Tower Blog

A blog about smart POS software for independent small businesses.

Category: Retail Advice (page 1 of 8)

Advice for small business retailers on shop layout

The more a retail business looks like a traditional shop in any channel, the more it will be judged as a traditional shop, the more it will perform like a traditional shop. There is nothing wrong with this, if it is a conscious choice.

Through our work at Tower Systems we see awesome and successful retail businesses and less than awesome and not so successful retail businesses.

We encourage you to not run a traditional shop because there is no evidence in performance data or in retail history to indicate that a traditional retail model has any upside in the world today.

The best way to not be considered a traditional shop is to not look like one. Here is some of what this means based on our experience:

  1. Keep visual noise to a minimum. This means less posters and signs. Let your products be seen and be the heroes.
  2. No old-school posters out the front of the shop or hanging in the shop except in exceptional circumstances.
  3. No old-school products stand near the entrance.
  4. Make the front third of the shop open with non-permanent fixtures that are flexible and easily moved. These are best if they are everyday items: tables, a couch, boxes and more. The more colour, texture and style the less like a shop your shop will feel and the more relaxed shoppers will be.
  5. Floor rugs are effective too, under a table fixture especially.
  6. No candy or William old products at the counter. Use the counter for products that are easily purchased on impulse, that play against expectations.
  7. A feature wall behind the counter that can be changed easily.
  8. Different colours and textures rather than the usual shop-fit look.
  9. Different lighting to highlight different part of the business.
  10. Less shop-fit made fixtures and more personally made or found items.
  11. Product placement such that it encourages people to explore. Embrace treasure hunt retail… where people wander the shop hoping to find treasure.
  12. Move tasks, pricing, returns and more to the shop floor. This will reduce shopper theft and increase sales.
  13. Have the least amount of staff resources behind the counter as possible. On the shop floor the same people can guide purchases.

Change is critical in retail today. Change beyond what has been traditional, change that helps you attract new shoppers and through them new revenue opportunities.

While we are  an indie retail POS software co. we are retailers and retail experts. We’re here to help our customers through software, and beyond.

Tips for small business retailers promoting Halloween

Halloween can be a good season for indie retailers.Success depends on active in-store and out of store engagement.

We do it in shops that we own and run and have evolved it from a low price point everyday halloween offer to a higher end specialty offer that is leveraged by fewer retailers.

Halloween is an excellent opportunity to ramp up traffic and sales leading up to Christmas. It is also an opportunity for the business to play outside its comfort zone. This is great news for any small business retailer.

Here is our advice from seeing Halloween in many retail businesses, advice on ways to promote Halloween to drive the opportunity further:

  1. Make your front window or front of story scary amazing, so shoppers have to step through it.
  2. Maybe host a night, after the shop closes, where people share local ghost stories. have some fun and get known as a place where local stories matter.
  3. Run a series of Facebook posts early in the season. Through these demonstrate your engagement as unique, different.
  4. Have a fancy dress competition on the weekend before.
  5. Mock yourselves in social media and elsewhere about being big kids, scary pants or more. Change how people look at your business.
  6. Run sales connected with people dressing up to access a sale price.
  7. A colouring competition for kids with a prize for the best.
  8. Have candy to give away.
  9. If you’re in a small town organise a Halloween trick or treat party for safe kid fun.
  10. Print a recipe sheet and give this away. Online you can find recipes for eyeball soup, eyeball appetisers, bloody desserts and the like.

Here at Tower systems we are all about small business retail. Anything we can do to help we will do, including providing practical business management advice for retailers on seasons such as Halloween.

Retail is all about entertainment. The more you embrace this the more fun people visiting your shop have. halloween is an ideal season for embracing retrial as  entertainment.

Sometimes, the best way to get from A to B is to take a 90 degree turn.

Small business retail advice: how to setup a pop-up shop

POS software company Tower Systems offers practical everyday advice for indie small business retailers. Our advice serves not only our 3,500+ retailer partners but many other retailers. The advice we share in this post is from our portfolio of management advice for small business retailers.

Definition: a pop-up shop is a temporary shop, one that is open for a limited period of time, usually around a month, rarely more than three months.

We have assembled our pop-up shop advice and tips into key topic areas.

WHY?!

Like any business decision, a decision to open a pop-up retail location needs to be based on good research and the business itself needs to have a purpose. So, before you begin, think about why.

Here are some reasons to do a pop-up shop:

  1. To test new product categories.
  2. To supplement your income.
  3. To help quit slow moving stock.
  4. To enhance your retail experience.
  5. To experiment with a plan b where you might land if you close your main shop.
  6. To engage in targeted, temporary, competition.
  7. To compete with yourself.

LOCATION.

With a pop-up shop you don’t have time to find your customers. The location needs to already have good traffic passing daily, traffic you can easily leverage. Even more so than in fixed-location retail, location is critical.

The best locations are shops that have good passing traffic that is of interest to you and that have been vacant for a while where a landlord might be happy with something rather than nothing.

OCCUPANCY COST.

Negotiate the lowest rent cost possible. Some landlords see pop-up offers as a reason to charge a premium. Only sign up for a price you are 100% happy with. If it is expensive and does not work financially, don’t sign hoping it works out, because in retail it rarely does work out better. In a pop-up business you have less time to see if it works out. Also, preferably, no contingency deposit.

LABOUR COST.

Staff the business with a lean roster. This shop is about selling. that means, products placed for a price proposition rather than beautiful displays that take time to maintain. Every staff member is there to sell and maximise revenue from every shopper visit. There is no room in the roster for fat.

FIXTURES AND FITTINGS.

Don’t spend a cent on fixtures and fittings. That needs to be your starting position. It’s a pop-up shop. People expect it to be  efficient, cost-effective. Using tables and boxes adds to the feel of the shop feeling low-cost and that can help drive sales. Suppliers can be a good source for loaned fixtures.

