Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

March 11, 2014

Small businesses: 'Be found and be open'

Diane Raver The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Marc Willson offered advice to small business owners and employees during a recent seminar at the Batesville Memorial Public Library. It was sponsored by the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, city of Batesville and Southeast Indiana Small Business Development Center.

“Staying Relevant to a Changed Customer” was geared toward restaurant, retail and service owners and managers. About 15 area merchants took advantage of the opportunity to hear the national speaker from Leesburg, Va., who started his retail career as co-owner of the largest distributor of Earth Shoes in the U.S. He has held executive positions with retailers, including Circuit City, Ecampus.com and Storetrax Inc. He recently opened the world’s first energy efficiency store in Dallas for Current Energy LLC.

“The battle cry for small business is to be found and be open .... You’re a needle in a haystack,” Willson stressed. “You have to have a Web site. It’s not optional.

“People want to see pictures. They don’t want to see words. A picture is going to stop someone on your Web site. One thing that’s better than pictures is moving pictures .... embed a video on your home page. The home page is about the customer, not you. Why is it in the customer’s best interest to seek out your store or service?”

On the second page, “tell your story. Why are you in business? What is your passion? How long have you been open? .... I’d like to see a picture of you there so when customers walk through the door, they’ll know you.

“The last page should tell people how to contact you. Also, post a map and directions to your business.”

He also recommended having a mobile-enabled Web site so people can search for information using their smartphones, a business Facebook page and a Quick Response code (bar code), “which takes you to the home page of a Web site.”

The speaker pointed out, “If you would switch your hours from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. to 11 a.m.-6 p.m., you would have more business.”

He added, “The next new economy, the one rising from the ashes of the 2008 meltdown, favors small businesses. Consumers are starting to spend money again.”

However, “the not-so-good news is gas prices continue to rise, driven by turmoil in the Middle East .... (and) Americans are cautious due to the unstable economy in 2008 and 2009.”

He had words of caution for those in attendance: “You can’t be all things to all people. I’d rather you be the best at what you’re chosen to be than be all over the board for everyone.

“There is no magic bullet. There’s no secret formula .... (and) you’re only as good as the part-timer who works the fewest hours for you.”

Willson encouraged small business owners to know their customers and realize they can be grouped into four categories: Slam on the brakes are those who have lost their jobs and are not making any unnecessary purchases. Pained but patient “believe things will get better” in the economy. The comfortably well-off are the rich, “who are richer than they ever were and are the ‘haves’ as opposed to the ‘have nots.’ The young folks who are lucky to have jobs fit into the live for today group. They make a paycheck and spend it, which is good for the economy.”

He also stressed the importance of understanding “where your products and services fall.” Are they “essentials, necessary for survival and well-being; treats, justifiable indulgences; postponables, wanted or needed, but reasonable to put off; or expendables, where there is no reason to own them?”

The retail trends reveal “people shop in a store because they want human interaction .... My favorite sign in a retail shop is ‘Please touch’ because if you can touch it, you’re twice as likely to buy it.

“Treat your customers well. It’s all about the culture you create within your store.”

The consultant reported it’s important how the store looks both inside and outside. “Curb appeal is important, and green plants make a difference.

“Color is a great way to merchandise .... Remember, no one shops below 12 inches, and the ‘sweet spot’ is from your belt buckle to six inches above your head. Use the prime real estate for your best-selling, highest-margin product.”

Lighting is also important. Use spotlights to highlight products, he said.

“Greet customers with a warm welcome .... If you don’t say something, they’ll leave.” However, the worst thing you can say is, ‘Can I help you?’”

Let them look around and “watch for clues of when to talk to them, but remember, the customer should talk 80 percent of the time.”

Willson reported, “Trust will get you repeat customers.”

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.