Walk into the Rhode Island gift shop called OOP and you will be dazzled -- if owners Jennifer Neuguth and David Riordan have done their job well. "The whole store is designed around the idea of good clean fun," Neuguth says.
Plenty of gift stores are fun, but their novelty soon wears thin. OOP is an exception, as its 10 straight years of revenue growth -- from $200,000 in 1990 to $1.3 million today -- have shown. Location is part of the equation: The gift store sits just down the street from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence. But an equal part of the store's success can be attributed to its ability to predict what will charm customers. To that end, Neuguth and Riordan aggressively solicit customer feedback, and they continually use the information to fuel growth and change.
The process starts with a 30-question customer survey that is passed out in the store. "We do tons and tons of surveys," Neuguth explains.
The motivation for customers' participation is cold, hard cash. "I'll send customers a $5 gift certificate to thank them for sending a survey back to the office," Neuguth says. But she exacts a price for her generosity. "We won't just hand the gift certificate to them," she says. "They have to give us their address so we can mail it to them. That way, I can also send them propaganda later on."
OOP's ever-growing database now contains 9,000 names, a good portion of which came from the surveys. Every person whose name is added quickly hears from the store. "We try to show customers that we provide great customer service, even with this," Neuguth explains. "We think it works as a marketing tool for us." And to mitigate direct mail sterility, Neuguth includes a handwritten note, a newsletter, and a small gift. "The survey people usually become really great repeat customers," she says.
But more than providing material for a database, the surveys tell Neuguth and Riordan how to keep their store new and exciting. "We learned from the surveys that our customers' least favorite thing was anything low-end," Neuguth says. "We used to have a lot of chocolates and candy and tchotchkes in the store, but we took a whole unit of 40 jars off the floor because of the survey results. We're now selling product more quickly -- in terms of dollars per square foot."
Neuguth has also figured out a unique way of using survey feedback as testimonial advertising. She prints the best customer kudos on tissue paper, which her sales associates use to wrap gifts. Current wrapping paper comments include:
"The men who work here are so cute."
"I used to have one of those when I was a kid."
"I don't need any of this stuff, but I want it."
The promotional tissue amuses customers and reinforces the fun, lively vibe the owners want to create. "People like to talk about a store," Neuguth asserts. "They like to communicate. And the tissue encourages them to do this."
MIKE HOFMAN was previously editor of Inc.com and a deputy editor at Inc. magazine, which he joined in 1996. The site was nominated for a National Magazine Award for Digital Media in 2010, and was named the best business website by Folio Magazine. In 2006, Hofman was part of a team of writers nominated for a Webby Award for best business blog. He lives in New York City. @mikehofman