When you think of the shops and facilities in your village, what comes to mind?
In days gone by you might have spoken fondly about your local boozer, fruit and veg store or post office. These cornerstones of village life have had to adapt to an evolving, more digitalized economy (though downloadable pints aren’t quite with us yet), but forecasts of their demise were greatly exaggerated.
As well as writing for retail blog Gift Shop Hub, I run social media accounts for greeting card and gift shop Wishes of Cudworth. A common reaction when I mention what I do is: “Do people still buy birthday cards?”
The answer is an emphatic yes, the greeting card industry is booming. In 2015 the UK public spent more on greeting cards than ever before, taking the market value up to £1.7bn (figures courtesy of the Greeting Card Association).
So yes, people still buy cards. They still buy vegetables from a traditional grocer too; though no doubt they’re losing out to the new breed of supermarkets like Aldi.
Our public houses are learning to adapt, with most now branched out into selling food as the rise of the gastropub continues. It’s not a new notion, but any shop that stands still and refuses to adapt may lose out to their modern-thinking competitors.
Any independent shop will live or die by a number of factors, so here are a few quick tips to get you started:
1. Build awareness with your virtual shop window
A pretty obvious one and I’m not the first to say this, but location is still key.
But there’s a key trend in online browsing that leads to ‘real world’ purchasing. It’s been long assumed that the internet spelled the demise of the high street, but what we’re finding is many savvy shoppers will research online before visiting a shop with a targeted purchase in mind.
It’s therefore more important than ever to invest in your website and make sure you’re prominently placed, with accurate information on products, opening times and so forth, on Google Places for Business.
Maybe what we’re starting to see is a decline in window-shopping; customers have already done their homework via Google.
And if you’re thinking of setting up a new shop, you should do some research too. If you’re a card shop like us, you don’t want to be a few doors from a Card Factory outlet.
2. Know your products
Remember those customers that ‘Googled’ your shop in point one?
Well they’re at your shop now, hungry to buy, but they’ve got a couple of questions they’d like to ask. As independent shop owners and staff we’re not just selling the product; we’re selling advice, stories and history.
The more information and background we can provide, the better.
If a candle with two wicks has a clean burn then let your customer know that. If you sell art then research the painters you sell. If a product has links to your local area then shout out about this local tie – which neatly brings us to...
3. Build community relationships
Working with local groups, schools, clubs and charities will help integrate any business into its community. Buy local, support charities and build bonds with those who live in your village or town.
At our store we try and work with UK-based suppliers, especially if they’re from Yorkshire too.
A small shop like ours isn’t just about selling cards; we’re there to witness the special moments of people’s lives, be it the birth of a child, the joy of a new home or the celebration of a wedding. Many of our regulars become friends, making it a pleasure to see them time and time again.
4. Think outside the box
What comes to mind if I mention guerilla marketing?
If it’s “a monkey playing the drums to Phil Collins” then you’ve read my mind and get a comedy ‘ba dum tsh’ for your contribution.
Unfortunately, you’d be wrong: guerrilla marketing is an advertising campaign that focuses on low-cost, unconventional marketing tactics to get the greatest possible exposure. Our greatest mini success was a free, loosely Pokémon-themed badge giveaway for customers when they visited our shop and checked in on our Facebook page.
While there’s always room for traditional printed promotions, like good old-fashioned leaflets and posters, thinking outside the box could help you get wider exposure.
5. Get social
Like location, this is an obvious yet often overlooked part of any successful independent shop.
A well-sculpted tweet or Facebook post – in a tone that aligns with your brand and perhaps entertains or amuses as it showcases your latest products – acts as a virtual reminder of your existence, the authenticity of your brand and the appeal of your products. All I can say is we’ve actually seen direct sales from posting a new product onto Facebook.
For a gentle introduction to the benefits of using social platforms check out our blog post on the topic over on Gift Shop Hub.