Between 1989 and 1992 more than 60,000 retail businesses closed their doors. Small-shop owners already know the gloomy statistics. Now what? Learn from customers and from the mistakes and successes of other retailers -- that's the lesson in Small Store Survival, an exhaustive look at the state of retailing, by Arthur Andersen & Co. and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (800-572-5044, $90, 322 pages).
You don't need a Michigan Avenue address to benefit from the study. Illinois, the fifth-largest state in retail sales, is a microcosm of U.S. retailing. Of the independent retailers surveyed, 73% rated themselves poor to fair at gathering customer information. The book's numerous benchmarks, case studies, and work sheets suggest better ways to market, merchandise, and manage operations.
The report was a wake-up call for Beth Willey, who with her father runs Henderson's Department Store in rural Sycamore, Ill. Recently, she polled her customers for the first time. She targeted 1,200 charge-card shoppers for a mail-in survey; without any incentive, 592 sent back the three-page questionnaire, and more replies trickled in for months.
The biggest surprise? Willey thought her main customers were women aged 25 to 35. "But what we've found is that they're mostly women 40 and up. So we really need to target the younger group, who tell us they want better service."
The survey, designed with the help of two local marketing students, included this open-ended question: If you owned Henderson's, what would you do to change it? "I was ready to hear it. We got comments on everything," says Willey. "A lot of people signed their names." Those devoted customers will be tapped for the store's first-ever focus group.