INVENTORY.

Ask suppliers to offer consignment stock or special clearance deals they’d like to move fast. Go for items that can be sold out of a box, to make display and ranging easier. In-box displays of particularly cheap items can work very well.

PRICING MODEL.

Price to sell. This means being below usual retail. Price to understandable price points. For example, you might have a $10 table, a $20 table and so on. Consider bundling items into packs, which make price comparison difficult.

PROMOTION.

Don’t spend money on sign writing or marketing. Use social media and bargain websites and anywhere similar where you can list the store and its products.

Host an opening party. List this as a local event on Facebook.

MANAGEMENT MINDSET.

Your mindset in managing the pop-up shop needs to be different to a fixed-location retail situation. Pop-up shops are about low cost, low overheads, low prices. Be ready to do deals. Whoever manages  the pop-up shop needs to be different to how they would be in the fixed-location retail business.

SPEED.

You need to move fast. From the moment you sign a lease or agreement, the clock is ticking. Ideally, you’d open within 24 hours and when you are done, closing and clearing out the shop is done in 24 hours or less. This is all about maximising the time for income-production.

TRACK PERFORMANCE.

Cultivate good data that can guide business decisions for your next moves.

Is a pop-up shop worth doing? Only you can determine that. We have seen plenty of pop-up shops work well for the retailers, contribute good GP, help move slow stock and help open to the owners category opportunities not previously considered.

Do the planning and you should expect to benefit.

Helping Australian newsagents create more valuable businesses through transformation

Tower Systems also owns newsXpress, a marketing group for newsagents who want to transform their businesses and grow them into something meaningful to today and beyond. Here are details of an offer from newsXpress…

We give newsagents hopeby providing options for finding new customers, by helping to farewell out of date practicesand by providing access to better marginproducts. We help newsagents enjoy their businessesmore and make them more valuable. This is what we do at newsXpress every day … because,we believe in local small business retail. We are not locked into the shingle of the past. On the horizon, we see a bright futureMark Fletcher, CEO, newsXpress Pty Ltd

Every day, we invest in the future of locally owned newsXpress businesses. We run as a community co-operative. There has never been a profit distribution. We are 100% focussed on helping our members be the best, most successful and happiest of retailers.

You can join us as a full-service full-benefits member. Or, you can try us out first…\

TRY NEWSXPRESS BEFORE YOU BUY OFFER.

BEYOND TRADITION, WE CAN HELP YOU FIND SUNSHINE.

We have some newsagents keen to join newsXpress but concerned about the five-year contract and the requirement that 75% of card space is allocated to Hallmark.

For a limited time and a limited number of newsagency businesses, we offer access to a valuable package of newsXpress services on a fixed one-year term trial basis.

As a friend of newsXpress you can trial newsXpress services without long-term obligation.

For a monthly fee of $295.00 (inc.GST) for twelve months only or a one-off up-front fee of $1,750.00 (inc. GST) we would welcome you as a friend of newsXpress for one year. This does not mean you would be a member of the group. There is no agreement to sign, no requirement to rebrand, no card company requirement.

Here is what you would get access to as a friend of newsXpress:

  1. In-store visits from a skilled Retail Development Manager, who will provide fresh-eyes advice on your business and suggest optional changes you could make.
  2. Access to centrally billed suppliers offering discounts off and extended terms.
  3. Access to our weekly newsXpress email, with management and marketing advice.
  4. Access to our knowledge base, an online resource with 200+ articles of advice.
  5. Access to our head office team of retail experts for tactical and strategic advice.
  6. Access to newsXpress regional member meetings.
  7. Access to the newsXpress conferences.

Here is some of what full newsXpress members have access to:

  1. Online sales through product branded websites, delivering net new revenue.
  2. Your own free website branded to your business, selling products your products.
  3. newsXpress preferential pricing from Hallmark and allpreferred suppliers.
  4. A private Facebook group – motivation and encouragement, a safe place to talk.
  5. Access to the private team member Facebook page for your staff.
  6. Financial management counselling service. We offer a deep dive into the business, develop a budget and help with resetting the business physically and financially.
  7. A secure .newsxpress.com.au email address.

At the end of the year you would either join newsXpress orcontinue to run your business without access to anything newsXpress offers.

If at any time in the year you want to switch and become a full newsXpress member, we’d apply the portion of the pre-paid one-year amount toward newsXpress member fees.

There is one catch to our offer: You need to be engagedYou need to work with us on growing your business, making it more efficient and more relevantto today.

If you are tired, we will help motivate you. If you are out of cash. We will make low / no cost suggestions. We will not force you do anything.

Become a friend of newsXpress and let is help you.

Our head office team… newsXpress has twelve full time employees working on behalf of members – merchandise experts, marketing professionals, retail advisors.

Our leadership team… is there for you, on anymatter, offering an ear, a hug, advice or representation, on any matter. We will help as much as we are able.

POS software helps small business retailers add a surcharge for credit card use

Credit cards cost retailers money. Some more so than others. Indeed, some cards can cost a retailer three times as much as the lowest cost card. This is a real cost to business, a cost that retailers are seeking to m mitigate, especially in situations where they are unable to adequately cover the cost due to the fixed price nature of what they sell.

This challenge is especially real in small business retail, where economy of scale is not available and where leverage to push down other overhead costs is not an option.

Here at our POS software company, we have helped retailers for years to have options for charging a surcharge automatically through the software, tracked, managed and collected to help the businesses defray these cards costs.

While the charging of a surcharge is contentious, credit card fees are a real cost of business that is hidden, and that is why big businesses like it we think, because they have negotiating power to keep costs low and therefore not need to recover the card costs they are hit with by banks.

