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Making A Small Store Go

By: Kevin Nunley

Kevin Nunley provides marketing advice, copywriting, and promotion packages. See his 10,000 free marketing ideas at Reach Kevin at or 801-328-9006.

I just got a note from a 19 year-old business student who is determined to start her own business.  "It's a trendy clothing shop.  I have the location, the start-up money, a lawyer, and an accountant" she wrote enthusiastically.  "My parents think I'm in over my head but I'm determined to make my dream come true."

That's a situation most of us can identify with.  You've got a great idea for a new business and you've done every bit of preparation you can, but in the back of your mind you know you could fail.  What can you do to make a small store go?

By far the most important factor is location.  If at all possible, find a location you can afford that has built-in customer traffic.  Mall locations are great but often too expensive.  Look for a nook near a group of stores or on a major street that brings a steady flow of shoppers--the kind of shoppers who would be interested in your store.

Find an affordable way to promote that reaches your best prospective customers.  Here are some other ways to save big on very effective ads:
  • Desktop publishing makes catalogs and brochures easy to produce.  Create your own booklet to include with orders.

  • Get a toll free number.  Even though long distance calls aren't nearly as expensive as they used to be, many customers will call you faster if you list an 800 number.  Mine is 888-429-6203.  Using the phone to sell person-to-person is often the fastest way to get a buy.

  • Advertise in specialty and neighborhood newspapers.  I get incredible response advertising in an entertainment paper placed in restaurants.  A classified ad is just $10 per week.

  • Buy TV ads on cable TV.  Cable rates are cheaper and you can limit your commercials to specific parts of your city.

  • Get a big cell phone package and give your cell number out to everyone.  When customers can reach you just about any time, you get the sale.

  • Give away or sell your own video.  Nine in ten people own a VCR.  One friend has sold hundreds of his video telling how he earns a living selling antiques on eBay.
If you can't clearly see how you can effectively market your store, stop immediately and reevaluate your plan.

Also, remember that marketing works best when it isn't rushed. The best advertising media require you to place your order well in advance.  Great designers, writers, and (especially!) TV production firms are usually booked weeks into the future.

Quality.  As you can quickly see, you get better quality when you don't rush your marketing.  A top writer can take several weeks to write your sales letter.  We've worked 7 days a week to improve the speed for good writing, but long copy can take a professional writer several days of full-time work to complete. Many expert designers like to flesh out several versions of your ad, web site look, or logo before deciding on the best.  That, too, takes time.

Price.  Planning your marketing well in advance can save you lots of money.  Let's say you started planning this year's ad plan way back in October of last year.  Today you would be taking full advantage of advance ad buys, slack times for media, maybe be in line to get cheap regional or remnant space in national magazines.

More than anything else, planning your marketing well in advance will help you avoid knee-jerk moves.  Most marketing efforts fail because the owner pulls the plug too soon and starts a new plan. Insisting on taking your time will make your marketing more consistent and effective.

Once you've marketed your way into the hearts of your customers, a great tactic is to find a way to keep them coming back. A great restarant down the street from me devised a great plan during this past holiday season:

When I went to the cash register to pay my tab the waiter handed me a $15 gift certificate.  "That's a gift to thank you for coming in each week," he said.  How can this struggling restaurant afford to give away gift certificates?

I noticed a big pile of these gift certificates next to the cash register. Obviously they were handing these freebies out to all their customers.

It's a very smart move.  While $15 is a nice amount, my tab always comes to more.  I'm sure that is the case for almost all their customers.  During the cold, dark months of January and February when others restaurants have lots of empty tables, this little restaurant is packed with customers returning with their gift certificates.  The amount deducted from each tab is considered a small price for having the place filled during otherwise slow months.

© 2002

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