It’s funny how in business a single headline, data point or catchphrase can overshadow the big picture. We’re talking about the Retail Apocalypse, but we’re talking more specifically about the impact of e-commerce on brick and mortar retail.
Contrary to the impression news headlines can create, many sectors of traditional retail are thriving. The number of store closings in recent years, however, may be costing you sleep regardless of how your business is faring. For all the turmoil, this is actually a time of great opportunity for traditional retailers. In fact, Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur and others have maintained the perspective that:
- The impact of e-commerce on brick and mortar retail is overstated and misunderstood, and
- The long-term outlook for retail is great.
The Best of Both Worlds
Retail chains that have continued to prosper through the so-called “Retail Apocalypse” are those that “understand the biggest advantage e-commerce retailers have is their ability to collect and leverage insights into consumer behaviors gained by technological innovations like big data,” according to Forbes Technology Council Lucas Roh. “They are adopting technology and processes to achieve the same advantage and adapt to today’s retail landscape.”
Roh boldly and bluntly states that “The Retail Apocalypse Is Not Happening,” and he’s not alone in that belief. But nobody’s saying we’re not in the midst of a seismic shift.
“The real impact e-commerce has on the retail industry is in consumer expectations,” Roh continues. “Consumers now expect a more convenient, tailored omnichannel shopping experience, whether they are online or in-store.”
This all points to at least one key lesson:
Big Data, customer analytics and online marketing are no longer competitive advantages.
Yesterday’s advantages are today’s necessities. That may sound stressful at first, but we’re excited about how these can benefit retailers and consumers.
That’s because today’s solutions address issues that have plagued retail for generations. They can make your life easier and your business more profitable. Even mom and pop retailers can now use business intelligence tools to reduce spoilage, pilfering, and stock-outs; enjoy higher margins; and optimize staff scheduling.
NCR Counterpoint—which RCS has used for decades— can now integrate data across multiple departments and generate over 40 reports. Among other things, these help forecast inventory, flag suspicious transactions and optimize pricing.
Instead of thinking of this as a David vs. Goliath thing, think of e-commerce style capabilities as ways brick and mortar retailers can solve problems that were around long before Amazon.
Omnichannel, not digital, is the face of the future
Companies that provide customers flexible purchasing options understand that decades from now there will still be thriving brick and mortar stores with e-commerce integrations. We’re not moving to an e-commerce model; we’re moving to a hybrid model. Why else would the kingpin of e-commerce be opening brick and mortar grocery and book stores? Why would Amazon have acquired Whole Foods if brick and mortar were tanking?
“Brick and mortar retailers no longer have to feel that they’re staring up helplessly at the giants of e-commerce,” writes Jia Wert, CEO of the fashion brand Studio 15 in Forbes.
E-commerce firms, it turns out, need a physical presence to build brand recognition and achieve their long-term business objectives. More to the point, traditional retailers who make use of the digital economy’s capabilities can not only survive but prosper with the help of modern inventory, marketing, and point of sale platforms.
Reduce spoilage, pilfering and stock-outs | Increase margins | Optimize staff scheduling
Customer Spotlight: Your Healthy Pet
by John Garvey
A family-owned pet food and supply store in Newtown, Connecticut with a focus on high-quality food and treats, Your Healthy Pet has had a clear sense of purpose from day 1.
“We’ve always had pets, always loved them and we always wanted our own business,” states founder Tom Novak. “I had been in I.T. for 20-plus years and it was the Great Recession about nine years ago and my company closed down. And I didn’t want to relocate so we decided to try our dream and see what happened.”
Prior to opening Your Healthy Pet, Tom lost a beloved cat at the young age of six or seven (all their pets are rescues, so their birthdays are rarely known). Based on his research he believes the cat’s diet was likely a major contributing factor. It’s one reason quality pet nutrition is such a call to arms for him.
“When we first opened, 70 percent of the people walking in the door were asking for food we would not sell,” Tom recalls, “We’re called Your Healthy Pet and we mean it. We won’t sell food unless we’re convinced it’s a healthy food. We don’t sell any of these horrible flea and tick control products with ingredients that are known to cause cancer.”
“There’s not a food in here that has corn, wheat, byproducts or dyes in it. They’re all four- and five-star rated foods.”
Partnering with RCS
After Your Healthy Pet had been in business for about eight years, Tom knew he needed a point of sale system with better support and credit card processing, as well as more up-to-date purchasing, sales and inventory management features.
“Our old system was getting obsolete and was sort of a small company with one or two support people,” Tom recalls. “It didn’t integrate well with a lot of the new credit card processing machines or anything like that.”
It quickly became apparent that Your Healthy Pet and Retail Control Systems were a good match, but some unexpected challenges cropped up.
Per Tom’s interpretation of the contract with his credit card processing company it was near expiration, and we recognized that switching vendors could save his business money on processing fees.
