Stores are starting to reopen across the world, and we are watching this very, very carefully.
We’re learning a ton of new things while watching what they are doing, because some of these stores are doing excellent business.
In some cases, they are exceeding last year’s numbers! Let’s take a look at what the most successful retailers are doing to make this happen.
Overall, you have to approach opening as if you were opening for the first time.
It has to have that level of excitement, that level of enthusiasm.
So my first, best advice to you is to get super pumped up about opening!
1. Store Presentation and Layout
This is the perfect time to reassess your store’s layout and shop-ability.
You certainly want to organize your store so your shoppers can maintain the proper social distance from each other and still see all the great merchandise you have in stock.
Here are some tips you can apply:
- Start at the front door, and look inside your store as if you’re visiting for the first time. Can you see all the way to the back wall? Can you identify key areas that you want to go to to see the merchandise?
- The most important real estate in your store is the immediate right. Do we have some of our best merchandise there?
- Many stores are putting markers on the floor that direct people through the store, creating a path to follow, much like grocery stores or Ikea have done. The benefit of this is that when your shoppers walk the path, they can see merchandise they might not have seen. This is creating add-on sales!
- As you walk the store, make sure your displays make people want to stop and check out the merchandise. Make the displays compelling with cross-merchandising, props, bundles, and multiple levels.
- From each display that causes a shopper to linger, where will they go next? Merchandise your displays that lead the customer through the store, directing their eyes to the next great display of merchandise.
- Signage is super important. Yes, you want to have signs that remind people to obey social distancing, but they don’t have to be negative or serious. A western apparel store put up signs that say, “There should be a cow’s distance between us!” Another store posted a sign that said, “If you can read the label on my jeans, then you’re too close!” Make it fun!
- This is also a time to ensure you have excellent lighting that shows off and spotlights your great products.
For many years, I have said that marketing should have a two-word definition, which is “Creating Demand.”
That means that any messaging you send out, whether it be by email, social media, or texting, should first be checked to see if the message makes anyone want to come to the store or the website, or to find out more.
If it doesn’t, rework it until it does.
- I think the best messaging for reopening is, “We are back, we are safe, and we are ready for you!” Customers need to feel like you are welcoming a long, lost friend to the store.
- Show them in your videos (you ARE doing videos, right?) and posts how you are working hard to keep the store clean, safe, and fun.
- There is a lot more activity in social media and emails now. More retail stores have had to quickly open up e-commerce sites, and the only way to promote those was to send out tons of social media posts and videos, and emails. So it’s noisier out there, and to compete you have to generate as much activity as everyone else. That means 2-3 emails per week, multiple posts on social media every day, and at least a couple of videos.
- While I’m talking about videos, did you know that YouTube is the #2 search engine on the planet? That means that you need to have your own YouTube channel, post all your videos on there, and make sure you tag them properly so people can find and watch them, and want to come to your store.
I have to confess that up until recently, I was not doing much with hashtags in social media.
But I have come to learn that they are the best, most direct path to getting more customers to follow you.
That said, they have to be the RIGHT hash tags – in other words, “#clothing” is not going to help you, but “#darkwashskinnydenim” will.
Look at other stores and brands that you admire and take a look at their hashtags.
Incorporate those into your posts and see if they get you more likes and followers.
As you open your business, you’ll also need to give careful consideration to your staff’s needs and your personnel needs as well.
- Keep in mind that with social distancing, you may not need as many people on the floor as you did previously. Also, your store may have different hours now. So first, consider what you really need in terms of floor coverage, and then deal with any employee issues.
- Some of your staff may be reluctant to come back. It may be that they are scared of the virus and don’t want to return. It may also be that they are enjoying the extra money they’re getting while on unemployment. This is all understandable, but you cannot be held hostage this way. Retailers who have faced this have had to get new staff, and you may have to do the same.
- The ones that do come back will need some additional training. First, they need to learn some new procedures in the store, especially regarding cleaning. We need to show customers that our stores are clean and safe, and so your employees will need to know how to clean and which areas to clean. Of special concern for apparel retailers is the dressing room. It needs to be cleaned between visitors, and I would recommend posting a log inside the dressing room that shows how often the dressing has been cleaned.
- Staff will also need to be trained on how to sell from 6 feet away. How do they still engage with customers, make recommendations, and lead them to the purchase? Certainly, one of the things I think they’ll need to work on is how to move the conversation from the awfulness of this pandemic, to positive things. It’s something they need to drill before you open.
The politics of salesmanship are yet another challenge we have to get past.
Scroll through social media for 2 minutes and you’ll see tons of divergent opinions about how this whole situation should be handled.
- Some of your customers are going to be worried about being out. Make sure they feel warmly welcomed, and make sure they see that you are cleaning the store, that you are safe, and that it’s OK to be there.
- Other customers will want to completely ignore that there is a virus at all. Be careful about any customers who do not obey social distancing, for this reason only: you could freak out other customers who see it, and that could get you a nasty scene on the sales floor, or a nasty online review.
- Lots of stores are stepping up sales by setting appointments to visit the store. An appointment is almost a guaranteed sale, because you wouldn’t make an appointment unless you had a strong interest in buying product, right?
- Products that are touched by customers need to be cleaned. Garments that have been tried on need to be steamed, and everything needs to get looked at to ensure safety. This is part of what your employees need to show customers on the floor – that we are safe, and the merchandise can and should be touched!
We are seeing a large variety of methods of selling right now. It’s a broad topic and way beyond the scope of this post.
The most important thing I can tell you is that we’re all learning how to sell in this new era, and there will be lots of tips and tricks coming.
Frankly, the absolute most important thing in this blog post is a discussion of your merchandise.
Having the right merchandise is the key to your survival.
- First, look at your Spring merchandise. We think Spring will be extended by a month or so, since people have not seen a lot of the merchandise you received when then lockdowns started. Look carefully at what you have and what’s on order. Talk to your vendors and find out if they still have goods and negotiate for discounts on whatever they have left, but only if your Open to Buy plan (you do have one of those, right?) tells you that you need it.
- Fall goods could be tricky. We’re already hearing that many manufacturers are not able to produce their typical Fall production because of the shutdown. Start talking to your vendors about Fall and see who can and cannot ship, and how that will affect your assortment plan.
- Most importantly, you need a sales plan that you believe in, coupled with an inventory plan that enables you to turn goods even faster than you ever have. In all of our merchandise planning and open to buy planning, we are putting together models that ensure positive cash flow through proper sales forecasting using algorithms and artificial intelligence. Cash was always king, but now, it’s super-king. Make sure you have a solid plan to get you through the rest of this year!
One last thing, which is really, really from my heart. I believe in independent retail. I believe in you. Every politician says that small business is the backbone of our economy, and that’s true.
That said, small businesses are the people who build communities, who take leadership roles to give everyone a better life.
To that degree, you are more than the backbone of the economy, you are the backbone of society itself.
As such, your survival is hugely important!
And you can do it, if you apply these first tips that I’ve listed here.
So go for it. Make it happen, for you, your family, your community, and for the future for all of us.
We all stand with you, and we’re cheering you on!
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