Christmas is history. The New Year will soon be a surly teenager. Most of those booze, cigarettes and chocolate resolutions have gone by the board. As the days draw out, so do the wallets. It’s time to plan some spring-cleaning for your business.
A bucketful of Flash is indeed a good starting point. You probably think that you keep your premises pristine, but wipe one wall and you will almost certainly be proved wrong. Cleaner shops do better business: they are lighter, brighter and nicer to visit. A more thorough cleaner could be a good investment. The same applies to your window cleaner: if the result isn’t sparkling, get a better one.
Next polish up your sales techniques. Many retailers don’t sell. They display the goods, open the doors and let the customers get on with it. A small amount of proactive selling can work wonders and you have available the most flexible, most convenient and best retail marketing tool: the human voice. Use it on every customer and the effect is dramatic. It’s also free.
Asking for additional sales might have attained music hall joke status – ‘something for the weekend sir?’ – but the fact remains: it works. In a forecourt shop it’s especially important. The profit is not on the fuel sales – it’s on the additional purchases. If it’s a cold day, ‘have you tried our hot snacks, sir?’; if it’s hot, ‘would you like a cold drink, madam?’. Anyone asking directions needs a map. In winter offer anti-freeze, in summer suggest oil. You can come up with a dozen options.
In the same vein, go for upsizing. We’re all creatures of habit and will buy what what we usually buy. The larger size invariably comes with a price benefit, so offering it is good service to your customers, who may not know how much it saves them. Look at the improved margin you’d achieve by turning sales of one litre of oil into five litres, even only in 10 per cent of cases. Then there are new products. Your customers have all seen them advertised and you’ve got them. But unless you bring it to people’s attention, they may well not notice. I can’t be the only person who regularly shops with his brain in neutral.
The same applies to promotional offers. People love free, win and save, which is why manufacturers run promotions. Know what’s being offered and tell customers that product x has 30 per cent extra free, or you can win a car with product y (especially relevant to young motorists). You can run your own simple promotion, especially on new products – trial. Imagine if Maltesers was a new brand. How many cases do you think you’d sell by opening a few bags and giving one single Malteser to every female customer?
Clearly, you need your staff right with you to get any benefit out of this. So they need a resolution too. Telling them to ask those questions won’t do it. Use a simple incentive – it could be a free go on the lottery each week they continue. If you can work out a middle/long-term cash incentive, so much the better.
There is another incentive which is easily overlooked. Talking to customers is the enjoyable bit of the job. If that customer says, “Oh yes, I want some milk. Thanks for reminding me”, then there’s some job satisfaction that doesn’t come with just taking their money. There’s a bigger issue too. Lots of drivers haven’t formed the habit of using their forecourt shop for anything other than fuel. We’re increasingly time-poor, so highlighting the convenience of buying groceries along with fuel can turn regular visitors into multi-item shoppers.
Get the detail right. Customers, especially new customers, are sensitive to their surroundings. They can react very negatively to minor matters. Are your staff smart, welcoming and polite? Are your displays tidy? Are your price tags, signage and product information up to date, clear and of professional appearance?
There are two sides to profit (and that’s what this brisk spring clean is about). As well as increasing sales, look at cutting costs. You probably think that you buy well. But it’s easy to get into a cosy rut with reliable suppliers. Establish the principle of a regular structured check with competitors. If nothing else it will satisfy you that, yes, you’re buying well. It might, equally, open your eyes to new profit avenues.
Much the same applies to business rates. We all get hot under the collar about these, but you may have the opportunity to reduce your liability. If improved facilities, streetlighting, pedestrian crossings and the like have been promised but not delivered then the council owes you a rebate.
Look into the deals offered by utility suppliers. If you can achieve 10 per cent off your annual running costs on electric, gas and telephone that’s money straight on the bottom line.