How Retailers and Service Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Each Other

All businesses have tricks of the trade—tips and tactics that help them attract customers,  increase revenues and grow their companies. However, these solutions tend to be known and practiced within specific industries. Retail businesses, for instance, have their secrets to success and service businesses have theirs.

But what if we mix it up? Are there retail tactics and techniques service businesses can “borrow” to improve their businesses and vice versa?

Retail tactics

First let’s examine some of the proven tactics retailers use. This blog post on Vend offers 17 tips to increase retail sales. Some are equally relevant to service businesses. Let’s take a closer look at a few.

1—“Hire and develop employees who can offer exceptional customer service.” Almost every retail expert advises retailers to hire wisely, making sure all employees are “passionate and knowledgeable” about the product mix and trained to provide great customer service. Like retail employees, your service staff needs to be trained to recognize what your clients need and want and how best to deliver those to them.

While service businesses are likely hiring skilled staff knowledgeable about their industry, they often overlook the importance of providing stellar customer service. Whether you’re an accountant or financial advisor, run a graphics design firm or janitorial service, even if your employees are good at what they do, if they’re not equally strong working with people, your business could be in trouble.

2—“Promote corporate social responsibility (CSR).” Being a good corporate citizen should be part of every business’s core strategy. But it’s often easier for retail businesses to promote their CSR than service companies. Try these CSR activities to let people know your service business is dedicated to helping the community.

Service businesses with storefronts that attract customers throughout the day, such as hair and nail salons, spas, gyms, etc. can donate a portion of a day’s sales or profits to a charity or other worthy cause. Local schools often hold fundraisers at retail or food establishments. Perhaps your service business could host one in your facility.

If you own a car repair company or you’re a consultant, accountant, financial advisor, real estate agent, lawyer, graphic or web designer, tutor, dentist, etc. check out local community events. Many have booths where you can, while not dispensing advice, give out free, relevant checklists, such as general tax tips or how to stage your home for sale, how to go green, or five books every middle school child should read. This gives your audience value, which builds affinity for your brand.  Make sure your logo and contact info is on the documents and try to collect names and email addresses to build your email list. Of course,  make sure you ask for permission to email them.

If it’s appropriate, pick a cause that makes sense to your business mission and promote it. Contractors, home remodelers, interior designers, for example, could work with an organization like Habitat for Humanity.

Any service business can sponsor a local sports team (kids or adult) or a local marathon or other race.

The idea here is to be active and visible in your community.

3— “Communicate, communicate, communicate.” Retailers are always replenishing inventory, bringing in new products. This creates natural opportunities for them to regularly communicate with their customers. Savvy retailers employ a variety of communications methods, including postcards, text messaging, websites, e-newsletters, social platforms, etc.

Service entrepreneurs can use all those methods as well. Some service businesses have organic, seasonal opportunities to send communications. Accountants should be sharing tax tips both during the tax season and at the end of the year. Cleaning businesses should promote their services for “spring cleaning” and getting ready to host holiday celebrations. Car mechanics and repair companies can promote “how to winterize your vehicles,” while hair salons can promote new styles for prom, graduation or other seasonal occasions.

All service businesses should have information to share. The easiest ways to do that are via their websites and email newsletters. If you don’t yet have an email newsletter, try out AWeber’s Smart Designer tool, which makes creating email newsletters as easy as clicking a button. It automatically builds a ready–to–use, branded email template for your business based on your website design or social media page, so you don’t have to spend time designing a template from scratch.

4—Sell products. Obviously, retail companies are in the business of selling products. Service businesses can easily add a retail component. Whatever products you sell should be relevant to your business. Accountants can sell accounting software. Most salons already sell products (nail polish, shampoo, etc.) but you can add other merchandise your customers would like, such as hair accessories, jewelry, scarves, etc. Maid services can offer specialized cleaning products. Some service businesses, particularly ones specializing in offering information, such as marketing companies, can sell subscription newsletters or e-books.  Almost any service entrepreneur can find books of interest to sell to their clientele.

If you have an office, you can sell these products there, but setting up an e-commerce component on your business website is easier than ever these days.

Service business tactics

5—Be the expert. Since service entrepreneurs are usually specialists in their fields it’s easy for them to position themselves as industry experts. They can augment that by teaching workshops or classes or becoming a go-to source for local media.

Retailers can easily do that as well. Depending  on what you sell, you can become the local expert on the best toys for kids, beauty, fashion, and food trends, design ideas (furniture and décor), houseplants consumers can’t kill, recommended reading, etc.

Underscore your expertise by highlighting what you know on your website and in e-newsletters. You too can promote your expertise to local media, using press releases or just sending a note via email. Be active on social media—use it not only to promote sales, but to “show off” your bona fides.

6—Social proof.  Unlike retailers, service entrepreneurs generally sell something that can’t be seen. Therefore, explains our friends at Small Business Trends, they find other ways to get their prospects to see the value in what they’re selling.

Social proof is one solution for that. Consumers feel better about making a purchase (B2B or B2C) if they know other people have made it as well. Service business owners do this by using testimonials in their marketing materials. In fact, including social proof in your email marketing is one of the most powerful ways to drive more sales through email.

Retailers can do this by showing how others have bought—and used your products. Ask your customers to send pictures for you to post on your website. If you sell clothes and accessories, consumers can send pictures of themselves in their outfits. If it’s home décor or furniture, etc., they can send you pictures of how your products look in their home or yard.

Ask your customers to post these pictures on their social platforms as well, tagging your business. Of course, you’ll need to amplify their posts. Also monitor the ratings and review sites, so you can promote the good reviews and try to fix the bad ones.

7—Focus on feelings. Another tip from Small Business Trends for service businesses is to focus on prospects’ feelings, because “emotion fuels most of our decision making.” Think about how financial advisors appeal to people’s emotions about major life moments, like having a baby, buying a house, retirement, etc.

Retailers can appeal to consumers’ emotions in your marketing materials. Using language like “this rug will make your home feel cozy,” or “show the world you’ve made it by wearing this elegant watch,” or “make your pet feel loved by feeding them organic food.”

Most consumers buy products that make them comfortable and safe. Especially with big purchases, you don’t want to push them out of their comfort zone. However, if you sell inexpensive, impulse items, you have a little more leeway to sell them merchandise that makes them feel glamourous or sexy or adventurous.

Borrowing business tactics from industries other than your own can help make your business stand out from your competitors. Consumers prefer to do business with companies that aren’t doing the “same old thing.”

In partnership with AWeber

Small business tactics stock photo by ESB Basic/Shutterstock