He had a rude awakening, however, when they tried to stick his business with a 12-thousand dollar fee to exit the contract. Tom strikes me as an easygoing guy but you can hear the tension in his voice as he describes the event:
“I’m stuck with a contract that’s going to cost me a lot of money to pull out of and it doesn’t work if I stay with it. … Believe me, this was eating me up. I mean, we’re a small business. A 12-thousand dollar fee is a lot of money.”
Going to bat
It might have made sense to fold and keep the same vendor, but the problem wasn’t just fees. Having the wrong credit card processing company can be a long-term drag on your business when it doesn’t integrate well with your other systems or provide good customer support. We went to bat with Stu Kehler, our Merchant Services Advisors at RCS Payments.
Stu spent many innings going back and forth between different parties in the ensuing weeks. He was ultimately instrumental in getting the credit card processing company to drop those charges.
“Stu was a bulldog,” Tom states. “He just didn’t give up. If there was a setback he’d keep going and finally, [the vendor] dropped the charges. So I’m just a happy camper.”
“I was just really happy with the way Retail Control Systems really kept at this and got this all worked out. I’m really happy with the system itself, too.”
Front of House
“Once we teamed up with Retail Control Systems, the up-front part—scanning of items, ringing customers out, the printing of receipts—became a whole lot faster,” Tom says. “The front end of the system is really easy to learn, easy to use.”
“We have a treat bar, for instance, and there’s no UPC codes on the treats. So we used to have a piece of paper with the UPC code and you’d have to find a piece of paper and scan it. With NCR Counterpoint, you could create buttons. The button could say ‘Treat Bar’ and you click on the button and see, ‘Bully sticks, 6 inches,’ ‘Bully sticks, 12 inches,’ ‘pigs ears,’ ‘tendons,’ whatever you want.”
Much like other features in our POS system, NCR Counterpoint, the ability to add buttons to front-of-house touchscreen devices saves a lot of time and hassle.
We’ve discussed the advantages of Counterpoint’s POS features in greater detail here.
Inventory and Purchasing Tracking
Tom estimates that his business saves three to four hours a week on manual data entry thanks to our inventory management system, which helps track purchases and deliveries as well as preventing stock-outs and spoilage.
“We get deliveries every week—a lot of deliveries. How easy is it to get into the system? You certainly don’t want to have to scan each individual item and type in the amounts. You want to get the invoice into a format that we can just format into retail Control Systems.”
“So instead of taking an hour and a half or two hours to scan everything we can do it in five minutes. That’s a big benefit.”
If you have a lot of SKUs to manage and don’t have the means to closely monitor price changes on individual items, your business can be severely harmed.
“This system makes it easy to see what’s underpriced,” Tom explains. “It looks at what it costs us, what our margin is and what that equals for our sales price.”
With NCR Counterpoint, you can set your desired margins and the system will take the guesswork out of pricing based on cost of goods. So to hell with manually updating everything in Excel.
“We got into this business to try to keep pets healthy.”
“There’s a whole lot of natural products out there that you can use but you have to look for them,” Tom states.
“We have a great customer base and we spend a lot of time educating them about the value of nutrition. If a new customer comes in we could spend 15, 20, 25 minutes talking to them about why we don’t sell the food they came in to buy and why we won’t sell it.
“We got into this business to try to keep pets healthy. What you see on TV, the advertisements you see are usually the worst foods made. And all you have to do is look at the back and read the ingredients to find that out.”
What else lights you up?
Tom’s household includes two dogs and a cat—all of them rescues.
“We work with a lot of rescue groups. There’s a lot of puppy mills out there that people don’t know about and there’s plenty of dogs and cats that need a home without buying them and supporting puppy mills.”
By Stuart Kehler & Leland Bolleter
In August of 2017 the US company Vantiv agreed to acquire Worldpay for $10.4 billion. The combined company will be valued at $30 billion. The new company will keep the Worldpay name with global and corporate headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. Worldpay’s London offices will become their international headquarters. The acquisition was completed on January 16th, 2018.
Payments processors value add, is that they bring to the market correct information on approvals in a matter of seconds. Worldpay is considered a financial-technical (fin-tech) company. If one word can describe how many fintech innovations have affected traditional markets, it’s ‘disruption,’ as financial products move toward mobile devices or simply away from large, entrenched institutions. Worldpay routes transactions from retailers to banks to allow sales via credit and debit cards.
Worldpay will extend services to 146 countries and will be the world’s-largest-payment processor that handles over $1.5 trillion in transactions per year. Worldpay’s future goals include, understanding consumer behavior to drive competitive advantage for customers/retailers and help obtain maximum transaction acceptance rates. Lastly, Worldpay is working to optimize transaction costs through efficient routing to be able to offer the best rates to customers.
by John Garvey
Saving time, ease of locating products, greater product variety and selection, and avoiding checkout lines are among the reasons people turn to ecommerce rather than shopping in-store. FoyerLive offers solutions to each of those issues, providing a better customer experience and addressing major causes of lost sales.