In charging a surcharge, small business retailers are being transparent about real costs and showing customers how they can help businesses to transact on a more equitable footing.

Tower Systems makes it easy. manageable and changeable for indie retailers to charge a credit card use surcharge, which is in line with ACCC requirements, through the software with transparency and tracking through the business and into Xero, MYOB and more through POS software integrations.

Whether you charge a surcharge or not is 100% up to you. For what it’s worth, we do not in the shops we own because they are in competitive Westfield centres and we’d rather not be that business that charges a surcharge.

Tower Systems serves indie specialty retailers with POS software designed specifically for those niche businesses, software tuned to their needs and that help businesses manage more efficiently and safely in a rapidly changing retail environment.

What we offer in the area of a credit card surcharge facility is a small part of a bigger and more valuable offering for indie retailers.

Good POS software cannot stop poor business retains in small business retail

Good POS software offers flexibility, choices in how the software can be used in a business. What may be a good choice for one business could be a bad choice for another business.

For example, the Tower Systems small business POS software enables the sale of items by department. This could be appropriate in businesses where items are not bar-coded and where stock control is not required because of the unique nature of the products sold.

However, for most retail businesses, selling by department key only is not appropriate. It is old school, risky, poor business management.

A risk of selling items by department, by not scanning each item sold, by not tracking each item sold is loss of visibility of stock movement.

In this scenario, where items are not scanned, it is easy for stock to be stolenby customers or employees and the business owner to either not know or not know until long after the event.

yet, here we are in 2019 and we have some retailers using their POS software too sell items by using the department key, which is genuinely nuts in our humble professional opinion.

Valuable benefits of POS software are the reduction of customer and employee theft, the more efficient management of stock, faster selling and better business management.

All of these benefits are denied a business when it sells items using department keys, when it sells items by not scanning items when they are sold.

While POS software is designed to manage inventory using bar codes, sometimes people make the bad choice to not use this. The consequences of such a bad decision are on them and not on the software as it is doing what they have told it to do through settings over which they have control.

We can help you review your decisions, to improve them, so your use of the software improves. We can help make sure that you are leveraging all the time saving, money saving, mistake saving tools in our small business POS software, to ensure that the benefits flow and that poor business practices are in the past.

We’re here to help.

Let’s talk about empty shops – why there are so many and what can be done about them

Talk to any small business retailer and they will have stories about empty shops in their area that are having a negative impact on their business.

In shopping centres, suburban high streets and country town main roads, there are plenty of empty shops.

Some have been empty for years.

Empty shops make a shopping centre or area feel unpopular, making the task of attracting shoppers harder for remaining retailers. Retailers nearby who are doing it tough will point to empty shops nearby as a core cause.

Some local councils have been innovative in addressing the vacant retail space challenge by opening them to local makers and artists. This has been terrific to see. In Newcastle in NSW, for example, they did some excellent work in this area years ago. Most councils, however, have not.

Why are there so many empty shops? Talk to retailers and they will blame landlords for rents that are too high. Talk to economists and others expert in retail property space as a ratio of population and they will say that Australia has too much retail space. Talk to the folks in some specific towns and they will blame the main street empty spaces on the new mall that has opened just outside town. Talk to almost anyone and they will blame online. Talk to some landlords and they will say retailers are not innovative enough.

As with any contentious issue that has opposing vested interests, it is hard to get to the truth of the situation.

For what it is worth, my opinion is that the answer to the question lies in a mixture of the reasons offered above.

I do think we have too much retail space in Australia. Rent is among the highest in the world. Retail is not that innovative. People are shopping online for convenience. So, yes, I am hedging my bets.

That said, the why does not matter as much as what to do with them.

Occasionally, you can find a pragmatic landlord who is happy to have a space filled at a lower rent than sit empty for a year or more. We think we need more pragmatic landlords.

Occasionally, we see small business retailers burst out of what has been traditional for their type of business and create something genuinely innovative, which is embraced by local shoppers. We need more of this. However, it is hard work, often capital intensive and high risk.

Occasionally, we see empty shops torn down and the space used for something difference. We need to see much more of this. Less retail space is a good thing for retailers and this is good for local communities.

The challenge for small business retailers today with empty shops nearby is how to deal with the stench of those empty shops.

If your landlord has those shops too and there is one next to you, ask them if you can use the space for display. To us, that would be a win win for you both. The key is to craft the right approach that serves the interests of the landlord as well as your own.

If the shops are not from your landlord, the most obvious response will be to be louder and bigger from your premises. By louder, we mean more events to attract shoppers, give people more reason to come to you.

The best way to deal with online is to be online yourself, with a compelling offer, probably under a brand that is not your shop brand, seeking out shoppers far from your shop location.

The alternative to action is to complain because, yeah, complaining achieves a lot … not.

Empty shops are a problem in Australia. How we deal with that in our own retail businesses comes down to us and the actions we take.

Small business retail advice: make every day your pay day

We hear retailers saying that times are tough, that business is tough, that the economy is difficult. 

While complaints are easy, acting is harder. Our view is that everyone in small business has to act to the conditions. If times are tough, get tougher, smarter and faster is pursuing better times.

This is why one piece of advice we give to small business retailers is that they/you should make every day your pay day.

Today, the best way to extract value from our businesses is to make every day your pay day, to not rely on your pay day being the day you sell the business. The days of a retail business selling for a handsome multiple of net earnings are over for now. Making money when you sell is not and common. hence, the needs to make money today. What you make reflects in your P&L.

The P&L matters as this is what you need to be guided by in all business decisions and actions.

The challenge is how do you do this?

Retailers need to look at their businesses differently. This starts with the mindset of every day being your pay day. Each decision needs to be considered in this context, in the context of the P&L impact.

