2011: Just hanging in there

Home Columns 2011: Just hanging in there

by Kelly Kramer

Well last year at this time I was writing about how hopefully the worst was behind us. That the economic down turn should have run its course and how those of us who had managed to stay above board were poised for an overdue upswing.

Guess what? I was wrong. My store did almost exactly from what we did in 2010 (technically we were up, but by just a bit).

Personally I’m not complaining because we are still in business and, unfortunately, have adjusted and are getting more used to this situation. We now know the good times come and go, but we’ve managed to make the best with what we have. Like you, I’m hunkering down and trying new ideas to go after new markets.

Service pays

Those of us who have stayed alive but not thrived should be proud because we made it due to great customer service. I’m guessing about 70% of this year’s business has been from repeats and referrals. Because we go the extra mile to do things right in educating our customers and taking extra big steps in service, we now can rely on that.

Just look at the companies that run on deceitful slick ads. These are the ones that rely on massive advertising dollars to bring in new (not return) buyers. They do what’s called “Turn ’em and burn ’em.” That means they make the sale with any unscrupulous method they need to use. Then they have to do the old write ’em and fight ’em. Well this method works when times are good. They don’t have to rely on repeat customers, they just spend more money advertising to bring in the next ignorant shopper.

The word shopper to me means a customer who has no education about the purchase she is making. Shoppers look at prices only and believe it’s their great fortune to stumble onto a 60% off sale. A shopper has no friends, relatives or neighbors to steer her to a good service-minded company. When I get referred/return customers, they are not shoppers, they are trusting buyers who rely on me to protect their interests.

Strange times

One thing I found strange this past year is we have a lot less sales than say three years ago. But the sales we do get are on average about 20% higher. This tells me our market has changed. Our buyers today are people who did not suffer much from the recession. They own higher end homes and want higher quality, longer-term products.

So let’s just say we are selling to a more educated base than in years past. That means we need to advertise quality and service to them because they understand these more than a less educated price-only minded buyer.

I’m not making that statement to be an elite snob, because I pride myself on helping my lower end buyers get the best they can for their dollar. To be quite frank, I more often than not like lower dollar buyers because they need my education style more than a high dollar buyer. It’s just that they are not our target market at this point.

Two suggestions I make in working with today’s clientele are: First, is to offer to go do a pre measure/consultation before any products are picked out. Give her that personal designer’s touch if you are capable. Next is to educate her even more. More educated people like to know more about their purchases.

Till next year, keep hanging in there. Hopefully this time next year, we’ll have a better year-end to report.

Especially at this new year: Thanks for reading.


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