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I am posting the following message from a networking group that I host on Ryze.com called Selling without Selling (http://www.ryze.com/networkindex.php?network=sellingwithoutsellingbysam101).

It struck a cord with me and I thought it might help others. I am also hoping that readers may have additional words of wisdom for Tonya.

“I own a gift shop and, I am finding it very hard to get it off the ground. It has been open about 5 months and, my site flow is ok however the sales are super bad. I have a few problems with it 1 most guest are only staying 30 sec on the site 2 there are very little or no sales at all and, 3 I have put so much money into this store already that I am just tapped out. I keep inventory on most of my products I offer really low prices as well. I have also tried just about every thing I can to try to get business better, my store is my passion but I am really about to throw in the rag and, call it a loss. I really don’t want to do this by no means what do you suggest I try? Is there something that maybe someone who also owns a gift shop has done and had wonderful results? I have tried lower prices, free give always, fairs, I even have a welcome message on the site for guest to listen to, I have wrote articles, news letters, sending out vouchers to my mailing list which this did cause people to sign up. You name it I am sure I have done it any advise would be great.”
Tonya Turner
http://www.tnjsgiftshop.com

My responce to Tonya follows:

First, let me say, marketing takes time. Word of mouth is the best and most economical way to grow a business it can take longer than five months, but in the big picture delivers long-term solid results. Advertising can cost big bucks and you may or may not see any ROI.

I understand that you feel tapped out in only five months but really it’s only been five months. Think of the number of sites selling similar products that you’re competing against. Google ‘gift shop’ and it returns 409,000,000 results.

Your gift shop may have products that any male or female from 10 to 100 could use and benefit from but you don’t have the ability to target “everyone” in that range. With that in mind, my suggestion is to spend more time defining your target market – develop a niche market.

You have time, go all the way back to the beginning and think about these things: When you decided to develop this gift shop did you create a checklist? Some of the things you might have on your list:

Add additional items that would be appropriate for your own business.

BEFORE YOU START CHECKLIST
• Have I focused on a specific product or service? As a general rule, specialists outperform non-specialists.

• Will further specialization or focus improve my prospects for success? The more specialized, the better.

• Have I acknowledged my competition and limitations? It may be hard to compete with Wal-Mart or Home Depot. These “category killer” discount chains have powerful buying power and efficiencies of scale. Does your marketing plan serve a special niche?

• Do I understand the difference between finding a market “niche” and going against what the public wants? For example, if you build a house for sale, you might be better off sticking with a traditional floor plan that most buyers are seeking rather than trying to be unique and building something that looks more like an office building.

• Do I have a one-year cash flow projection prepared to ensure there will be ongoing liquidity?

• Is my business plan complete and in written format? Does it include pre-opening, first year and long-range planning?

• Have I budgeted adequately for research, sampling, inventory and trials?

• Have I successfully test-marketed my product or service? Was the response positive? If not, you need to re-design, re-work and re-test.

• Have I focused on selling a great product at a fair price rather than a fair product at a great price?

• Have I determined my personal work schedule? I recommend you maintain both daily and long term (weekly or monthly) to-do lists. Also, be sure to maintain an appointment book, such as the “Month At-A Glance” book to schedule appointments.

MARKETING – WHAT IT TAKES TO PROMOTE SALES
Every business has a specific marketing strategy that usually works best and has already been proven by your most successful competitors. You can benefit from their experience by copying successful marketing plans, including selling methods, pricing and advertising. Make a list of the most successful businesses that fall within your field of interest and study them.

Learn as much as you can about the needs of your customers and how to gain feedback from them.

Will your customers be looking for convenience, pricing, quality and/or service? It will be difficult to make sound marketing and promotional decisions without being informed on their real wants and needs.

WHAT AND HOW TO BUY
Since products are changing and improving at a more rapid rate, inventory obsolescence has becomes a greater business risk. Many products such as computers can be obsolete the day they are purchased.

UPS and FedEx are great tools to use to minimize your inventories. These overnight firms have reduced the need for warehousing as well as the risk of obsolescence. And, the cash you free up can be put to uses that are more productive.

HOW TO BUY CHECKLIST
• Buy only what you think you can sell.
• Have backup sources.
• Be loyal to good suppliers.
• Have promises and extras verified in writing.
• Get price protection.
• Try to award to the lowest bidder.
• Count and inspect everything as received.
• Pay on time.
• Pay only after verification.
• Watch your cash flow.
• It is better to pull suppliers your way, not push them. Be nice.