FoyerLive isn’t just a solution for brick and mortar retailers. It also makes it easy to integrate ecommerce and brick and mortar operations. Their endless aisle digital kiosks bring many of the conveniences of ecommerce to brick and mortar shopping, empowering retailers to create a nearly seamless shopping experience as well as a more personalized one.
Here are a few examples of FoyerLive applications that solve everyday problems for retail associates, managers and customers.
1. Ease of exploring product features and reviews.
For technically complex products, the information on the box or print display isn’t enough to go by. If you’ve ever browsed product information on your phone from a store you’ve probably sensed that there’s a better way of doing things. Now there is.
FoyerLive’s interactive kiosks allow customers to view product descriptions, comparisons, demos and reviews on attractive touchscreen displays. If they’re just getting started they can search by category and add items to a cart.
One perceived advantage of ecommerce for shoppers is access to customer reviews. People can be hesitant to buy products without seeing how they’ve measured up to other consumers’ expectations. If your customers aren’t looking at these reviews in store, odds are they have in advance. Facilitating that can increase sales and reduce product returns.
2. Eliminate stress and guesswork.
With FoyerLive’s capabilities, retail associates don’t have to memorize as much product information as they otherwise would. If they can’t answer a question off hand they can easily access product information using digital kiosks. The employee and customer are viewing the same information on the same screen and the employee can fill in where he or she has specialized knowledge. This is especially valuable if your store has complex products or a large number of SKUs.
And it builds trust.
3. Reduce lost sales from out of stock items.
If you don’t have the right color or size in store, no problem! FoyerLive gives you ominchannel fulfilment options, allowing customers to order out-of-stock items for home delivery. Customers don’t have to make inconvenient return trips to get what they want. For retailers, that amounts to fewer sales lost to online competitors.
4. No more yelling over the changing room door.
Even if delegated to a retail associate, going back and forth between a dressing room and clothing racks is time-consuming. Some people dread this aspect of clothes shopping. Digital displays in changing rooms allow the customer to order additional sizes and colors without leaving the changing room or verbally communicating detailed information to a frazzled associate.
5. Queue Management: Reduce or eliminate lines.
With FoyerLive you can give customers a self-checkout option if that’s appropriate to your business. That means your associates are available to help customers with needs other than sales transactions. Ergo you can provide a more personalized experience as well as greater convenience.
Alternatively or additionally, customers can order products from anywhere in the store so they’ll be waiting when it’s time to go up front and pay.
6. No more scrounging for products on crowded shelves.
FoyerLive’s touchscreen navigators free customers from meandering through aisles in a long and potentially fruitless search. Guests can now request products or find them with digital item locators. Since they can order physical products from the back of the store with touch screens there’s less need to keep them all up front. The additional space creates a more pleasant all around experience.
Nike, for instance, uses FoyerLive digital displays to allow customers to pick shoe and clothing styles, colors and sizes. Employees collect the requested products and bring them to customers to try on at pop-up stores and in store.
7. Choose the right vintage.
Most dinner hosts don’t harbor sky-high expectations as far as their guests’ beer or wine contributions go, but it’s nice to make a good impression. What goes well with tri-tip steak? How about scallops, quesadillas, BBQ chicken, or samosas? I have no idea and there’s a good chance even a well-trained clerk at a liquor store doesn’t either.
Digital kiosks provide educational tools for both staff and customers for just this kind of situation. This functionality makes up-selling easier as well as educational. People are happy to pay more when they’re confident that they’ve chosen the right product.
8. Effectively multiply your sales associates.
Many of the above applications allow associates to get more done, better manage peak hours and provide more individualized service. Whether you’re a garden center, liquor store, boutique clothing retailer, a fireworks seller or the storefront for a major brand, these solutions free employees from busy work. They’ll be happier and so will your customers.
9. Make products tangible to customers.
Digital displays, by allowing customers to view how products actually work, make them more engaged and confident selecting products that suit their needs. Fireworks stores, for instance, use digital displays which allow customers to see what artillery shells, roman candles and other goodies look like in action.
This list of applications is by no means exhaustive. The sky’s the limit.
10. A final note: Cost, functionality and integration.
The cost and functionality of digital displays have improved a lot over the last five years. Historically setting up a video wall was exorbitantly expensive. Now you can get a decent-sized, touchscreen, commercial device and targeted, customizable digital display for less than a thousand dollars.
In-store digital displays used to be stand-alone products. They’re now integrated with websites, and because FoyerLive is in the cloud, managers can control kiosks and display screens from anywhere. Displays can also be automated by time of day and special promos offered in real time.
FoyerLive is designed to integrate seamlessly with other enterprise-level retail solutions such as NCR Counterpiont, so if you like what you’re using there’s no need for a complete overhaul. Many of our clients use multiple systems which compliment one another.
