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Ask INSTORE: October 2010

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Step up your revenue game, respond to critical online views, bounce back from an underquote, and more.

[h3]Hitting The Wall[/h3]Ask INSTORE 10-10

[dropcap cap=Q.][h4][b]After five years in operation, my store has plateaued at a modest level (annual sales of about $250,000). The store generates enough cash to cover our bills, but I am still a long way short of my financial goals. How do I take it to the next step?[/b][/h4][/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=A.]From the few details here, we suspect you might be taking too much of a “cash-flow” view of your business. As in your case, most small businesses use internal accruals to fund initial growth. While sometimes a store has a location or model that alone is strong enough to drive continued growth, in most cases you are going to need the spur of additional investments in marketing or other areas (new location, a website, different inventory) to take your business to the next level. And while you believe that you are covering costs and generating profit it is possible you’re not generating enough to support growth (it’s even possible that you could be running at a loss from a purely accounting point of view after you take into consideration depreciation and those other “hidden numbers”). So how to boost your profit? Get some outside help. Join a peer group (maybe even a buying group) or bring in a coach to go through your books and identify the areas you need to work on.  [/dropcap]

[componentheading]CRITICISM  [/componentheading]

[h4][b]What’s the best way to respond to a critical online review?[/b][/h4]

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First, breathe deep. Don’t rush in and attack your critic — you’ve got nothing to win. In fact, Ellen Fruchtman, president of Fruchtman Marketing, suggests that if possible you should try to respond offline. “If this person actually visited the store, they should be contacted directly, expressing concern about the experience. Hopefully matters can be resolved after a sincere conversation on the phone — and at that point, it would certainly be fair to ask the customer to retract the comment,” she advises. If there’s no way of identifying the person, express your regret at their experience (Yelp and some other review sites now allow the business owner to respond), invite them back to remedy the situation and restate your commitment to making things right. Even if this doesn’t appease the original reviewer, it shows anyone else who comes across the comment that at least you care about your customers’ experiences.

[componentheading]ESTIMATES  [/componentheading]

[h4][b]What do you do when you underquote someone when taking in an order, because you were harried or busy or just misdiagnosed the job?[/b][/h4]

Most of the time you’re just going to have to suck it up, especially if it’s a good customer (although let her know the favor you’ve done her and write if off as a marketing cost). If the material costs mean you’re going to lose money then you will need to call the customer back and try to renegotiate. If the customer won’t agree on a new fee, he or she is simply being unreasonable, especially if you’ve offered to take a hit on the time involved.  Joel McFadden of Joel McFadden Designs Fine Jewelry Design Studio in Red Bank, NJ, notes a lot of this hassle can be avoided by systemizing the way you make the sale, adding that CAD technology has made the process much easier, even when it comes to a custom-design job. “We charge a design fee and then give an exact price. Usually we have knocked the price around enough that we know their ballpark. We use Geller’s book and the metal weights, which Matrix calculates.” Bottom line: Take your time with quotes.

[componentheading]  E-COMMERCE  [/componentheading]

[h4][b]Should I invest in a mobile-ecommerce website?[/b][/h4]

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Ensure your website is smart-phone friendly, but we doubt you’re going to make many mobile sales these holidays. Despite all the talk about the pending mobile commerce revolution, the technology doesn’t seem to be here yet — at least for something as considered as a jewelry purchase. A study by Keynote Competitive Research earlier this year found download times of the main wireless networks are still terrible. Home page average times ranged from 8.3 seconds in the best case (Best Buy) to 34.4 seconds in the worst case. Consumer are used to much faster times and have no patience for an information page that takes half a minute to load.

[componentheading]MANAGEMENT  [/componentheading]

[h4][b]I went away for a vacation that I’d hoped would also serve as a test of my staff’s initiative. The result? I came back to a pile of pending work. How do I get them to pick up the ball?[/b][/h4]

It sounds as if you’ve micromanaged them into drones. Basically you’ve got two options: Go big picture, where you give them ownership of their responsibilities on a day-to-day  basis (not just when you go away), or go small, where every procedure and system is mapped out in detail. The first requires employees with the right personality and experience who will know what do when you say, “OK, our goal is to wow every person who comes in the store. Go to it!” The second requires a lot of work from you in putting systems in place and providing the necessary training. The great benefit, however, is that when you’ve done it, you will again be able to step aside. Your staff will know how to tackle most situations and know they have your confidence in their decision-making.

[span class=note]This story is from the October 2010 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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