Most trees remain green and there is certainly no snow on the ground or in the air. But now is the time for local retail merchants to begin planning for the fall and holiday shopping season the most profitable time of the year.
Earlier this month, more than 30 local retailers gathered for an instructional seminar on how to transform Bah, humbug to booming holiday sales under the guidance of Marc Wilson, retail industry specialist at the Virginia Small Business Development Center.
Sponsored by the VSBDC, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, the seminar focused on seven simple strategies to capitalize on the citys busiest shopping period of each year.
Dont presume that everybody knows how to sell, Wilson warned, kicking off the two-hour session. The big retailers have very effective training programs and repeat them often because there are points that we retailers often forget until were reminded.
Christy Beal, owner of Eclectic Nature said, It was very informative. There were points reiterated that I had forgotten over the years, she said. Her garden shop and gifts center on Mount Vernon Avenue has been open for about seven years.
Wilsons presentation highlighted merchandizing strategies, tips for drawing more customers into attendees shops, how to turn shoppers into customers, and motivating sales staffs:
Educate your community – Keep shoppers local. Of every dollar spent with an independent, locally owned store, 69 percent stays local, according to Wilson.
Create a strategy – Prepare for the upcoming season now by promoting and building upon all the other marketing opportunities that precede the holiday season, such as other holidays and events.
Dress up windows and displays – Keep lights on until 10 p.m. Seventy percent of shopping is done after 5 p.m. and open doors get 10 times more traffic, Wilson said. If they stay longer they spend more.
Merchandise for the holidays – Is the store full of merchandise, clean, are items prominently displayed? If the store sells handmade goods remember merchandising those products is basically storytelling, Wilson said.
Personalize the shopping experience – This means training staff in the art of selling. Let the customer do most of the talking and listen carefully.
Focus on customer service – Under-promise and over-deliver, Wilson advised.
Market your brand – Having a professionally developed website is critical to a successful holiday, Wilson stated. He also noted that customer satisfaction is the best marketing tool possible. One word of mouth advertising has the impact of 200 TV ads, he said.
All this information was very useful, especially about how to talk with our customers, the use of technology in marketing, the importance of our window displays, said David Martin, owner, Goldworks, on King Sreet.
In the case of window displays I learned that motorists spend three to five seconds looking at my windows. Now I have two large monitors in the windows operating all night showing some of our merchandise. This seminar is another plus for the good work being done by SBDC, Martin said.
Alexandria SBDC has sponsored about eight retail/restaurant seminars since 2008, according to Bill Reagan, executive director. We wanted to help our retailers and restaurateurs improve their operations, merchandizing and appearance in preparation for the opening of National Harbor, with the expected increase in visitors to Alexandria, Reagan explained.