Community Economic Development Fund


All about getting more customers and sales.

The Opportunity of Loss

By Nick Tarzia

Loss. We all are feeling it. Loss of business, loss of revenue, loss of customers, loss of children running through our stores, but hopefully for not many of us, loss of a family member or a friend.

We are living in a new world that has not finished changing. Losses will continue to pile up. And life will continue to change, not gradually but abruptly. Changes are happening in ways we could have never imagined six months ago. Gone are the days of business as usual. We have been catapulted 15 years into the future.

Now we are faced with a choice: To give up, or to take on this challenge as we always have as entrepreneurs and business people. We must adapt. To paraphrase Charles Darwin, “Those who adapt, survive.” We will survive this and we will be better because of it.

We will never look at our stores in the same way again. Our stores are now stock rooms. We collect and pack orders for pickup or for shipping. Our stores will convert to showrooms and event spaces to bring people together, and, hopefully, while there they will look at our product offerings and make a purchase.

I propose this: If we do not include an easy-to-navigate website, delivery and curbside pickup as a normal way of business, we will not survive. The omnipresence of our businesses is crucial to the future success of our businesses. The unfortunate circumstance is that the demand for these changes have come upon us quicker than we could have ever imagined, and for many of us, quicker than we were prepared for.

Opportunity is banging at our door! Current events have shown us that people still want to purchase toys, and will do so in the easiest way allowed. In these trying times, we have also been shown people’s desire and love for community. It is human nature for people to do what is most convenient. But with all things being equal, they will choose to support their community. This means it is essential for success to offer same-day local delivery, curbside pickup, while still being involved in the community. Our customers do not just want this they are demanding it. We need to answer this call to succeed. We can rise to this challenge. We can adapt and get excited again, about what we do. We can learn to connect in new ways.

It's high time you learned SEO basics

Nate Berger of KnockMedia in New Haven provided an excellent introduction to the world of Search Engine Management (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in our recent seminar. I wish all of our clients could have attended because it has been my observation that while almost all of our borrowers have established functional, attractive websites, sadly, many of them are not well tuned-up for best search results.

I think much of this occurs because of a separation in the marketing world between the developers of small business websites, who often have a graphics design background, and the specialists who have experience with the technical settings that improve Google's ability to understand the contents of a website. Once a website is created, the work of improving its technical settings sometimes is forgotten. And often whoever writes the copy for the website, whether someone associated with the business or a marketing company, also fails to consider certain SEO basics.

Small business owners are busy people and can't be expected to master every technical subject and conduct all the adjustments on a do-it-yourself basis, even though in many cases the most essential tweaks would be well within their capability with a little study.

If you're going to run a business, you have to at least understand the principles of marketing, finance and personnel management (to name a few subjects) and know when to reach out for expert assistance. With so much activity running through the internet nowadays, even business owners who don't think they conduct e-commerce, really should try to pick up the fundamentals of SEO. This website provides a great foundation and is worth investing a few hours of reading. The return on the time invested is likely to come back quickly in the form of more customers and sales once the website tune up is accomplished.

-- Frederick Welk
CEDF Business Advisor

Give the customers what they want

It may seem like the oldest lesson in marketing to give customers what they want but in a litigation-filled society there's always some fearful manager (or sometimes attorney) willing to stand in the way of success.

You might have heard the story of Minnesota college student Jayson Gonzalez who stumbled into a brilliant idea of reselling Krispy Kreme donuts to hungry classmates and other donut junkies in his community by driving 500 miles round trip from St. Paul to the nearest Krispy Kreme store in Iowa. He would load 100 boxes into his car, and despite a healthy markup required to make the journey worthwhile, be became quite a popular guy. Having lived for a time in the South where the chain has most of its locations I can testify that a box of Krispy Kreme donuts should be on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act ahead of all of the dangerously addictive narcotics.

The story went national, resulting, perhaps predictably, in someone from the Krispy Kreme corporate office calling him to put a hole in his enterprise. Jayson politely complied but the social media backlash soon haunted the company. They relented and instead donated 500 boxes to help him restart the business. 

Jayson began a GoFundMe page to raise money to buy a van. His next surprise came when a freight and logistics trade magazine and Daimler AG donated the Sprinter van he needs. His GoFundMe page says he'll use the over $8,000 he has raised for taxes, insurance and snow tires.

I suppose there were some legitimate concerns at Krispy Kreme that might have involved product liability, compliance with health laws, avoiding the appearance of profiteering and such. But in the end the solution was to work through the concerns rather than diminish the very aspect that exemplified the company's fame -- a product so delicious (and a little hard to get) that people will go to outrageous lengths to get it. You can't buy advertising more effective than that.

-- Frederick Welk
CEDF Business Advisor





Could you use the Golden Triplet?

A recent article in these columns discussed the response a small business has to take to compete effectively against the Amazon steamroller. It isn’t price certainly and it isn’t selection. The answer is customer experience and trust.

In the meantime I ran across another article with a different take. The title was particularly compelling. Its author called his theory the Golden Triplet of small business.

Now it’s one thing to read about theory but another matter to put it in to practice. I’ve been witness to a retailer doing exactly that, and who happens to be a CEDF client. I’m not going to name him to allow his business to stay confidential, although he’s very forthcoming and helpful to his industry colleagues and even competitors outside his market which includes locations in two of Connecticut’s wealthier communities.

You might think this makes his business easy but it actually means there’s more competition because he customers all have enough money to shop where they want and to demand the instant gratification of next-day online fulfillment, whether through Amazon or any other source that fills the order.

Here’s how he goes up against the giant.

First, my client epitomizes the idea of excellent face-to-face service emphasized by the article’s author. His staff are at your side and available when needed on the sales floor and they are knowledgeable about the products and genuinely happy to be of assistance. Naturally, they can’t always fulfill every request because there are limits to what a local store can carry. But they know the logical substitutes and they are willing to bring inventory from the other location on request. 

The second element of the Triplet is an online presence.  But it is just enough of an online effort to be in the race without exhausting precious resources trying to out-Amazon Amazon. What’s important to my client is to provide an adequate informational substitute for being in-store when the local customer can’t conveniently make it there-- Maybe because of a snowstorm, or just because they are shopping off hours from home in pajamas. So he uses a product feed from an industry service to populate his website with a catalog of what he carries. But instead of trying to build a nationwide customer base and get beat every time by you know who, he offers local delivery in a manner that particularly appeals to his time-impoverished customers.

The third part of the Triplet is targeted volume but premium price. This means pricing your goods to recognize the value of the in-person, personal shopping assistance but never gouging your customer. The crucial point is too always generate enough gross profit to support the bricks and mortar that makes face-to-face service possible.

And as a sweetener, it helps that he has pretty decent selection too.

-- Frederick Welk
CEDF Business Advisor

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