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How to Change Banks, Buy Sandwich Boards and More of Your Questions for February

Another round of reader questions for February.

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Bank Turnover

I’m thinking of changing banks. What should I look for?

Banking has changed greatly in the last 25 years, but the things you want from a bank remain much the same — security, convenience, support, advice and a good working relationship, all for a fair price. Given the upheaval of the last 18 months, we’ll leave the issue of security aside other than to note that the small business lending market has become dominated by the big guys like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup, which in theory, means your money should be safe. (Too big to fail, right?).

As for the other issues, Convenience: Today that often means Net-based services like online cash-management (which makes it easier to send invoices, collect payments and cut payroll checks). Support: Large national banks are increasingly bringing on advisers for small-business clients. Set up an appointment with a lending officer to have a general chat; you’ll make a good impression and establish yourself as a potential long-term customer. Ask about what specific small business services they offer. (For example, do they work with the Small Business Administration.) Fees: This is a tough one because banks make it difficult to compare. Some published fees are open to negotiation depending on the size of your business, some aren’t. Some  banks bundle services, others offer a menu. Best approach is to do your homework and talk to as many other small businessmen as you can.

SANDWICH BOARDS

I was looking for somewhere to buy sandwich boards. Any ideas on where to go and what to look for?

Sandwich-board displays are a great way to draw people into your business and update regular passers-by on what’s new in your store. Michael Hamilton from Hamilton Hill in Raleigh, NC, said he’s had great success with boards he ordered from www.display2go.com. Hamilton’s one piece of advice: “Be sure they’re water resistant, which requires a protective lip at the top of the board to deflect rain.”

THE YEAR’S BIG GOAL

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Things seem to be picking up, what should be my big goal for 2010?

If you’re like many of the small independents in America, your No. 1 problem is underperforming inventory. U.S. jewelers lag their counterparts all over the developed world. Even jewelers in New Zealand, a small country without a particularly strong jewelry culture, get a better return on their inventories. The best way to boost ROI without making big investments in technology, advertising or a new location is to boost conversion rates. Of course, these are related: If you have the goods people want, and actually show them to the people who walk in your store, you’ll sell more. And how to ensure you have the goods people want? Start your search in the columns of the Edge Retail Academy’s David Brown.

SERVICE

One of my resolutions for 2010 is to lift my staff’s customer service. Are there practical ways of achieving this?

This could be a major project — manuals orientation, training, indoctrination a la Disney … or you can make a day-in day-out commitment to look for instances of excellent service and to immediately recognize and reward them. Recall such behaviors in meetings and highlight them in a monthly e-mail bulletin to staff. Give thought to instituting celebrations (award a Service Hero of the Month). There’s also an important skills component to excellent service, so send your staff to training courses or hire a coach. Another thing you can do is to bring in a “demanding” mystery shopper (this could be a friend) to test and challenge your staff. Finally, be sure that your staff is clear on why excellent service is so important in this business. It’s not just about the dollars and cents. Jewelry purchases are often related to the most important moments in your customers’ lives. Your employees owe it to them to bring their best game.

GOING LOCAL

I’m giving more space to local designers. How can I make my store reflect this?

We like your thinking. Local, distinctive, artisan jewelry is definitely on the rise but even the newest designs won’t look fresh if placed in traditional display elements. Try adding brown, green and beige accents into your displays by using organic and alternative materials such as wood and color fabrics to hint at a more natural palette. And be sure to use signs so your customers know what they’re looking at. Give some thought, too, to setting aside some floor or wall space to exhibiting the works of a local artist. Maybe even collaborate with him or her on your window displays.

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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