Focusing on profit today will give you a better result today and make your business more valuable tomorrow.

Here are some suggestions for making every day your pay day:

  1. Run with the leanest roster possible. Just about every retail business we review has capacity to lower labour costs. In a typical retail business, one hour saved today is worth around $75 in revenue.
  2. Ensure you can sell when the business is closed. Yes, this means sell online.
  3. Promote the business outside your usual foot traffic area … increase your customer base.
  4. Promote your business outside the brand people know you as. or example, online pitch under a brand other than your brand.
  5. Have your best people working the floor, helping customers spend more.
  6. Have stunning displays that attract people from outside the shop.
  7. Have compelling displays in-store that encourage people to browse beyond their destination purchase.
  8. Always have impulse offers at high traffic locations.
  9. Charge more every time you can. Loyalty programs such as discount vouchers, bundling into hampers, multi buys such as 2 for 3 and other opportunities enable you to do this by blocking price comparison.
  10. Buy as best you can.
  11. Grab settlement discounts every time you are able.
  12. Measure product category performance by gross profit. Quit the categories that are not paying for themselves.
  13. Promote outside your store using online and social media opportunities.
  14. Leverage adjacency information. Chase a deeper basket – people purchasing more each visit.

Be responsible for the profitability of your business. Don’t blame your suppliers, your landlord, your employees or some other external factor … it all comes down to you – the decisions you make and the actions you take.

If you relentlessly pursue profit with a clear focus you are likely to see profit grow. That’s better than waiting to make money when you sell because that’s less likely to happen in this market.

Doing all this relies on your measuring the performance of your business. The Tower software helps with this. It is easy.

Small business retail advice on quitting stock

This advice could be useful to any type of retail business that wants to quit stock, especially if they ant to quit stock quickly. Too often in our work with retailers we see processes in place for quitting stock where speed is not the focus. We think that is unhelpful for once you decide to quit stock, it needs to go, quickly.

If you want to quit stock, quit it, quickly. Quickly means different things to different people. I think it means 7 days … gone and out of the shop in 7 days from when you decide to quit the products. Of course, this will vary based on your own local circumstances.

The easiest way to quit stock is for your shoppers to understand the deal. Understanding the deal starts with how you brand the sale.

A sign with SALE on it could mean anything. Do NOT use this. There are too many around, each meaning a different thing.

A sign with, say, 50% off could be confusing as they don’t know the starting price and some may not understand percentages.

Sign with HALF PRICE is more easily understood but they still do not know the starting price.

If you really want to quit stock, we suggest you have tables or dump bins at price points: $1, $2, $5 – or that ever is appropriate to you.

We, in one of our own shops, tried a $9.99 priced item at 50% off, half price and $5.00. The $5.00 pricing worked the best, by far.

This is my recommendation on quickly quitting stock: get the price messaging right.

If your price messaging is hard to understand or if there are too many different price messages you could be creating a barrier and this could stop you achieving the sales outcome you want.

Small business retail management advice: make every day your payday

There was a time when small business retailers could rely on selling their business for a handsome increase on the price they paid thereby providing a good pay day, when businesses sold for a good multiple of net earnings.

No more. Today, the best way to extract value from our businesses is to make every day your pay day, to not rely on your pay day being the day you sell the business.

The challenge is how do you do this?

Retailers need to look at their businesses differently. This starts with the mindset of every day being your pay day. Each decision needs to be considered in this context.

Focusing on profit today will give you a better result today and make your business more valuable tomorrow.

Here are some suggestions for making every day your pay day:

  1. Run with the leanest roster possible. Just about every retail business we review has capacity to lower labour costs.
  2. Have your best people working the floor, helping customers spend more.
  3. Have stunning displays that attract people from outside the shop.
  4. Have compelling displays in-store that encourage people to browse beyond their destination purchase.
  5. Always have impulse offers at high traffic locations.
  6. Charge more every time you can. Loyalty programs such as discount vouchers, bundling into hampers, multi buys such as 2 for 3 and other opportunities enable you to do this by blocking price comparison.
  7. Buy as best you can.
  8. Grab settlement discounts every time you are able.
  9. Promote outside your store using online and social media opportunities.
  10. Leverage adjacency information. Chase a deeper basket – people purchasing more each visit.

Be responsible for the profitability of your business. Don’t blame your suppliers, your landlord, your employees or some other external factor … it all comes down to you – the decisions you make and the actions you take.

If you relentlessly pursue profit with a clear focus you are likely to see profit grow. That’s better than waiting to make money when you sell because that’s less likely to happen in this market.

Doing all this relies on your measuring the performance of your business. The Tower Systems POS software helps with this. It is easy.

The Retail Doctor Podcast

Tower CEO Mark Fletcher was a guest on a recent Podcast by The Retail Doctor, Bob Phibbs. Click here for a listen to the thirty-minute program.

Diversity in retail

Here is an article I have recently completed about diversity in retail, as a management approach to help you attract more customers to your business. I have been thinking about diversity because of an inspirational presentation I heard by Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director of the California Symphony, in which she outlined how a commitment to diversity has helped the Symphony become more successful.

Diversity in retail.

This is not about what you may think it is about.

For years, retailers, especially small business retailers have been told do one thing right, be known for something.

They have been told that a unique selling proposition(USP) is about that one thing and getting it so right that you are known for it.

This singular focus began in an era when people often discovering a business did so by being in front of the business.

While pursuing a USP has worked for many, the world today has changed. Technology has changed us, it has changed how people find retail businesses.

Whereas in the past, there was often one major path delivering traffic to a business, today, thanks to technology, there are usually many paths, often not as obvious to us as the path of years ago.

Technology has also changed what businesses can and do offer.

