Being an independent retailer in a sea of big-box stores can be daunting, but there’s an upside: the ability to be creative. The first session at Retail’s BIG Show‘s Independents’ Day featured two retailers who know a thing or two about creativity. Linda Hundt of Sweetie-licious and Dave Ratner of Dave’s Soda and Pet City presented a rousing session that showcased how two successful small retailers have used ingenuity, creativity and drive to develop a loyal customer base.
Linda Hundt, an award-winning baker and entrepreneur, has used personal stories, her bubbly personality and savvy marketing to help her sell pies out of a single bakery in Michigan. Her No. 1 motivator? Love of her customers and employees. Now that may not be the answer you’d get from the average small business owner in the U.S., but Hundt has used it as a major differentiating factor for Sweetie-licious. She aims to give her customers the most unique, warm retail experience she can by offering hugs to her patrons and delivering her products in unique, personalized packaging.
Another entrepreneur who has made himself spokesman for his business is Dave’s Soda and Pet City’s Dave Ratner, who is featured in much of the company’s advertising. This Massachusetts-based business uses a community approach to market itself, a tactic that has proved itself both financially savvy and lucrative.
Ratner’s mantra is that you have to get customers in the door – and then you have to make them love you. So how do you make your customers love you? Well, it doesn’t hurt when you’re providing food and health products for some of the most valued members of your customers’ households – their pets. But it also helps to offer discounts, personalized calls (how excited would you be if you received a message on your answering machine telling you that your cat’s favorite type of food was on sale?), and community partnerships, such as offering local animal shelters $5 gift cards (to your store, of course) in exchange for sending new pet owners its way.
My favorite promotion from Dave’s Soda and Pet City is the Student of the Month initiative. Ratner got on the phone and called up local schools, asking if he could offer a student of the month certificate and a pet fish to one non-straight-A student per class. Ratner wanted to acknowledge those kids who aren’t always recognized by the school system. There is no better way than to earn the loyalty and patronage of a student’s entire extended family, Ratner said, than by awarding that student with his or her first ever school award. This is the kind of community-based promotion that takes a little legwork and few marketing dollars – just the cost of a cheap fish!
Finally, Radner offered some tips on mistakes that small business owners should avoid making:
- Put stuff on sale that people actually want to buy. There’s no point printing fliers of sales on products that no one wants to buy.
- Don’t put too many limitations on coupons. If you do, they’re not worth anything to the customer!
- Being independent isn’t a license to make your prices too high. Your price points have to be competitive. Everyone has to have loss leaders.
My final takeaway was a Walt Disney anecdote as told by Hundt. Walt Disney once was asked why he continued to host multimillion dollar parades in Disney World, when he knew people would continue returning to the theme park even without the parades. He responded that he did it to make his customers love him more. The story is a reminder that the most successful entrepreneurs always look for ways to make their customers love them more.