Problem Solver: How can I keep customers coming through door and off web?
Q. I am trying to come up with ways to keep my shop fresh and ensure customers don't go online with my competitors. Any ideas?
A. This is something I have been saying for a long time. There is a very strong future role for physical retailers if owners ensure that the customer's visit has a high level of experiential retail within it.
In Superquinn we always tried to deliver the unexpected. On Mother's Day, each of our checkout operators would hand any female shopper a carnation with a card and wish them a happy Mother's Day. We also ran an event at our bakeries for the same occasion where kids could come in and decorate the cake they were buying for mum.
And, of course, there were our hot fresh pancakes in the run-up to Pancake Tuesday, when we would literally sell hundreds of thousands of hot fresh pancakes across our shops.
Our butchers and bakers operated an open view of the customer and the famous Superquinn sausages always attracted a crowd of onlookers as our butchers filled the sausage meat and tied the sausage in that traditional manner.
We would even surprise customers at the weekend by cleaning their car windscreen and leaving a little business card on the wiper which said, 'we have been washing while you were shopping'.
It was all designed to ensure that the customer didn't become bored. While many of the experiences I have described to you are associated with food retailing, there is nothing to stop you adopting the principle of making the shopping visit as entertaining as possible.
I think today that some retail models have gone very flat and lack a sense of energy and theatre.
Q. I run a medium-sized farm rearing lamb and plan to set up a farm shop. Is there any advice you can give?
A. It is great that you are adding value to what you are doing and also setting up a direct link with the consumer. That will allow you to make a premium on the product and potentially build a brand for the future.
However, farm shops are complex - and Ireland doesn't have a long history in this area yet. The biggest challenge can be to get the public from the urban areas to travel to the farm on a regular enough basis to give you the revenue you will need. First, ensure that people know your story and that will involve developing a strong marketing and PR campaign. Working with digital media, which can be cost-effective, and trying to secure free PR in the local media will all help.
Running on-farm events like opening up the farm to the public for a 'lambing weekend' is a great way to get people to know that you exist. Events like this really appeal to families. I saw on social media recently a very successful version of this when Maperath Farm in Co Meath invited their customers to their turkey farm a few weeks before Christmas. Smart business!
One caution is that it might not make sense to have the farm shop trading all day, every day. You will end up having to be available constantly, with only possibly a handful of customers on some days. Only trade at the busier weekend days to start off with and then expand this as the business grows. Seasonally you could also open for extra hours during school holidays, etc.
Like all business projects, you need to conduct a feasibility study first and talk to others who run similar enterprises. What level of sales is this likely to generate? What energy and effort will you have to put in? Are there easier ways for you to generate sales - eg selling directly to consumers at a farmer's market on a weekly basis instead of getting people to come on farm?
Your farm shop is an excellent idea. You just need to make sure that it will achieve the commercial objectives that you need.