Problem Solver: Retailers must avail of alternatives to grants
Q: I'm in the process of opening a new shop. Can you point me in the direction of grant assistance that would be available to help me with the fit-out?
A: Sadly, there is no grant assistance available for retail operations. There are lots of grants available for manufacturing businesses, but as you will be selling directly to the consumer your project will be classed as retail, which is ineligible.
There are however, "softer supports" in many regions offered by the Local Enterprise Offices. You may be able to avail of mentoring - many of the LEO retail development programmes provide expertise and mentoring to help grow your business.
The LEOs are also constantly running digital media training programmes which I would encourage you to complete. They have an excellent online trading voucher scheme for retailers, designed to help you build a selling website for your business.
County Councils around the country have shop front schemes, which provide smaller grants for enhancing shop fronts or the facade of the business. You might also qualify for a loan from Micro Finance Ireland. While it is disappointing there are no grants, there are lots of other supports which should help.
Q: What kind of an incentive can you suggest I give to customers who have lapsed from shopping with us?
A: This is a classic error many businesses make. What you are proposing to do is to reward dis-loyalty. Can you imagine how your loyal customers would feel if they saw others who were infrequent or lapsed getting a reward? It could trigger a real problem for you.
I made a very big mistake many years ago. One of our branches was burned to the ground by fire and we provided a bus service to a neighbouring branch for over three months. As a gesture of thanks to those who travelled by bus every week we gave them all a cake, however, the customers in the shop who were hosting these displaced customers were furious. They had to put up with a more crowded shop and felt aggrieved as to why the other group should be chosen over them.
The rule is simple: reward loyalty, not disloyalty. Most businesses don't put enough effort into working with their loyal customers. As a knee-jerk reaction to falling sales they very often rush out and spend a lot of money on marketing and promotions to attract customers who may have never been inside the door before and who may not come back again after the promotion.
Instead, the smart thing to do is to increase the amount of activity with your existing customers and to reward loyalty and incentivise further increases in spend value and frequency of visits.
If you have contact details for your lapsed customers it might be well worth while doing some research on why they have stopped shopping with you, as that would give you a more meaningful insight. Certainly don't try to bribe them to come back.
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