In sum, FoyerLive is a diverse, customizable tool that different businesses can use in the ways that most benefit them. It brings many of the advantages of ecommerce to brick and mortar retail, while also facilitating ecommerce for those who do both. It provides convenience and assurance to customers who want to make the right choice and don’t have all day to do it.
by John Garvey
Jasen Frederickson has been working at Bennington Museum for five of its 165 years, but you can tell by talking with him that he feels deeply connected to it. I hadn’t heard of the museum until a couple weeks ago, but reviewing the exhibits online and talking with Jasen—whose voice rings with enthusiasm when he talks about it—left me itching to visit the place.
“Growing up in this area, Bennington Museum has always been part of my life,” he tells me. Jasen, a Bennington native notes that he visited the museum on field trips as a kid and you can tell he liked it. His passion and initiative as the Visitor Center Coordinator has helped nearly double the store’s gross income in the last three years.
Quintessential New England Art
“We have 14 galleries in total and it ranges from the first settler all the way through midcentury modern, all connected to Bennington College,” Jasen tells me.
The largest collecting institution in the region, Bennington Museum “connects you with real objects, challenges you with intriguing ideas, and excites your imagination,” states the website. The museum has the largest collection of Grandma Moses paintings in the world as well as galleries devoted to Gilded Age art, pottery, Modernism and special exhibitions to boot.
“Our goal is to always tell a story through various forms.”
“Something that’s very distinct about our museum is that we put objects as well as art together,” Jasen explains. “So an object is actually a piece of art. It’s not like things are just two dimensional, which is how a lot of museums are when they’re just focused on art. We have historical objects in the same space—like a car with a Tiffany lamp as well as furniture and portraits and so forth.”
Pairing art with historical items as part of a storytelling focus is part of the secret sauce that makes a visit to Bennington Museum so memorable. The Early Vermont Gallery, for instance, transports you into another era using trunks with furnishings and household items that early settlers would have arrived with.
Visitors from near and far
Asked what lights him up about his work at Bennington Museum, Jasen tells me that every day is different and exciting. A lot of things account for that, but none more than the visitors.
“It’s being able to meet people from across the country as well as globally,” Jasen says. “And everybody in the museum is excited and happy to see us, you know, they’re always happy.”
Summer is especially exciting here. Bennington Museum hosts author talks, two summer camps and other events including a gallery opening just the other day. Here’s something especially impressive Jasen told me:
“Two years ago I got heavy into analyzing our zip code data. We had 15 countries (not including Canada because I consider them our neighbor) and every single state represented in our visitor numbers. In little Bennington, Vermont.”
“I have never worked a single day of retail outside of this job.”
Jasen spent 14 years in hotel management before joining Bennington Museum and eventually taking over most of its retail management.
“RCS has been instrumental in assisting me in understanding how retail management works,” he tells me. “Given that I have an unlimited support contract, I use it a lot for just silly questions and also desperate needs. Having that is a great help.
“Everybody within the RCS team is just so happy to be able to help and guide, you know, in the learning side of it and not just pressing issues.”
Jasen has brought the store online as well since taking over the gift shop three years ago. RCS helped him navigate that challenge.
“I did not want to manage two separate sets of inventory because that’s just craziness. … I have about 1600 SKUs and right now we have about 400 SKUs online. So we’re a good way there.
“Having an option that was a 100 percent integrated was a key factor. And so RCS helped me create that using Modern Retail as an integrator and Shopify as a platform. And so basically that’s what our web store runs on.”
Counterpoint also helps Bennington Museum manage its entire operating budget. Every dollar of income, including grant funding, memberships, donations and other revenue, goes through the system. Jasen describes Counterpoint as “a one-stop shop for a museum,” with the minor qualification that it doesn’t include CRM specific to membership and member services. However, RCS does partner with some great companies that can provide these types of services, check out all the awesome partners.
In the last three years, Bennington Museum has seen 45 percent year-over-year growth in visitor numbers. In the same time period the store’s gross income has increased from $68 thousand to $124 thousand. Not bad for someone with no retail experience, right?
“You don’t see those increases in a typical retail environment,” Jasen acknowledges. “So I’ve made all my decisions based upon historical things that worked and didn’t work. If I didn’t have RCS to walk me through that and help me with it, those numbers wouldn’t have been able to increase to what we have now.”
by John Garvey
At a glance, Edward Smith’s past didn’t bode well for his future. A felony conviction and prison sentence tend to limit a person’s career options.
“When I was incarcerated I realized all the barriers that I had against me,” Edward recalls. “And I said to myself that I have to be willing to do three times the work as the average person in order to be on an equal playing field.” So that’s what he did at Goodwill Denver.
“And in doing that, it’s propelling me towards my greatest potential. And to me it means the world. Goodwill gave me an opportunity based off of the mission of the company and also me putting my effort and my intellect towards that. On one hand, they give you a platform but on another hand you have to be willing to step up and utilize that platform to build upon it.”
Edward began working at Goodwill as a Donation Attendant, an important but unglamorous role. His strong work ethic, poise and kindness were immediately evident to his supervisors. And he wasn’t working for an ordinary company. Goodwill was more interested in his character than his past, which allowed him to assume greater leadership and responsibility over a relatively short time.
