The 1990s have brought dramatic changes to the retail industry, led by the emergence of national discounters. The top problem facing "Main Street" retailers is maintaining their bottom-line profits. In today's competitive environment, with skyrocketing expenses and stagnant revenues, even well-managed retailers are caught between an inventory surplus and cash flow squeeze.

Many small retailers feel at a loss when it comes to promotion and marketing, and may even feel that it's a waste of money to pay attention to marketing efforts. But there are sales-building techniques that work. They can power up your business and wake up your customers.

There are three basic ways to increase your sales and make your business grow:

  • You can find new customers
  • You can increase your average sales transaction
  • You can give customers more opportunities to buy more frequently from your business

Improving any one of these three categories will boost your sales. But the moment you decide that you're going to systematically improve all three categories, you'll automatically catapult your business.

The purpose of any business is to bring in customers, and that can only be accomplished through marketing. The most important survival skill is to be able to anticipate change and identify new opportunities. Small stores can fight back by updating their customer lists and business strategies--refocusing on items, price, and efficiency--and by countering with in-store celebrations, glamour and fun. A successful "Big Volume Sale" is the fastest and easiest way you can boost your sales, win customers back, and raise a large sum of money (from your current inventory) in a short period of time.

So how do you put on a successful sale? The most important requirement is to have a systematic marketing plan. The elements of the plan are detailed: click on each of the subjects below for more information.

Basic money-making suggestions:Purchase only what you feel can be profitable and easy to sell. Don't bring in off-price items that have no meaning to your customers. Consider buying samples from sales representatives. They'll usually sell them for 40% to 50% off the wholesale price.
Never be afraid to step out of the box and try something new and different.Whatever your product or service, people won't come to you unless you offerthem something they want. You must have good reason for them to come--the morevaluable or unique your offer is, the more customers will respond. Remember,the success of a "Big Volume Sale" will be in direct proportion to the strengthof your business.

In retailing, the trick is to know your competition; your customers certainlydo, even if you don't. To survive and prosper in today's competitive markets,small retailers must develop more efficient operational and marketingstrategies. Stores wedded to the old ways of doing things are almost sure tofail.

Finally, you should never hesitate to hire a professional for any of yourbusiness needs. Whether it be a freelance artist for a newspaper ad or yourdirect mail, or an advertising agency that can design logos to make yourbusiness more distinctive, an experienced voice can make a big difference.

For more about how small retailers are working to professionalize themselves,read "The New and ImprovedAmerican Small Business" from the January, 1995 issue of Inc.magazine. Tom Ehrenfeld's expansive article profiles the transformation ofHarry W. Schwartz Bookshops in its adoption of nearly every tactic big businesshas brought to the once-quaint bookstore industry. Included in the story: thefive attributes that set professionalized small businesses apart. Also take alook at Ed Welles' story "WhenWal-Mart Comes to Town" (July, 1993) profiling one small town's response tothe arrival of a superstore.

1 to 4 months old (in season) 25% - 30% off
5 to 7 months old (out of season) 30% - 50% off
7 months and older (oldest merchandise) 50% - 75% off

Direct Mail Is Cost Effective
At a cost of about 40 cents a letter (stamp, envelope, announcement), you'll spend around $400 on a First-Class letter mailing to 1,000 names. If 2% respond and make an average purchase of $20, you'll gross $400 -- the amount of your marketing outlay.

Bob Nelson is the president of Power Retailing, (1-800-399-1980), a professional retail consulting service in Phoenix. The company works with small- to medium-size retailers who have seen mass merchandisers enter their communities, and his area of specialization is the apparel business. As a "retail survival consultant," Nelson works with stores to generate more traffic and a higher volume of sales.