Advice for small business retailers doing it tough

We are often asked for help when it is too late. In this article, we outline steps any retailer can contemplate from them moment they realise their business is in trouble, from the first thought that closing may be the only option.

Tower Systems is more than a POS software company. We are retailers too. We cherish the relationships with our retail business customers. We will help whenever and wherever we can to help small and independent retail businesses survive challenges and grow. 

If your retail business is in tough times and facing imminent closure, you may be able to save it if you act quickly and ruthlessly. Based on years of working with many different retailers, I have found that some basic steps can successfully turnaround a business in trouble. But you need to be ruthless.

The following tips are designed for businesses with a little (but not too much) time available to fix things. While they are not appropriate to every business, the ideas can lead to others that may be appropriate.

This advice is also appropriate or businesses not facing imminent closure but certainly facing tough times.

Crucial to saving a business from closure is to understand why it is in this situation. You have to be honest with yourself about this. How did it get to this?

  1. Did you not make changes to your business when you should have?
  2. Has something local and unexpected impacted your business?
  3. Have you been a bad retailer, allowing the business to fade away?

Do not be afraid or ignorant in confronting these questions.

Make an honest appraisal of the state of the business as the truth can inform what you do next.

You have to own your situation. This means being realistic about what you face and what got you there. This is important as it opens you to what you need to do to resolve the situation, to rehabilitate your business.

Now, to the urgent steps you could take to avoid the closure of your retail business:

    1. Know your truth. If you run a computer system, analyse the data it collects. If you don’t know how to do this, find out. Look for surprise information in your data, things you did not know about your business. For example, look at the top selling items. If there are surprises there they could inform other decisions you make to urgently address your situation. Talk to your computer software company, ask for their assessment. Knowing your truth is key to owning your situation.
    2. Quit dead stock. If you have stock on the shop floor which is old – ‘old’ can vary between product categories – and for which you have already paid, quit it. However, stock that is greater than six months old is a reasonable guide – then take action to sell this at a substantial discount. Move the stock off display units. Line it up to look like clearance stock – stacked up on tables. Setup plain and simple signs indicating the discount prices. Create signage to show it as clearance stock. If you have enough clearance stock in your business, consider signs across your front windows. Give your sale a name that is unrelated to your situation. Here are some suggestions: MEGA SALE, FIRST EVER MARCH SALE, AUTUMN SALE, SMALL BUSINESS MIGHTY BIG SALE. Give it a name you can theme around.
    3. Run a loyalty offer. Immediately setup and run a loyalty program rewarding shoppers with dollars off their next purchase. The most successful loyalty offer in recent times is discount vouchers whereby vouchers are included on receipts offering an amount which is cleverly calculated by your software based on the items in the purchase. The goal has to be encouraging shoppers to purchase again soon based on the offer on the receipt for items they just purchased.
    4. Move things around. If your business is in trouble it is likely that it has not changed much in recent years. Change it. Move departments around, shake things up so your customers trip over things they did not think you sold.
    5. Review prices. Look at the common items you sell, consider a small increase in your prices. It could be a small increase will not hurt sales volume yet will add profit to your bottom line.
    6. Upsell well. At the counter, work to extend the basket for every sale possible. Do this with clever counter product placement and witty and engaging banter with customers offering upsell products. You goal has to be to make more from each customer.
    7. Stand for something. What is different about your business? What is special about it? What makes people want to come back? If you don’t know the answer to these questions you’re in trouble. If your answer is we’re the only shop of your type nearby you’re in trouble. If the answer is people have always shopped here you’re in trouble. You need to have a difference that people want and will talk about to others. It could be a product or a service. However, it cannot be a product line that is traditional to your type of business as that will not add value to your shingle in the way you want or need. What do you stand for?

This is a tiny snippet of advice we provide in this area, advice we share with our customers as a service beyond the POS software itself. Our advice has been developed over years of serving many different types of retail businesses. It is advice we have seen appreciated by many types of shops.

Never give up. Fight hard and fight smart to turn your business around.

Facing tough circumstances in retail can be like the deer in the middle of the road at night facing the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. Don’t freeze. Take action to mitigate your situation. A series of small steps could be the difference between closure and trading out of the problem.

I have prepared this in response to a comment from a retail colleague who asked for advice on how to deal with a business facing closure.

If your business data there are bound to be opportunities and insights around which growth can be achieved. If you are not sure where to look or what they could mean, ask us. We will help.

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