Now a Certification and Compliance Specialist, Edward leads a team with extensive responsibilities in the electronics department at Goodwill Denver. He’s also pursuing a masters degree and recently received the prestigious Goodwill Opportunity Award.
Goodwill Industries isn’t exactly a retailer. It’s a nonprofit organization whose call to arms is helping disadvantaged people find meaningful, long-term employment. See what they have accomplished in their hundred year history.
Goodwill’s programs assist people with diverse needs, including at-risk students, people with disabilities, individuals like Edward striving to overcome their past, farmers and ranchers, and anyone who wants the dignity of work. Each program is unique, but shares a common denominator: The Power of Work.
“Our programs are all workforce-oriented, so all of our mission programs are geared toward getting people back to work, making sure that they have the training and the skills that they need to succeed in the workforce,” explains Jessica Hudgins Smith, PR & Digital Media Manager at Goodwill Denver. “Our mission is to spread the Power of Work and help these individuals reach dignity and self-sufficiency. That’s what Goodwill is all about really”.
“We have these retail stores that exist so that we can provide these workforce development programs.”
Goodwill Denver’s largest program is currently the Youth Career Development Program, which serves close to 16 thousand students a year.
“Those programs are geared toward making sure those students have the tools they need to graduate, but also to either enter the workforce right after high school or to succeed in college and beyond,” Jessica states.
“And that programming can be anything from one-on-one mentoring to job shadows. It can be apprenticeships. We do mock scholarship interviews and a variety of different mentoring groups for those students.”
Edward’s role is to ensure that electronics are recycled responsibly. This requires thorough due diligence over multiple parties and an astute understanding of environmental and workplace safety regulations.
“You have to perform your due diligence so that you can remain a good steward for the environment,” he explains.
“It’s way bigger than your business. You have to consider your global impact. … And that’s my job to go through my downstream vendors. Their ratings, their environmental permits, the individuals that they’re doing business with, making sure that they’re following EPA regulations and OSHA regulations, making sure that they have safety programs in place for their employees as well and making sure that they have an environmental health and safety policy that’s beneficial for the company.”
Retail Control Systems has partnered with Goodwill Industries of Denver since 2014, as well as several other Goodwill chapters. Without reliable point-of-sale and business support systems, Goodwill wouldn’t be empowering people like Edward.
“I personally have worked with Retail Control Systems for the last three years,” states Cherie Bardsley, Goodwill Denver’s Retail Operations Business Analyst. “They’re a great company to work with; they do a really good job of supporting us on the point of sale system side and we’re happy with them.”
The Goodwill locations we partner with use NCR Counterpoint, one of the specialty retail point-of-sale systems we provide. “We work together really well and our combined goal—both mine and theirs—is to make sure that when we implement something that it’s flawless,” notes Cherie, “And I think we do a pretty good job at doing that.”
Needless to say, it makes us feel good to be working with Goodwill. Several of our team members attended the recent Power of Work Luncheon in Denver, which Edward was recognized at. We’re also enthusiastically looking forward to the upcoming Goodwill Industries Summer Conference.
Edward’s optimism about his own future comes across loud and clear through his language and demeanor.
“Because the fact is I have a felony on my record, and there’s no escaping that,” he acknowledges, “but people are trusting me enough based off of the role that I’m modeling to put me in charge of different things. So it means a lot to be able to demonstrate that as an employee. And as a dad, to have my son watching me and having a positive role model in his life—a role model that I didn’t have in my life.”
Shorter buying cycles, fewer stockouts, less surplus inventory.
By John Garvey
There are several reasons you should prioritize retention over new customer acquisition. Harvard Business Review reports that “acquiring a new customer is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one,” citing research from Bain & Company. The same, oft-cited research suggests that improving customer retention by five percent results in a 25 to 95 percent increase in profits.
Focusing first on your existing customers, assuming they’re profitable, is less work and often makes customer acquisition easier to boot. If you retain customers and create exceptional experiences for them, they’ll also become your best advocates.
- Time-limited offers. Harvard professor, best-selling author and persuasion expert Robert Cialdini named scarcity as one of his 6 Principles of Influence. In a business setting, one way of harnessing this is time-limited offers. Prospects are more likely to act on an email marketing offer, for instance, when it’s time-limited.
“When our freedom to have something is limited, the item becomes less available, and we experience an increased desire for it,” states Cialdini in the modern classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. “However, we rarely recognize that psychological reactance has caused us to want the item more; all we know is that we want it. Still, we need to make sense of our desire for the item, so we begin to assign it positive qualities to justify the desire.”
- Customer surveys. As we’ve noted before, for every customer who complains directly, there are about two dozen customers who are quietly dissatisfied with some aspect of your service. In addition to identifying areas for improvement, surveys can generate testimonials and keep customers engaged.
Customer surveys are often focused on identifying problem areas. While that’s important if you value repeat business, a Harvard Business Review article, The Power of Positive Surveying, suggests that a more positive slant can improve customer satisfaction and retention.
