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Surviving and Thriving on Main Street

How Downtown Has Changed

Downtowns aren't what they used to be — they are getting better. The 1990's brought a remarkable revitalization of America's downtowns. Yes, they are different than they were in the 50's and 60's when the downtown was the hub of commercial activity.

Following are the 10 most important factors to surviving and thriving in the downtown.

Different merchandise

People are making an extra effort to shop downtown. They are willing to do that for something unusual. Don't ask people to drive out of their way for items that are sold in various other outlets.

Price is not the main motivator

Live by price; die by price. There must be reasons, other than price, to motivate customers to buy. Convenience, status, an item in short supply (remember the Beanie Baby craze), trust, and the expertise of the business rank are just as important (sometimes more important) as the price.

Make your business a destination

Treat every customer as if they are making a special trip just to shop you. Ask yourself the question, "Why will someone pass five other businesses selling similar products?" The more unique the product and service, the more they will travel. For example, my 10,000 square foot women's apparel store had customers driving more than 100 miles weekly to shop at the store, because we made a market in "mother of the bride "dresses (highly unusual). We also had five dressmakers on staff who altered over 80% of what we sold.

Real service

Customer service is caring about your customers' needs and wants. It's anticipating a customer's needs and informing the customer that you have what they want to buy at a price they are willing to pay.

Today you also have to communicate with customers in their preferred format — a personal phone call, a voicemail message, an e–mail, fax, or maybe just a postcard will do. It is treating every customer as if they were your best customer in the world.

Flexible policies

Customers are not always right but they are the customers — they are allowed to make a mistake. Don't have policies that turn them away.

Fun

Entertainment shopping is becoming a category unto it self. We are no longer just selling goods or services. We are selling experiences and those experiences should be fun. We go great distances for entertainment. One of the most popular furniture stores in America is Jordan's Furniture. They have coined the expression "shoppertainment." According to the owners, there is no business that's not show business. It can be as easy as a smile or just remembering a person's face, name, or what makes them laugh.

Create expert status

Become the source of information and education about the merchandise you sell. Become the pro.

Highly defined niche

Specialize, specialize, specialize. We can't be everything to everybody, so find your niche and you'll get rich.

Database marketing

Yes it's important in every business, but it's even more important downtown. The strength of the old merchant was knowing a customer's name and anticipating what they want to buy. This is just a high tech version of organizing this data, and it is at the heart of the downtown merchant's success.

Community involvement

Customers expect the downtown retailer to be involved in their communities. The downtown merchant should become active and the leading voice of positive change and community pride. It's more than just running a local event. Customers appreciate it when their downtown merchants are "good corporate citizens" — Americans like doing business with businesses and people that care.

The downtown location still provides a wonderful venue for a winning business. However, it doesn't leave room for mediocrity, me–too types of business, or management that isn't willing to pay the price for success.


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