It was late September and The University of Houston Bauer College Small Business Development Center (SBDC) hosted a retail roundtable for area small businesses to help them prepare for Black Friday. The program was moderated by the SBDC’s new retail advisor, Doug Baumann, who has over 20 years of experience managing both big box national outlet stores as well as small specialty boutiques.
Baumann's message was simple.
"Don't try to over-think Black Friday," he told the audience. "Try to enjoy it."
That may be easier said than done. But Baumann's point was this: "Even as a small business with a limited marketing budget, many opportunities exist that can potentially drive traffic to your store."
Advantages of shopping local
Dan Jablons is president of Retail Smart Guys a retail consulting company that works with both large and small retailers. The first thing he reminds small business owners is that not everyone wants to fight the crowds flocking to the big box retailers on Black Friday.
"There are shoppers out there who don't want to wait in line all night, or get up before the crack of dawn, hoping to be one of the few to get a deal on a TV," says Jablons.
Two things are key to Black Friday success, retail experts say: Don’t try to compete with the big box retailers on price, but do try to beat them on customer service.
"Smaller retailers just can't get the wholesale prices that the larger, national retailers do," says Jablons. “But that's not what the independent retailer is about."
One of the more critical advantages that small businesses need to emphasize is the experience they offer customers, says Jablons. By making shopping fun, calm, and easy, smaller retailers allow shoppers to feel welcome and wanted.
It’s also important on this hectic shopping day to play up the fact that your business is customer service-centric. Interact with shoppers with a smile and focus on their needs. Remaining sensitive to shoppers’ budgets by asking questions without being pushy or intrusive will go a long way in creating a good impression of your level of customer service. "Offering personal salesmanship is virtually non-existent in big box stores," says Baumann. "The in-store aesthetics that calm the heart are easy to achieve."
Plan in advance
When it comes to holiday shopping, consumers often have a “one-for-me, one-for-you” mindset, says Anne Brouwer, senior partner with McMillanDoolittle, a Chicago-based retail consulting firm. Most say they are out to find holiday gifts, but they are also shopping for themselves—and are ready to spend.
"The consumer is in the frame of mind to shop and spend money,” says Brouwer.
That’s why attracting the Black Friday shopper starts in advance of the big day, says Brouwer. Begin with your customer list and reach out to them via email, announcing any Black Friday sales and special events. Consider specials for loyalty program members by providing extra savings to your best customers.
Brouwer suggests letting customers know that you’ll be creating a festive atmosphere in your store on Black Friday with refreshments such as hot cider or coffee. By making the day feel less hectic and more customer-focused, smaller retailers have the chance to attract shoppers and keep them loyal throughout the holiday selling season.
Go the extra mile
Provide added-value items, such as free gift-wrapping. Also, consider cross-merchandise promotions, says Brouwer. Partner with other businesses within your shopping district, such as a restaurant where you offer shoppers a discount coupon to a local restaurant, coffee shop, or other specialty stores.
If your store attracts older shoppers, consider bringing in some extra seating so they can relax for a bit, says Baumann. When it comes time for shoppers to check out be sure there are plenty of gift boxes at the ready. Another nice touch: Add a coupon for their next purchase after Black Friday.
While many smaller retailers focus on getting shoppers in after they've hit the big box retailers, experts say they should instead look to get them in the store early. Jablons says a small retailer might want to consider a progressive mark down program on Black Friday to help draw traffic earlier in the day. Offer 50 percent off select items at 8 a.m., 40 percent off at 9 a.m. and then 30 percent off from 10 a.m. throughout the rest of the day.
"You want to get their dollars before they run to the mall, or before they hit the big box stores," he says. "Once they've spent their money, or once they get tired they aren't going to finish out the day at the smaller independent store."
The key to making Black Friday a success boils down to offering shoppers an experience they can't forget. "Train your staff and prepare them for this day and come in with the attitude that you're just going to run that business really well that day,” says Brouwer. “Provide a great experience and build those lasting relationships."
Baumann agrees. "The more you establish sincere relationships with customers, the more goodwill you spread throughout your community," he says. "As most highly successful small business owners know, the more you give, the more you receive."