“Beginning a survey with what the researchers call ‘open-ended positive solicitations’ seems to be an easy, low-cost way to increase satisfaction and spending.”
By getting customers to recall and relate positive experiences, you increase their sense of well-being and make them more likely to return. While customers should have an outlet to vent (ideally not Yelp!), surveys that focus too much on uncovering problem areas can backfire.
“Companies should look at the customer feedback process not only as a chance to listen but also as an opportunity to subtly influence customer perceptions.”
- Ambience. Every introvert has walked out of a cafe, restaurant or store because of excessively loud or grating music, too much ambient noise or overcaffeinated staff. A lot of retail settings are geared toward extroverts because of the perception of the giddy shopaholic, but a third to a half of us are introverts. The reverse can also be true, of course. Lighting and music geared towards one kind of customer risks driving off another, potentially larger group of customers.
Music should also be attuned to your customers. This may seem like common sense, but individual employees may enjoy country music or electronica, which people tend to either love or hate. It may seem like micromanaging to dictate which genres or stations employees can choose, but in many cases it’s good business sense.
Ambience was one of the keys to Starbucks’ success. When Howard Schultz took over the company, he was inspired by the Italian cafe scene. Much like the English pub, these were uplifting social spaces conducive to exchanging news and sharing ideas. Coffee stopped being a commodity and became more of an experience.
- Be ultra-responsive to online reviews … the good and the bad. We discussed this in our March blog, Best Practices for Dealing with Negative Customer Reviews. Responding to a positive shout out–even a trivial one–reaffirms that you value your customers. Not responding to a negative review–even if it’s petty–validates the complaint.
- Personalization. This begins with understanding your customer personas: their aspirations, their pains, preferred methods of communication and social media habits. Focus on the channels that matter most. If you have someone in charge of social media or email marketing, it may even be good to have that person sign off on messages using his or her first name (under the company label, of course). This can make you stand out regardless of what size your business is.
Telling customer stories is another great way to do this. While beyond the scope of this blog, there are a variety of great ways to do this including social media, case studies and video blogs.
One emotional and vivid customer story is far more persuasive than a data dump in 85 PowerPoint slides. – Carmine Gallo, The Storyteller’s Secret
- Email marketing (Yes, it still pays). Hubspot and Search Engine Journal state that email marketing has an average ROI of 4300% – but that’s obviously quality dependent. Email marketing keeps you top of mind and can help personalize your brand. A point of sale (POS) system with email marketing integrated can segment customers by purchasing history and preferences, allowing you to deliver relevant, individualized offers. Organized customer data is a prerequisite to effective marketing and systems like NCR Counterpoint, which we offer, make it easy.
Electronic receipts delivered by email, another feature built into our POS systems, also allow businesses to send customer feedback surveys and additional offers with ease.
- Rewards programs and exclusive offers. Again, the better your customer data is, the more you can tailor offers to entice customers. It’s a truism that loyalty programs make people feel valued, but also consider throwing out the occasional surprise reward. These can coincide with birthdays or be completely random.
Incidentally, this is another example of Cialdini’s scarcity principle at work. An offer available to few people will be perceived as having greater value than one available to the masses.
- Understand your mission and communicate it across channels. Know your “Why” and weave it into every aspect of your business. Use it to galvanize employees and communicate the value of what you do. This can be a social mission or it can simply be exceptional commitment to satisfying a market need. One of our partners in Fort Collins, Happy Lucky’s Teahouse, has a close affiliation with Sustainable Schools International, a nonprofit supporting education in Cambodia. A portion of every sale goes to SSI and customers have the option to “round up” their payment to the nearest dollar. This provides further financial support as well as generating awareness for their cause.
Have anything to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you!
By Ryan Parks
Everyone on Facebook does a good job of updating me about enjoying a vanilla latte at their favorite coffee shop (at least my friends do). However, people don’t always remember to update their business profile on Google, Yelp, Facebook, and other platforms if there is a special event or something out of the ordinary happening.
On a recent trip to Seattle I was reminded how important it is to keep your business profile up to date. While visiting we went to one of the main attractions in the city. Now, we only had a few days and this particular attraction was only open the first day we were there due to construction, so we knew it was going to be a time crunch. According to their website they would be open till 8pm and the last tour left at 7pm. We arrived at 6:45 with what we thought was plenty of time, only to have the security guard tell us that they close at 7pm. But… we contested, the website says 8pm, he then proceeded to tell us, “well, that’s google’s listing, we don’t control that.” As someone who traveled from out of town and wasn’t sure when he’d be back, this was disappointing to say the least.
Yes, you do control your business listing on Google, or at least you should… If you haven’t already, go add or claim your business listing on Google. Seriously, go do it now, stop reading this. Okay, you are now in control. You can now edit your post, add pictures, change the hours, add special hours for holidays, events, or construction. The Google business listing is often one of the first things people see when they google your business, if you don’t see one for your business you should create one. Keeping this listing up to date will greatly benefit your business, but it isn’t the only listing to keep in mind.