Most important, technology has changed the ease of reaching customers.

Being local is not as important as it used to be.

While local small business retailers wish being local is all that matters, it is not. Often, the local community is not sufficient to serve the growth needs of a business, often because locals themselves are shopping elsewhere because doing so is easier.

Retailers need to reach more people. This means reaching beyond what has been traditional. For local retailers it means reaching beyond local. It can mean reaching beyond what you are known for.

Thanks to cool personalisation technology and targeted marketing, businesses interstate or overseas can provide a special interest product in a way that locals can love. Big businesses, especially, can leverage technology to reach local shoppers in personal and local ways.

Being local is notas important as it used to be for plenty of specialty retail businesses.

A commitment to diversity could help local retailers in this changed world.

I am not talking here about diversity in the manner in which the term is often used.

To me, diversity in small business retail is about a business, your business, being diversein the customers it pursues and diversein the ways it seeks to connect with potential new customers.

Customer diversityis about being relevant, appealing and of value to different groups of customers to those you pursue today. No, not everyone, because that does not work.

Diversity in customers is about targeting very specific, new, groups that you are certain you can satisfy.

Why do people shop with you?

Think about what brings people through your front door right now. Typically, a majority of shoppers will come through for one reason, one product or service category.

Is there another product or service category not too distant from what you focus on today that you could introduce to broaden the appeal of the business, to help you reach people who are not interested in your prime product category or service today?

This is one example of diversity … making your business appealing to a group of people who do not find your current offer appealing.

It is not about becoming a general store. Rather, it is about making thoughtful moves, based on research, to broaden the pool of people who couldwant to shop with you.

This is about you reaching more customers.

Diversity in ways of connecting with potential new customersis about how you communicate, how you connect.

Multiple touchpoints matter in this connected world.

While we all get sick of emails, text messages, social media ads and the like, they are sent for a reason, by big businesses with strong tech infrastructure to take care of this follow up.

Think about the new shopper journey in your shop today. Think about how they found you. In small business retail, word of mouth remains important as does store location. But what about other new shoppers, how can they be found?

Diversity in how, where and when you promote your business matters as does diversity in your voice.

How you reach out to an older shopper should be different to how you reach out to a young mum.

How you reach out to someone new to your core product category should be different to how you reach out to someone deeply engaged with your core category.

A more diverse pool of shoppers requires a more diverse approach to find them.

Here’s what I mean: use diverse avenues of marketing and through these use diverse marketing pitches, targeted for a more diverse pool of customers.

Marketing avenues can include social media paid and free, Google Ads, with each being thoughtfully created to pursue a specific type of shopper, one that fits a diversity goal.

Just as you expand what you offer to appeal to new consumers, you expand how you appeal to reach new customers.

Local businesses often promote local. It made sense for years. Today, specialty retailers can easily sell outside the local area, making a commitment to diversity also being about reaching beyond local as that in itself is about pursuing diversity.

It’s about more than what you are known for today.

Here is what it comes down to. What you are known for today is not enoughsince that will limit your appeal to customers interested in that. Smart and tech engaged businesses are chipping away at your core, what you are known for.

Thoughtfully, carefully, broaden the appeal of your business through what you sell and how you pitch. Pursuing a more diverse pool of customers will buttress your business, help it weather change.

This is why diversity matters. It is why you have to make your business appealing to more people and why you have to be more diverse in how you try and find them.

Now, an action plan.

Write down your target customer today. Describe them in a concise way.

Now, think about another customer you could target, a different customer you would like to reach but do not reach today. Think about what you need to do in terms of inventory, shop layout, online engagement and other changes to reach this new customer.

Write down how you promote your business today. Now, think about other ways you could promote your business and other voices, styles, tones you could use to appeal to people you do not appeal to today.

New products, new services, pitched through new voices in new mediums, this is how to attract a more diverse customer pool to your business.

Diversity in retail is simple really. It is about expanding your reach through thoughtful planned actions to reach a more diverse group of customers.

The alternative is to keep doing what you have been doing. That will maintain your current business trajectory.

Mark Fletcher is the owner of Tower Systems, newsXpress and several niche retail businesses.

TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT TOWER SYSTEMS:

NSW / ACT / TAS: Nathan Morrison. 0417 568 148.
QLD / NT: Justin Randall. 0434 365 789.
VIC / SA / WA: Tim Batt. 0401 833 917.

Advice for small business retailers on theft

Most theft from independent retail businesses can be identified and reduced through a consistent application of simple management processes and smart use of specialist retail software. Tower Systems has been helping retailers cut theft for decades through issuing advice, responding to requests and by continuing to provide functions in our retail software that allow business owners to identify and track suspicious behaviour – by shoppers, managers and store employees. Over the years our expertise has been called on by police and prosecutors as well as individual retailers.

Follow this advice on how to use our specialist retail POS software to hamper opportunities for theft and bolster the certainty of detecting it before it’s too late:

