treats you may find this builds a nice repeat business.

Services are a logical add-on for a variety retail businesses, and tie in nicely with today’s repair/reuse trend. Many jewelry stores take in items with broken parts and send them out to a vendor who does the repair. Not only do they make some markup on the service, but the customer has to come in twice to drop off and pick up their jewelry. This is a great opportunity to sell them something new.

Classes and meetings may not bring in income, however they are a logical way to bring in customers. LuluLemon stores are known for having space to spread out mats for yoga classes. As the Very Well Fit blog points out, “Lululemon sells yoga clothes for men and women and can’t wait to showcase its products while you enjoy a free yoga class on them, no purchase necessary.” These classes not only build community – they also establish the shop’s place in its community.

If business is slow, now is the time to brainstorm about diversifying. What could you add to your shop that would be an inventive way to expand your potential customer base?

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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