If your business isn’t using social media, you are missing out. Even if you feel like your company doesn’t have anything exciting to share on social media, it is an area you need to have a presence. With over 70% percent of Americans on Facebook, your business page has the potential to reach millions. Facebook now has a feature that allows people to ask for recommendations. For example, if I was traveling to Austin, Texas, I can now ask my friends who live there or who have traveled there if they have recommendations for a restaurant or a record store. Facebook will then add details about your friends recommendations. A Facebook business page is a great way to get more online traffic, but don’t forget to keep that information up to date as well. Learn more about creating a Facebook business page.
Lastly, but certainly not least, your website. You want to make sure your website’s information is always accurate. Companies list their address and store hours in all sorts of places, the about section, the contact page, an information page. It’s okay to have this information in more than one area and certainly don’t remove it if you’ve always had the information in a certain location. However, the easiest and most convenient section is at the bottom of your site in the footer. The footer is on every page and is an obvious place for your location, phone number and/or store hours. Even if you only do online orders it is a good idea to have a physical location listed on your website. Sometimes people want to know how far away an item may ship from, if you’re local or what timezone you are in if they want to call. Also, it helps let people know that you have a physical location and aren’t just a vague concept floating around the internet.
These three areas are not the only places where your information can be listed, but they’re a good place to start. Keep in mind that people traveling from out of state or even out of the country may be relying on this information and you don’t want to damper their experience or cause them to write a bad review. Remember, Google knows a scary amount of information about your business, but you still control most of that information, for now…
By John Garvey
We’re going to be real candid here. Most things marketed as “sustainability” efforts are more accurately “waste reduction” initiatives.
What’s wrong with waste reduction, you ask? Nothing whatsoever—it’s great! What follows are some proven insights on how to reduce waste, adopt more sustainable business practices, boost your bottom line and win customers. While progress towards sustainability and cost savings may seem at odds, there are plenty of win-wins. Some of the following tips apply mainly to retailers, others to restaurant managers, but many are flex options that apply to various industries.
1) Adopt a paperless documentation system
M&E painting in Fort Collins recently rolled out a paperless documentation system. While this saves hundreds of pounds of paper, the more impressive benefit is saved time.
Off the cuff, M&E Founder Matt Shoup estimates that M&E’s new paperless documentation system saves each team member a couple hours a week. While the new system was challenging to implement, he expects it to pay for itself many times over.
“It’s been received really well,” notes Shoup.
“The other thing that it did was it freed up a lot of physical space in our office where we were storing paper and filing cabinets,” he adds.
2) Default to waste reduction options with day-to-day customer service
When was the last time you ordered a drink at a coffee shop, fully intending to enjoy it there, and were given a to-go cup complete with a plastic lid and sleeve? Yesterday? Last week? Conversely, when was the last time you came home with carry-out and said, “Great! I don’t have to borrow silverware from my neighbor because they put plastic utensils in my to-go bag!”
You get the picture. Giving out single-use, throw away items usually isn’t the best practice to default to from a business perspective. Changing that default is a quick win, saving money and reducing waste without compromising your customers’ experience.
Additionally, compostable utensils, cups, napkins and to-go boxes are now affordable for most businesses, thanks to industry leader Eco-Products and other companies.
3) Identify low-hanging fruits for energy savings
LED lighting and other commercially-available, affordable technologies cut utilities bills substantially. LED bulbs cost more than conventional bulbs, but they pay for themselves several times over in the form of lower utilities bills and much longer life cycles. If your frame of reference on pricing or quality isn’t current, take a fresh look: The Department of Energy reports that the price of LED bulbs fell 85 percent from 2008 to 2013, and is still dropping. Their light quality and longevity have improved over the same period. Yay LEDs!
Still not sure? Check out this resource: Philips LED savings calculator to help make informed decisions on building upgrades.
If you own the building you conduct business out of, or if you’re responsible for utilities on a long-term lease, consider an energy audit and retrofit. With a deep energy retrofit, a company such as Efficiency Matters, here in Fort Collins, first takes a thorough look at your building to identify the most cost-effective ways to improve its efficiency. They then retrofit the building, strategically insulating key portions of it, sealing leaky areas, changing out incandescent light bulbs and, in some cases, replacing windows.
These deep energy retrofits may have a long financial payment period in terms of utilities savings, but they have an immediate payback in terms of comfort. Perhaps more enticing to a landlord or property manager, studies show that energy-efficient buildings have lower vacancy rates and less frequent turnover than conventional buildings.
If you have an open-minded landlord, he may be willing to assume the cost of these upgrades. The building owner is really the long-term beneficiary here because buildings that have low operating costs, good indoor air quality, minimal ambient noise and minimal temperature fluctuations attract better tenants. That’s property management 101.
4) Incentivize alternative transportation
If you’re in a multi-tenant building you may be able to renegotiate your lease to unbundle on-site parking. Encouraging employees to bike, carpool or use public transportation is easy in places like Colorado’s Front Range, but admittedly not everywhere. That said, if you can save a couple hundred dollars a month by freeing up a couple parking spaces, why not try?