  1. Employ stock control for high volume items. Enter new stock as it comes in, scan all sales and only reorder based on what the software says. Perform a stock take regularly each month. High volume item stock discrepancies are an indicator of theft.
  2. Scan everything you sell. Do not use department tracking only – your data needs to be granular to prevent employees taking advantage of loose stock on hand quantities. Not scanning individual stock items is unfortunately an invitation to dishonest employees.
  3. Use the software-based end of shift procedure and have a zero-tolerance policy on cash balance discrepancies. Reconcile banking to your computer software at end of shift. We have seen businesses failing to do this: one was being skimmed regularly of $200 a day.
  4. Do spot cash balancing. Unexpected checks can uncover surprises. One business owner needing to perform banking during the day uncovered a $350 discrepancy that lead to the discovery of systematic theft.
  5. Mix up your roster. Sometimes people work together to steal. One retailer found a family friend senior and their teenage daughter stealing consistently.
  6. Check your audit Log. Look at cancelled sales, deleted sales and items deleted from a sale. Leaving a cash drawer open from the previous sale, scanning items, taking the cash and cancelling the sale is the most common process used by employees to accrue cash they then take from you. Our software tracks cancelled sales and what was in them. This can be matched with video footage.
  7. Check GP by department. If GP is falling outside what you expect, always research further.
  8. Publish a theft policy. Put this on a noticeboard in the back room. Get staff to read it and sign up to it. At the bottom of this page is a sample theft policy.
  9. Keep the store counter area clean. A better organised counter reduces the opportunity for theft. Reducing nooks and crannies makes detection of any cash hoarding easier.
  10. Have a “no employee bags” at the counter policy. This makes it harder for dishonest employees to hide stolen cash.
  11. Beware employees who carry folded paper or small notepads. These can be used for them to keep track of how much cash is in the register that is theirs – i.e. not rung up in the software.
  12. Beware of calculators and mobile phones at the counter. Employees can use these devices to track how much cash could be stolen prior to balancing for the day – cash from sales not processed.
  13. Do not let employees sell to themselves. If an employee wants to purchase something ensure they purchase it from the customer’s side of the counter.
  14. Be professional in your management of the business. The more professional your approach they less likely your employees will steal as they will see the risk of being caught as high. Do not take cash handling lightly; if you respect your business procedures your staff are more likely to too. Never take cash from the till for your own personal use, i.e. to buy lunch.
  15. Advise all job applicants that you will require their permission for a police check. From the outset this indicates that you take your business seriously. In many situations applicants who have been asked for permission to do a police check advise they have found a job elsewhere.

These steps work. They are based on decades of helping small business retailers to reduce and manage employee theft.

Employee and customer theft costs a typical independent retail business between 3% and 5% of non-agency sales revenue each year. Management attention and smart use of retail software can cut this dramatically. It does not take much time – it is simply about smart procedures and professional processes.

Advice on avoiding the impact of a ransomware attach on your retail business

Ransomware / malware can come in many forms. Every computer connected to a network in any way is at risk.

There is no guaranteed protection but there are important steps to take. This advice sheet provides advice designed to reduce the risk to your business. Ransomware often comes in the form of a harness looking business email, seeking you to click on something that makes sense.

Often, if the recipient clicks on the attachment in the email, the ZIP file, on a PC running Windows they would have been locked out of the computer and subject to ransomware.

A ransomware attack is where money is demanded to unlock your computer. Often, the computer is not unlocked even after a payment is made.

More and more businesses including small business retailers are being affected by these malicious attacks, they are being locked out of their businesses.

You can reduce the opportunity of being hit by an attack by taking care with emails.

If you are not sure of the sender, ignore the email. Tell everyone who has access to your email. Lay out your ground rules and demand discipline.

Here is our best-practice advice to protect against Ransomware:

  1. Ensure you use professional, up to date, virus protection.
  2. Ensure you have a good firewall with strong settings.
  3. Do not click on emails or attachments unless you are sure of the sender.
    1. Be particularly wary of ZIP files in emails.
    2. The ATO will not email you.
    3. Your bank will not email you.
    4. Australia Post will not email you, not like the example I have posted.
  4. Ensure all passwords you use are strong.
  5. Consider using an email filtering facility.
  6. Do not allow remote access to your computer unless you are certain of the person accessing.
  7. Ensure you have strong passwords. A strong password should include: some CAPS, some numbers and at least one special character. Check your password at: https://howsecureismypassword.net
  8. Change your password regularly.
  9. Run an up to date operating system.
  10. Have rules on computer use: no games, no online gambling, no porn, no personal emails.
  11. Have an overarching rule: do not open any email or go to any website unless you are certain.
  12. Use a cloud backup service like the Tower backup service. This provides the fastest recovery.
  13. Have multiple backup devices for additional protection.
  14. Do not use automatic file replication programs / facilities such as Dropbox or Google Drive. If a file is encrypted with malware / ransomware it will upload to the account and infect other files.

Most ransomware attacks can be avoided by careful scrutiny of your emails and websites you visit.

Kudos for small business retailer advice on Amazon

In October last year we published this short video for small business retailers with our thoughts on the imminent arrival of the first Amazon warehouse in Australia – in the context of then shrill reporting. we have received wonderful and appreciated feedback from customers about this.

The shrill reporting has continued. Our advice remains the same. We are grateful to be helping small business retailers grow in the face of change.

How our POS software makes it easy for small business retailers to drive invoices

It does not get any easier or more accurate than this for small business retailers:

Tower Systems support small business retailers with a consumer education campaign

Tower Systems is helping small business retailers across Australia to educate Australians about the value of small businesses. Here is one communication piece we created for this:

Small business retail advice: how to cut shopper theft

Here are seven steps we suggest to cut the cost of shopper theft in your retail business. While there are other steps you could take, these seven are most valuable from our years of working with retailers.

  1. Look at people as they enter. Make sure they see you see them. Eye contact is key. Ideally, say hello to them. The more they think you have seen them the better.
  2. Have a screen near the entrance / exit so people can see that you filming them with your security cameras. The more people think they will be caught they less likely they are to steal.
  3. Work on the shop floor. This puts you or your employees among shoppers and heightens the chance of detection of theft.
  4. Walk the floor. Every so often, do a circuit. Be present. Talk to people.
  5. During peak shopping periods, station someone outside the business looking. Ensure they are trained on appropriate action should they see misbehavior.
  6. Bring in a security guard on a casual basis during your most busy periods.
  7. Have a no receipt no exchange or refund policy.
  8. Use your POS software. Spot stock take. Understand the cost off theft. In our experience the evidence is that items being stolen are bot those you think are being stolen. Data is key here. hence our advice to use your POS software.
  9. Act on the evidence.
  10. Ensure all who work in the business are in on this project.

