Problem solver: Staff uniforms can bring a sense of professionalism, but you must consider cost
Businessman Feargal Quinn answers your questions
Q: I am considering getting uniforms for all of my staff who previously wore their own clothes. Do you have a view on this issue?
A: To some degree, the answer to this very much depends on the type of business that you are in. I see many fashion retailers who don't have a formal staff uniform but instead insist that their staff wear some of the clothing from the shop. This is a practical way to promote the shop's brand labels to consumers and also looks well.
Of course, the advantage of wearing a predetermined uniform is that staff are instantly recognisable to customers and your shop exudes a sense of professionalism to your customers, with everyone looking similar.
There are some issues to consider when making the decision: The cost to the business of fitting everyone out in a new uniform; the cost to staff of keeping these clean, particularly if they require special cleaning; what your customers expect from the business; and then there is the complexity of the frequency with which uniforms have to be replaced once they are issued.
Perhaps a start point for you might be to agree a certain dress code with staff for the next number of months. This is an arrangement many businesses have with their staff, eg black trousers and black shirt, etc.
This would allow you to explore the disciplines necessary in maintaining a uniform without spending lots of money. It would also give your staff an opportunity to see how disciplined they are with maintaining the "look" in prime condition, etc.
Q: I run a bed and breakfast in a popular tourist town in west Cork and I am looking for some ideas on how to promote my business.
A: I am fascinated by the huge transition that has taken place in the tourist sector in terms of how it communicates with its guests. For many businesses now, online advertising can be a key tool in recruiting new customers.
Apart from your own website and social media campaigns, you need to be linked with some of the online umbrella groups to ensure you are picking up business through this source also.
I think you should treat every existing customer as an ambassador and "talking bill board" for your business.
Make sure that as your guests are leaving, you give them some marketing material to take away with them and ask permission to contact them in the future with promotional offers and information.
Building a database is invaluable and you should probably segment this database by country from where the guests originate.
This would allow you scope to customise information you send and while your guests may not be planning to return for a number of years, they can certainly forward the information you send them to others.
You may also find that by specialising in hosting certain groups, the word will spread that you can cater for their needs, eg if they are a local hill walking group who require a packed lunch going out each day, which you can facilitate, and a place to dry boots and clothing that evening, then this may be the best form of marketing you will ever get.
These guests will be very quick to tell other hill walkers about the excellent service you are offering. Of course there are more local market initiatives that you need to think about also.
Is there signage within your local town to indicate where you are located? Do the local cafes, tourist offices etc know about your business? Do you have an eye-catching sign in front of your house which will catch the attention of passers-by?
In summary, you need to break your marketing plan into different areas.
Some can be hi-tech and have a global reach while other initiatives may rely on word of mouth.
Usually, in my experience, it is never one initiative alone that works, it is a combination of several different activities.
Q: Are green and sustainable credentials an important part of business today?
A: Ethically, every business should be embracing sustainability and the environment as part of the normal way of doing business, but I am not sure that is the question you are asking me.
If you were asking me whether it makes commercial sense to embrace these, then the answer may be slightly different.
I met a food producer recently who had changed all of their packaging, at a significant cost, to compostable material.
Six months later they conducted some research on consumers and only a very small percentage recognised the fact that they were different from their competitors in their packaging.
In reality, the compostable packaging looked so good, it was hard to distinguish it from regular plastic, so customers still felt frustrated when they got home and had to put it in their recycle bin.
The message there is very simple, if you are embracing green credentials, then you need to communicate this message very clearly to your consumers, otherwise you may not get recognition for what you are doing, even though you may be investing more money in this area.
Bord Bia has conducted some very good research on consumer attitudes to environmental issues and it's worth spending a bit of time on the publication sections of their website where you will find information showing that a significant amount of consumers are interested in the topic.
More importantly, I notice a significant amount of Irish food producers embracing Bord Bia's origin green symbol as international trade buyers are impressed with Irish food producers' ability to have strong green credentials.
Quite clearly, there is a consumer appetite and as a business you need to find ways to communicate what you are doing differently to consumers in the area of sustainability.
There are lots of good commercial examples out there as to where this has helped businesses position themselves correctly in the marketplace.