The winter cold is behind us. Now let's focus on cleaning up your business. Walk through your store like a customer; see the store through your customer's eyes.
Examine your merchandise offerings. Are they dated? Dusty? Technologically obsolete? Hold a close-out sale to get rid of anything more than three months old. Merchandise you already paid for is now costing you money and will continue to do so until you sell it. So sell it.
Rearrange your products to freshen up their appearance. Remerchandising your store creates new opportunities for your customers by exposing them to products they never saw before. Look at everything from your customers' perspective, not your own. They're the ones who keep you in business and provide the cash flow and profits to help fuel your growth.
Look closely at the physical appearance of your store. Is the carpet worn, shelving chipped, displays ragged? Now is the time to replace them. Send a message to your customers that you care about them, and respect your appearance and reputation. Customers love to shop in clean, neat stores and are less likely to dirty them. They have no respect for a sloppy store and will not have a second thought about dropping things on your floor.
Update Your Product Offerings
With technology changing so rapidly, now is the perfect time to update your product offerings and change your store's image. Ask customers what they think of your store, what kind of store it is, and how it satisfies their needs. Listen carefully, but watch them even closer, since most customers say one thing but do another. Their behaviors are a much better predictor than what they say.
For those of you who attended CES or PMA, what products did you see that you feel would put you on the leading edge of consumer wants? Are you stocking them? Are you promoting them, letting the consumer know that your shop is the place to get the latest imaging products and services?
With the internet taking the place of many brick-and-mortar operations, are you creating an internet presence that allows the time-compressed consumer the ability to shop at your store 24 hours a day? Think about all the traditional, low-tech products the internet has replaced: travel agencies, insurance, even shopping for a car. It is the great leveler, allowing small businesses to compete globally, if they choose.
Clean Up Your Business Strategy
Let's move away from your physical business and into the abstract. Do you have a strategy? Where are you taking your business, or is it taking you where it wants to go? Who's in control?
Strategies are long-term plans stretching three to five years out. They're broad brushstrokes defining the goals and dreams of the owners. How will your business look in the future? How are you tying all your product areas together? Will one department complement another in the future?
Put your new product lines into the plan; make them the cornerstone for change. Change your image; change the consumers' perception of your store. Use your plan to give direction to your employees and to define the company's culture. How does your company handle opportunities and problems? Are your employees empowered to make decisions, or must they always come to you for advice? Build empowerment into your plan. Let them know that you expect them to think, and make decisions as if the company were theirs. Once they know your strategy, your employees will have a good idea of how you want things done and how to do them. They have the overall direction of your plan and what you want your company to achieve.
Brush Up Your Business Plan
With your long-tem strategy in place, now it's time to upgrade that business plan. Take all this spring cleaning and soul-searching and get it down on paper. Most business owners I work with have a plan—an unwritten one, but a plan, nonetheless. The tough part is always getting the plan on paper. Put the basics down in writing: the mission of the business; target market and customer profiles; products; pricing strategies; distribution channels; promotional strategies; financial needs; and financial projections. Set your goals and make sure they pass the goal test; they must be specific, realistic, and measurable.
Share your goals with your employees. Get buy-in from them by letting them participate in their creation. Let them take ownership of the plan. This will also help them execute the plan and be proactive with day-to-day decision-making, leaving the long-range business management to you. Putting yourself in the business of running your business instead of letting the business run you will get you further along in achieving your dreams. So pick up your broom and start sweeping your way to achieving your dreams.
Paul Rinaldi is the managing member of PenEm Group, LLC (P.O. Box 4161, Middletown, NJ 07748, (732) 615-9747), business advisors specializing in small-business marketing and strategic planning. He is a 25-year-plus industry veteran, currently assistant director of the Monmouth/Ocean Small Business Development Center, a lecturer, and a marketing and business adjunct at a local college. If you have a business question or article suggestion, he can be reached via email at: email@example.com.