The more likely people are to be caught the less likely you are to experience shopper theft.

Tower Systems has many years of experience in helping independent small business retailers mitigate em ploy theft and shopper theft. We leverage this experience for our customers through excellent POS software, free training, group training workshops, data analysis and expert witness support for authorities in specific cases.

Our advice to retailers is that you can cut the cost of theft if you manage your business to achieve this goal. Sadly, too many small business retailers do not do this because they do not see theft until it is too late. We say be on the front foot, manage to cut theft even when you cannot see it.

Small business retail management tip: embrace the opportunity of hiring older employees

Older employees can being terrific value to a retail business that is keen bring change to the business. Young employees cost less and this is a common appeal among retail business owners.

An older employee could bring more value to the business, they could leverage a better return on labour investment for the business. Here are other benefits that can be available depending on the background, skill set and work interest of the older employee:

  1. Maturity. An older employee understand work.
  2. Appreciation. If they have been to of work for a while they are more likely to appreciate then job and could therefore invest more in it.
  3. Experience. An older employee could have experience in a field from which the business can benefit. I am not thin king here about retail experience. rather, they may have business management skills, special interests or experience that you can leverage as you change the business.
  4. Flexibility. With less focus on establishing themselves and a social life they cold be more available and this could help the roster.
  5. Communication. An older employee is more likely to be better with oral communication given they has less tech when they were younger. While this is a rash generalisation, I’d back it to be likely.

When you are looking to fill a vacancy or a new role in the business, consider older person for these and other reasons you can think of. The could bring to the business skills and interest the you can leverage more valuably than the skills and interest of a younger lower cost employee.

Of course, the value of any employee depends on your hiring, training, management and motivation of them.

The post of this post is to suggest that next time you hire you think about an older employee.

Note: The federal government jobactive restart program can help Australian businesses that hire older employees financially:

Restart is a financial incentive of up to $10,000 (GST inclusive) to encourage businesses to hire and retain mature age employees who are 50 years of age and over.

Older employees can bring new insights and energy to a business. The right hire could be just want the business needs to explore new traffic opportunities.

Xero POS software link from Tower Systems helps retailers cut theft

Retailers using the Xero POS software link from Tower Systems are well positioned to reduce the impact of employee theft on their retail business. Here is how…

  1. Every data touchpoint in a business is an opportunity for employee fraud. Using this link there is less touching, less entering, of data. This in and of itself reduces the opportunity for covering top theft and if you reduce this opportunity you reduce actual theft.
  2. Theft occurs where there is less oversight. Thanks to the seamless flow of data from the POS software to Xero, without human intervention, oversight is tight and constant. This means loess opportunity for theft.
  3. Track cash without the opportunity for manipulation and you reduce the opportunity for theft. The POS software / Xero interface means that cash is recorded the moment a sale is completed. Every step of engagement with the cash whether it be the end of shift cash count, a customer refund, removal of cash from the register is tracked.
  4. Getting data out of the business and into the accounting ting function makes it more protected. The POS software Xero link gets data to the accounting function quickly, easily and without being manipulated. Data is treated like a serious business asset, as it should be.
  5. Never take your eyes off data. For the moment you take your eyes off the data you open it to be manipulated. This link never takes its eyes off.

Also, thanks to powerful data tracking including deep security data tracking, you can rely on this software to help you manage theft so as to ensure the impact on the business is minimised compared to what would be the case if you were not using the Tow3r Systems POS software Xero interface.

There are many stories from small business retailers where Tower Systems has helped uncover, resolve and even prosecute in situations of employee theft. We have specialist experience in helping small business retailers in this stressful and expensive area of business operation.

Tower Systems has brought its theft mitigation experience to the Xero link to leverage this ti maximum benefit for its small business retail customers.

Counselling small business retailers through the challenge of employee theft

It is difficult hearing an adult cry on the other end of the phone when you pick up the call expecting it to be a regular business to business discussion. This time was different. Their story was one of hurt and pain, considerable financial hurt and considerable personal pain. They were distressed. They did not see how they could go on with business, they were so upset.

Our job in the call was to empathise and support, to not judge and to help them navigate next steps in what was a complex and unexpected situation.

The person on the other end of the phone was a retailer using our POS software. They called because they had just discovered an employee theft situation. While they knew they had tools in their POS software for early intervention on employee theft, they had not used them, until now, following a suspicion.

It turned out their suspicion was wrong. The person stealing from them was their most trusted employee, a family friend.

The first few calls with the customer about this were about them, about our customer, helping them navigate their own distress, so they could continue to function, to keep their business going, while they did what was necessary to have the theft dealt with formally by the authorities.

In addition to structured advice on handling any discovered employee theft, we provide help and support personally for the business owner, to help them personally deal with the violation they feel because of the theft.

We help the business owner(s) personally in several ways. These including pointing them to professional counselling services, physically being with them in the business when taking steps to deal with the theft, doing independent research on the theft so the authorities have the evidence they will need, being a pillar of support and strength for the retailer, ensuring they know we have their back and that how they feel right now will pass as they step through dealing with this.

While we are not professionally trained counsellors, we have been involved is supporting retailers from many different businesses in navigating the discovery and management of employee theft. We take care to support the person first, to ensure they are okay and reinforce that they will be okay. We help them as they pass through emotions ranging from hurt, anger, despair and hate. We take their hand and offer ourselves as a pillar of strength.

We do this because we have been there ourselves, in our own retail businesses over the years. We draw on our own experiences as we find this helps.

