How to Treat Your Customers as What They Are


‘Everybody lives by selling something’ is a quotation, not from a red-clawed indus­trialist, but from the author and poet Robert Louis Stevenson. Only your customers will enable you to fulfil your dreams. In the early stages you will have to spend a high proportion of your available cash on marketing. The guy who runs the art gallery told me ‘Spend ten per cent of each year’s revenues on marketing, at least to begin with.’

Your stationery and your logo are important. Spend time and, if necessary, money on them. Your business name should have the echo of a branding or a posi­tioning. It should suggest almost that new customers have heard of you before. This is not ‘passing off, which is illegal, but making sure that the associations that people have with the name are positive and relevant.

You are always looking for repeat business and references to new prospects. If you can sell your product off the Internet, do it. This means that customers, who were in your locale once, can buy from you from wherever in the world they find themselves. Advertise in places where potential customers might come from. Re­member, people with an interest in your speciality will travel to meet with and deal with someone who knows what they are talking about. So don’t limit your advertis­ing to your local paper. If your real pleasure comes from the buying of the products, don’t let that diminish the amount of time you spend on promoting the business and finding new customers.

Once you have found them, keep a detailed record of who they are and what their interests are as well as what they bought. You will be surprised how quickly you build a database of information that makes your next mailshot extremely well focused – ‘One of those tiny Georgian teapots has come into my possession, shall I keep it for the next time you drop in?’ This database is a major asset of the business, and if you are eventually going to sell the business as a going concern it will be a huge contributor to the value of the goodwill you have built up.

Talking about goodwill, it is hard to win but terribly easy to throw away. A good reputation pays huge dividends in terms of repeat business and new customers attracted by word of mouth. Set your quality sights very high. If a customer has a problem with a product, or even if they just don’t like it, take it back or fix the problem, literally without question. Try, obviously, to get them to take something in exchange, but if they insist just give them their money back. It is quality and service you are selling, not the product itself. Use the best materials for display and packag­ing and make the place look welcoming. Your customers are used to being treated as people in a line, or as targets for smooth salespeople; shopping with you should be a different sort of experience. The opposite of pressure and intimidation is to leave them alone unless they ask for help and to go away when you have answered their question and they look as though they are going to move on to another product or even another shop. Remember, you are in this for the long haul; they will prob­ably come back if they felt no pressure. Oh, and leave the door open whenever the weather allows it. This avoids any feeling of being trapped.

The shop will obviously change slowly as you sell items and bring in new stock, but a consensus of opinion says that you should make a point of changing the place dramatically from time to time. One person who sells rare books told me that it was his practice to start a collection of new offerings but keep them in a bottom drawer until he had a good display. This meant that he was possibly not selling the books as soon as he could, but it also meant that he could send out a mailshot inviting cus­tomers to come in and see the new display when the time came. He did this when the shop was otherwise closed, gave them a glass of wine and frequently did well.

One other person who sells a small number of quite highly priced goods made sure that on the counter there were a number of attractive but inexpensive related items, in this case postcards of well known paintings. This meant that everyone could buy something and was also a useful source of petty cash.

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About the Author: Marie Mayle is a contributor to the MegaHowTo team, writer, and entrepreneur based in California USA. She holds a degree in Business Administration. She loves to write about business and finance issues and how to tackle them.

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