You wouldn’t be the first to do this. Every lease at Boulder Commons, a Net Zero Energy office building in Boulder, has parking and office space unbundled. The fewer parking spots your employees take up, the more your business saves.
Installing bike racks in front of your store is another way to encourage biking to work that can also attract clients. This is both because of the signal it sends and because of the convenience.
5) Use drought-resistant landscaping
Next time you’re giving your landscaping a face lift, using indigenous plants can cut back on water bills. If your business has minimal or incomplete landscaping this is also a good investment. Why? Views of nature increase productivity and reduce sick days, studies show. Potted plants or, if you’re really ambitious, a living wall may also improve indoor air quality, which improves mental focus, self-reported happiness and employee health.
6) Purchase renewable energy credits to offset energy use
Many businesses that don’t have the wherewithal to generate all their own energy with renewables opt to buy renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset their energy use. The Rio, New Belgium, Odell Brewing and dozens of businesses in Northern Colorado do this. Buying wind energy or supporting a solar energy cooperative costs somewhat more than conventionally-sourced electricity, but whether an end in itself or a means of attracting eco-conscious customers it can be an affordable and sound decision.
7) “Gamify” your waste reduction efforts
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Challenging your team to reduce waste by measuring and charting how much you’re hauling makes waste reduction efforts tangible. This can also be done with energy consumed, total commuting miles by car and anything else that will galvanize employees without seeming overbearing. With a little flair, tracking waste reduction can be fun and morale-boosting.
8) Restaurateurs: Compost when feasible
Case in point: Happy Lucky’s Teahouse
Happy Lucky’s Teahouse, one of our partners in Fort Collins, quickly became a downtown staple after opening in 2009. In fact, my first visit to Happy Lucky’s completely changed my conception of what tea is supposed to taste like. I’ve been back many times.
“Our biggest waste reduction, started when Happy Lucky’s Teahouse opened in 2009, is composting our used tea leaves,” notes owner and “Chief Leafster” George Grossman. “Through the years different customers have brought in five gallon buckets which we fill with our spent tea leaves.
“Composting tea leaves happens fairly quickly even in our relatively dry Colorado climate. My worms in the basement love them too. Composted tea leaves smell great and can help any garden.”
Depending on they kind of organic waste your business disposes of, different composting methods (basic composting or commercial/industrial composting) may be used. Industrial composting “is financially advantageous over landfill-bound waste hauling in areas where a compost facility is within 50 miles,” notes CBRE Sustainability Manager Emily Willson, writing for GreenBiz.com.
One man’s waste is another (cow’s) treasure
If you’re in, or near, an agrarian community, livestock can take a lot of food waste off your hands, saving you hauling fees and eliminating a major source of atmospheric pollution. To touch on that second point: food breaking down in landfills it produces methane, which has over 25 times the greenhouse effect as CO2. You may even get a modest additional source of revenue if you’re a brewery or cidery because leftover apple pomace mash and spent brewers grains are nutrient-rich (and livestock love them). Here in Fort Collins, Summit Hard Cider, New Belgium, Horse and Dragon Brewery and several other beverage makers do this. It’s a win-win.
That said, food waste is a bear. Different composting processes are required for different types of food waste. If not contained and hauled promptly it can also become an odor hazard. Companies like A-1 Organics that specialize in industrial food waste composting may be able to serve you affordably if your business isn’t far away. The U.S. Composting Council website is a great resource for restauranteurs interested in implementing a composting program.
Case in point: Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant
“With compost in particular, there’ve been issues with finding people to haul it,” discloses Erich Whisenhunt, the Director of Food and Beverage for Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant (“The Rio”).
Whisenhunt lives on a small farm and gives food waste from the kitchen prep line (vegetable trimmings and the like) to his pigs.
“For restaurants on a small scale, that’s a pretty good solution,” he states.
During Whisenhunt’s tenure as Kitchen Manager, he oversaw various waste diversion efforts including glass-to-glass recycling, food waste composting and vegetable oil recycling for biofuels.
9) Finally, make sure you take rebates into account if you’re looking into ROI
Rebates vary by state and locality, but they can often nudge a waste reduction effort from a “no-go” to a “go” by shortening the payback period of certain sustainability initiatives. If you’re on the fence about a lighting retrofit or food waste composting plan, double-check with the relevant local, state and federal offices. Yes, some rebates distort incentives, steering people to the less beneficial of two initiatives, but we’re here to help you run a business, not critique policy.
While some sustainability investments are a values call, many have a decent bottom-line justification. In other words, environmental stewardship and sound business judgement are often one and the same.
Going back to the point we opened with, however, make sure you’re walking the talk. You don’t have to obsess over sustainability to run a good, admirable business, but if your behavior is out of sync with your public voice it’s likely to be labeled as “greenwashing.”
We’d love to hear from you if you choose to implement any of these ideas, wish to add to the discussion or even disagree with anything.