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Down But Not Out: A Guide To Surviving The Retail Slump

Reality check: Gas is up, sales are down and things may not improve any time soon. So how do you survive the slump? Here is a four-point action plan that can help you weather the storm.

First: Recognize the opportunities that do exist. Have you noticed that as the price of gas increases, so do the number of phone calls to the store? At times like this, more people turn to the telephone to check in-stocks and ask questions. It’s the perfect time to train and retrain your people on how to sell over the phone. Good sales people should recognize the telephone as an “opportunity” rather than an “annoyance.” Are your people prompt in answering it? Do they qualify the customer’s needs as they would in the store? Do they invite the customer to visit the store, or even set up an appointment?

Second: Pull your staff together and let them understand the state of your business. Share with them the impact of gas prices and the reality that the company may need to tighten its belt. They will understand, since they may be doing the same thing at home. Have them share their ideas on cost cutting and maximizing each sales opportunity. Make it fun. Create a contest for the best cost saving or sales generating ideas and reward the salesperson whose ideas are implemented. In addition, it may be a good time to let people take some time off (paid or unpaid), especially if your salespeople are commissioned. Nothing brings down morale more than splitting up a smaller pie.

Third: Remember the old adage, “Never enter through your back door.” Now is the time to look at your store from the customer’s perspective. Start with your advertising. Does it make someone want to spend the gas to visit you? What about your Web site? Does it make a compelling statement? Look at the store front. What message does the outside send to your customers? How clean is the parking lot? Are all the lights working on the sign? Are your hours clearly posted?

What about the inside of the store? Does it look neat, clean, inviting and exciting? Challenge your people to re-merchandise the accessories with the corresponding product. Make sure all displays are fresh and working. Paint the walls, restock literature and point-of-purchase materials, clean the carpets and put up new signs in the window. Change will also help keep the sales team invigorated.

Fourth: This is a great time to conduct even more extensive training with your people. The more they know the more they will sell. Training always seems to get pushed to the back burner “until things slow down.” Well guess what? That time is here. When things are slow you need to make the most of every customer interaction.

  • Hold vendor training and work on partnering lower-volume performers with the top performers, and role-play in the store.
  • Focus on accessories, attachment selling, and increasing the average ticket and gross margin of each sale. Have staffers show each other what key accessories they recommend with each key product, and how and why they offer them to the customer. Show them the impact that accessory sales can have on the bottom line for both the company and the salesperson. And don’t forget the customer in this equation — we are doing them a favor, saving them time, money and gas by selling them the complete package.
  • Extended-service plans: Remind your customers that now might be a good time to focus on such benefits as locking in “tomorrow’s service at today’s prices” because as gas goes up, so does the cost of service. Taking advantage of your extended service plans can give them an opportune way to budget for the future. Train and re-train the team on the importance of offering your extended service plans.
  • Services: Make sure the salespeople are offering all the services your company provides, including finance plans, installation, delivery, and in-house service. These benefits may make the difference between sales for you versus your competition.

Speaking of the competition, now may be a good time to have the sales people do comparison shops. Let them see how the “other guys” are doing and tell them what to look. See if they can come back with any fresh ideas for your store. Have them share what they learned when they get back.

The bottom line: While you can’t control the price of gas, with focus and training you can exert control over the success of your business.