MARKETING TOOLS
I visited your site and got the pop up window asking me to sign up to be on your mailing list. Try give something free away to your subscribers. Consider this marketing strategy, don’t ask guests to subscribe to your mailing list, rather give them a free download that includes a free subscription to your newsletter or site updates.

What can you put together that will be of value to your guests?

Also think about Parisians. They have personal shoppers that will call guests and alert them to sales, special shopping days or new arrivals that fit that guests tastes. Find away to get guest s to join your mailing list by offering “personal shopping” services.

This one act can help you start niche marketing, business people with money to spend and no time to spend it use personal shoppers.

Consider that 90% of your guests have shopped with sites like Amazon. Review that site (spend lots of time there researching) and see how you can redevelop your pages to load faster and look and feel more like these and other popular sites. I also noticed that your photos were a little hard to see. Can you make the images so that a guest can click the image for a larger version? Are these professional shots? If not the flaws will show when you enlarge them. You might consider making a deal with a new and young photographer. They get your site to add to their portfolio and you get great shots for your site!

Your business name also announce who you are and what you stand for. A memorable logo also adds to your marketability. It will establish your name and brand recognition. It will enhance the image you wish to create. Your logo can be used on all company materials including stationery, business cards, brochures, website, gift boxes and shipping containers. (Branding is something we love to do at sam101.com, when you’re ready we can develop a WOW! logo for your site.)

A GOOD NAME IS:
• Easy to remember
• Simple to spell and pronounce
• Clearly says what you do
• Stirs customer interest
• Doesn’t confuse you with a similar business
• Has a positive ring to it
• Evokes a visual image
• Doesn’t limit you to a geographical location or to a product

A memorable logo also adds to your marketability. It will establish your name and brand recognition and enhance the image you wish to create. Your logo should be used on all of your company’s materials including brochures, stationery, business cards, website, shipping containers and documents.

PROMOTION AND ADVERTISING
A basic rule in promotion and advertising is, “Do what you do best, and hire for what you don’t.”

Discuss your advertising plan with your vendors. They may provide you with co-op money if you follow their rules and make proper application for the money. Even the smallest advertiser can get up to half of their advertising costs reimbursed.

Every entrepreneur learns through experience that there is a most efficient way to spend advertising dollars. This can be hit-or-miss for the beginner and very costly. So, once again, learn from the previous mistakes of your competitors. Find out and follow how your most successful competitors advertise and promote their products or services.

Whatever advertising media you decide to use, become knowledgeable regarding the do’s and don’ts of advertising in that particular medium. For example, if direct mail works best for you, there are books in your library devoted to this subject. They will provide huge insights that can save you from wasting advertising dollars.

Media publicity is free and helps to create a positive image for you business. Newspapers could be interested in writing a feature story about you because of the widespread interest in entrepreneurship and the fact that you are a successful start-up. Local newspapers, even the free ones, are very effective. Your “press release” must have news value that can be turned into a bit more of a feature story, as opposed to an announcement. This will make it more interesting and relevant to the reader. Editorial space is much more valuable to you than display space…and it’s free!

MOST COMMON MISTAKES MADE IN OPENING A BUSINESS: YOUR CHECKLIST TO AVOID PITFALLS.
• Lack of focus: specialize, specialize, specialize
• Lack of on-the-job experience
• Inadequate research and testing: test market first
• Lack of a well thought-out business plan
• Lack of working capital
• Unfocused marketing plan
• Not using the advertising media that works best for your specific business

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES
• Develop a mailing list NOW.
• Watch for growth possibilities and plan growth direction.
• Join your trade association and subscribe to trade magazines (stay current).
• Continue to review, develop and update your business plan, stating how you will market your product or service.
• Continue to develop your budget including proposed expenses for displays, signs, advertising, promotions and website marketing.
• Begin a file for merchandising and marketing ideas.
• Take seminars and classes.
• Read current trade magazines, papers and books, attend openings and promotions of businesses like yours.
• Develop and maintain an employee handbook.
• Talk to anyone and everyone in your field and collect business cards.
• Prepare a plan for growth possibilities.
• List potential problems and possible solutions.
• Become personally involved in selling your product or service.
• Keep your skills and knowledge current.
• Keep a journal to include your dreams of having your own business.

POINTS TO PONDER
• Small shops can under price large competitors with higher overhead

Check out my site at http://www.sam101.com for more branding, sales, and marketing information.

Diane Carter

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