Saturday, August 27, 2011

Habits - Good or Bad - We've Got Them

Habits are a mixed breed of human behavior. Some are good and some are not so good for us. We all have habits we wish we could do away with and behaviors we would like to make habits for us. I know I do and every day I am reminded of them. That reminder serves as my change agent to work harder at changing what I can and to accept what I cannot change.

Well in the business world, we have to make changes as our customer's habits change. We don't have the luxury of staying the same all the time because our customers do not stay the same. The Model T is a prime example of how it did not change but yet today the American auto industry still seems to live in the mindset of "I have every color you want as long as you want black." The industry had to have a big jolt of reality before it could start making changes to reflect the American car buying audience.

Habits have an effect on not just large business but small business also. In fact, habits probably have a faster effect on a small business's bottom line because of how close it is to the ultimate customer. In small business, the owner is often in front of the customer while in big business, the owner is many times removed.

So how can a small business owner change his or her habits and improve the bottom line? The first thing an owner should do is make sure the inventory is in line with the customer's needs and desires. Consumers change over time and what was needed last year may no longer be needed. So if you don't update your inventory you may be selling last year's fad which is this year's junk(bad habit). So talk to your customer's - ask them what they would like to see you carry. Ask them about how they see the market changing and what their expectations are (good habit). Involving the customer in your decision making process is one way to make sure your habits on inventory are changing and you don't get caught with your pants down.

Then once you involve the customer in your store, it is easier to ask them to buy more - the second thing you can do to change habits. Many times, small business owners are happy to get the order (bad habit). Once you have the order, then is the time to ask how else you may help them and grow that customer in terms of sales. It may be a purchase of an auxiliary product, something totally different in another product line - whatever but do the ask! (good habit)

The third habit to change is complacency with the competition (bad habit). We all know competition is there and more of it every day. It is surprising to me when I talk to a business owner and they say they have no competition. Bull Hockey! We all have competition. Heck even I, as a free service, have competition from for profit sources. So go out there and shop the competition (good habit). Have friends and family members go to them and shop them. Check out the customer service, inventory, policies, etc. Get to know them so you can identify their weaknesses (and yours) and build a stronger case for "why buy you."

Next recognize the value of the repeat customer and start paying attention to her. It is not a good practice to offer new customers something and not the existing ones (bad habit). It is on average nine times more expensive to acquire a new customer then to keep an existing one. So reward the repeat customer (good habit). How? Try a customer loyalty card, customer appreciation events, insider sales, preview sales, special packaging or services etc. Give them a reason to come back more often and buy from you. Many times these special services are not expensive when compared to the sales they generate.

We are all creatures of habit so reinforce your customer's habit of shopping with you with your own good habits. So I invite you to share with us some examples of good and bad habits you may have or have witnessed in small business. Let's talk about them.....