Practical advice for new small business retailers

If you are new to owning or running a retail business it is likely that you have been too busy opening the business and settling in to have time to pay attention to basic advice about running the business.

Business consultants and others who advise business owners, too, often get caught up in big picture strategies and themes to deal with the basics.

In the interests of helping new retailers and retail shop mangers, here is a checklist of basic retail business advice, headlines mainly – not too much detail, just enough to remind you of key areas which need attention to build a stronger and more profitable retail business.

This checklist has been developed over the years of us supporting plenty of start-up small business retailers. The list is based on things we often see them neglect or forget.

We have grouped the advice into business areas.

Hiring, training and managing employees

  1. Create an employee manual with all employee terms and conditions.
  2. Hire the best employees available.
  3. Train your employees well. Do this by working with them, taking them into your confidence about the business, what it stands for and what you expect of them.
  4. Pay employees in a way which respects your faith in them.
  5. Share the rewards you make from the business.
  6. Remember, you are more responsible for employee performance than anyone since it is usually you who hire, train, manage and fire them.

Cash

  1. Cash is king in retail. An unprofitable business with a good cash flow can weather a storm.  A profitable business with poor cash flow can fail.
  2. Have a strong cash management policy.
  3. Bank regularly.
  4. Keep little cash on the premises.
  5. Never let one single employee control the cash. Have checks and balances.
  6. Keep expenses to an absolute minimum.
  7. Watch your product margins, make the most from each product you sell that you can without hurting sales.

Inventory

  1. Buy what sells.
  2. Use your software to determine replenishment stock.
  3. Never sell anything without tracking it.

Marketing

  1. Use all the free touchpoints: receipts, customer display and more in your software.
  2. Use social media, daily.

Operating costs

  1. Be frugal.
  2. Know dead stock as this is too often a big overhead.

Your time

  1. Automate as much as you can.
  2. Know how to get data to guide decisions.
  3. Delegate, with rules.

Too often new retailers and retail store managers look for advice to react to situations.  Consider the headline advice in this article early on and revisit it regularly to ensure that you have a strong and healthy business.

Helping small business retailers relax when feeling overwhelmed

Through its help for small business retailers, POS software company Tower Systems helps beyond the software, beyond what is usual for a POS software company.

The most recent help has been through practical advice on how to deal with feeling overwhelmed…

If you feel overwhelmed and can’t work out what to do, reach for this list and try one of the practical and safe ideas. They cost nothing.

The goal is to help you see small steps you can take to walk through whatever it is that makes you feel overwhelmed.

  1. Go for a 5k or longer walk outside, alone. Not a stroll, but a walk, at pace if possible. Unplugged, no phone, no music.
  2. Establish rituals for your day. How you start your day, how you end your day, lunchtime, bed time. For example, starting with breakfast, and a nice tea or coffee could be the calm start to the day you need.
  3. Have apps on your phone that are fun and you enjoy. Play one of these for a while to take your mind off things. It is amazing how our mind helps us resolve things when we turn away from those things.
  4. Learn meditation. From simple controlled breathing to yoga, meditation can be a perfect reset from a busy and overwhelming day.
  5. Play Scrabble through Facebook on your computer. You can play anytime with someone you have never met and will never speak to.
  6. Draw, even if you think you can’t. If you are not sure what to draw, draw why you feel overwhelmed.
  7. Write. Anything but you could try writing on the page about what it is that you think makes you feel overwhelmed.
  8. Talk. We are good listeners.
  9. Three-count breathing. Inhale for three counts. Hold for three counts. Exhale for three counts. Do this for, say, ten rounds. Then increase the count. The rhythmic nature of this and concentration can help you see ahead.
  10. Earth. Go to the beach, a park, your backyard and take your shoes and socks off and put your feet on the ground.
  11. Watch. Go to a playground and watch kids play. If there is a local sports game on near you, go watch that.
  12. Start a journal. Write in it every day.
  13. Be clear to yourself when the day is done. While it is tough in small business to turn off, have a threshold so that once you cross it, you have turned off and the time is yours.
  14. Find a quiet place, put on headphones connected to a music source and listen to your favorite album of all time, with the volume turned up and a do not disturb sign on the door.
  15. Get away to a safe place and write a note to your overwhelmed self. Give yourself honest advice you’d give your best friend if they came to you with the feelings you have.

If you are struggling beyond what these suggestions can help with, consider speaking with your GP about a mental health plan. This provides access to medical professionals who can help you more effectively deal with what it is that leads you to feel overwhelmed.

Tower Systems develops and supports small business POS software. Our advice and help often reaches beyond what is usual for a POS software company. www.towersystems.com.au

Branding is everything in independent retail

Tower Systems understands the importance of branding in its business serving small business retailers with POS software. We also understand the importance in shops.

We enable beautiful branding opportunities for retailers using our POS software with professional branding of receipts and other customer touch points produced and managed through our software.

It is easy to do this.

Providing retailers with opportunities for concisely pitching branding helps locally run independent retail businesses to be consistent in their messaging.

We know from expert marketing research that multiple touch points for a brand is vital to brand awareness and trust. This is one of several key reasons why independent retailers need to embrace branding opportunities on everyday contact points, such as receipts, customer displays, shelf talkers, barcode labels, outdoor product tags and more.

By enabling beautiful customised customer touch points, Tower Systems helps small business retailers shine a light on their brand. We are proud to do this.

The photo is of a box of receipt rolls. We provide theses with fresh hardware installations by our team and sell them to our customers. Even at this level of our business, professional branding matters.

Inspiring visual merchandising for Halloween

Check out a display we saw last week at the Gift Fair in Atlanta. This is from a wholesaler of Halloween related products. The display is inspiring for the way it makes a statement about this terrific seasonal opportunity.

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