Small businesses are no stranger to overturn and seasonal fluxes. For many campus stores, a new school year symbolizes a new branding cycle—one working to educate those who are new to campus, while fighting to maintain current customers. This push/pull nature of marketing can prove a fine line to walk. Often businesses will lose relevance as a new wave of students chooses to spend their money elsewhere. But if one adapts with the students themselves, encouraging a brand as not just another piece of real estate, one can experience all the rewards of tapping into a 10.5-billion-dollar market.
Heading into Back to School in the fall means that you are facing your most profitable, and busiest, season of the whole year. Here are some things to pay attention to:
- Ignite (or reignite) your brand with social media. Students are inherently social media-savvy. The key to social media success is to create an environment for participation. Engage students by updating the store’s cover photo to include customers, run a weekly caption contest, or let customers design a new drink/food item. These habits will help your store gain brand awareness where it matters most—online.
- College students thrive on the absurd. This can come in the form of serving a giant T-bone steak, a bathtub-sized beverage, or a BOGO distributed coupon. Giving something away (especially to students) is one of the best strategies for getting interaction.
- Buying ad space is a surefire way to ensure that one’s brand never loses favor. Publications, campus events, transportation systems, park benches—even the scorecards of a local golf course—can be used as windows opening up awareness of one’s brand.
- Remember: you don’t know the kind of day your customer has had; if they have a bad attitude, it probably is not about you. Do your best to turn their day around. You’ll feel good, and they’ll buy more.
- To get through the BTS madness, try to remember that although it may be hectic and you are dealing with HUNDREDS of people in one day, each ONE of those people is dealing with you ONCE. It’s important to remember the impression that a person can get.
- Word of mouth can be a beneficial and inexpensive tool for advertising your business. When a customer has a good experience at your store they are likely to share that good experience with others and so on and so forth. When interacting with your customers keep in mind that their experience acts as a ripple effect so the happier they are with their experience the more beneficial it is for you.
- Make sure you have an adequate number of team members scheduled. Have an idea of what each team member will be doing each shift so that there is no standing around.
- Create schedules in advance and grids for floor coverage.
- Schedule staggered breaks and lunches. On the busiest days, purchase lunch for your team. It’s a real morale booster. On a related note, candy goes a long way in providing a quick boost.
- Thank your employees at the end of their shifts. It can make all the difference in the world.
- Keep your register stocked with extra tape, bags, tissue paper, scissors, stickers, pens, and markers. Don’t forget change! Large bills are not uncommon, so your base register should have more change than normal. Know your rules for voids, returns, layaways and holds.
Prepare ahead of time and make sure your store looks clean. Keep displays full, the less you have to run to the back for product the better; plus, customers can’t buy what they don’t see. Make sure everything has signage and is priced right. Put your most experienced register operators on, and have team members assigned to stocking and taking care of the sales floor. If you have Mobile POS units, now is the time that they really show their value.
Loss Prevention should be on every team members mind. Every dollar given up to shrink could have been a dollar of profit. Protect your customers, colleagues, brand, and reputation this season using these tips.
- Start with your people: Ensure that they are well-trained and equipped to deal with increased customer volume levels. Partner regular employees with new and seasonal associates and empower them to balance customer service while enforcing loss prevention techniques.
- What technology do you have available? Things like CCTV, video analytics, and electronic article surveillance are excellent tools to reduce the threat of theft. Sales and customer point-of-sale activity can be used as a barometer to measure heavy pedestrian traffic times and locations.
- Make sure that your staff is clearly on the floor and obvious to customers. Would-be thieves are looking for the opportunity when staff is distracted to steal. Don’t give them that opportunity.
- If you don’t have a formal training program, create one. Make it logical with the most basic at the start and the most advanced at the end.
- Train in black and white. Make expectations clear and not left to interpretation.
- Reward initiative. Carry extra gift cards with you and reward on the spot for showing initiative. Trainers frequently focus on what was wrong rather than the glimmers of hope.
- Have a training focus each day and post it in the break room or by the time clock. Posting reminders can reinforce what you have already worked on with your team.
- Focus on the merchandise, not the register. In most cases, management stretched so thin that the managers are behind the counter ringing BTS sales when they should be working with staff or customers to grow sales.
- Have a designated trainer. Training is not easy. You need someone who truly enjoys it and won’t deviate. Under no circumstances do you “spring it” on someone to train that day.
- Remove the trainer and trainee from the schedule. Many times trainers are “called away” to deal with something leaving their trainee looking dejected and adrift.
- Train in bursts. No trainer or trainee wants to train for 3 or more hours. Keep each lesson very pointed, related and short with time for them to role-play or accomplish the tasks.
- Be quick to correct and slow to promote. Don’t throw the new hire to the wolves with minimum training, just because you need someone right now. You, your customers and your business deserve better.