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  • A Profitable Summer - It's Entirely Possible!

    Summer sales can slow to a crawl, but all this means is that you have to put your natural creativity to work in the sales and marketing departments instead of in the design room. With some ingenuity and the help of your employees, this could be a sensational summer.

    "On cloudy days, you have to make your own sunshine."

    Sure, this sounds like something Mom would say, but if you apply it to sales slumps, you might create a golden summer for your shop. On slow days you can generate more business by training your staff to sell add-ons, by planning special events to increase customer traffic, and by moving out slow-sellers.

    Red Hot Training

    Combat the summer slow-down by tailoring some training for your staff. Concentrate on one aspect of sales - add-ons. When you have fewer customers, it's imperative that you sell more products to them to increase your profit margin.

    You don't have to plan anything fancy. One slow afternoon, gather the employees around, encourage them to grab a soft drink or a cup of coffee, and launch into your "sales pitch." First, sell the idea of add-ons by pointing out that they work because buying has a natural momentum. For instance, a customer might spend a lot of time choosing the right potted plant to send to a friend, but he or she will quickly agree to add a card, figurine, balloon, or stuffed animal because of the momentum. A $2 add-on to a $20 sale is a 10 percent sales gain. Once a customer commits to a purchase, it should be second nature for your employees to suggest an add-on.

    Next, discuss with your staff how to select the right add-ons for products. Keep the additional products relevant to the initial purchase. Offering to add a birthday balloon to a birthday gift is perfect, but suggesting that the customer buy a stuffed bear to go along with a congratulations-on-your-promotion bouquet seems inappropriate.

    Ask your employees to make a list of primary merchandise - those things that customers come into the shop to buy - and for each item include two or three add-ons that would complement the purchase. This will help everyone to brainstorm and come up with their own add-on sales strategies.

    Finally, urge your staff to avoid statements that close a sale before it's time. Challenge them to remove such phrases as, "Is that everything?" and "Will that be all?" from their vernacular. If the customer was thinking of adding something else to the purchase, such statements terminate the transaction.

    A training session like this can be as short as 15 minutes or fill an hour in a slow day at the shop. More importantly, you'll be paving the way to more profit.

    Sunny Attitude

    As the days grow longer and those holiday profits begin to shrivel, your spirits might droop. Whatever you do, don't allow this "downer" feeling to seep from you to your employees and, above all, to your customers.

    Never tell people your business problems. Instead, tell them what you do, what you sell, and how you can help them. Tell them that you'd love to have their business, not that business is so bad that you'd love it if they'd tell their friends about your shop. Maybe you would never be so blunt, but subtle inferences can be just as damaging. Here are some comments that might slip out and give your customers a sinking feeling:

    • "Oh, well, it's summer, so things are real slow."
    • "Karen doesn't work here anymore. I had to cut back on my staff."
    • "I don't carry a lot of fresh inventory in the summer because it goes bad on me."
    • "We're having a sale on plants to try to drum up some business."

    Train yourself to keep the negative aspects of your cash flow to yourself. Customers want to shop with winners, not with businesses on their last legs.

    Summer Specials

    It's sunny outside, so think light. Have some fun specials this summer that highlight your creativity. Here are some ideas to try or try again:

    Twofers. Sales that offer "two items for $20" can boost sales by as much as 40 percent even when prices are only slightly discounted. Consumers assume that a large price discount is associated with such offers, therefore "twofers" are great for retailers because discounts are low and multiple items are sold.

    Frequent Buyers Program. If you don't have one of these already, summer is a great time to start a customer reward program. Surveys show that sales grow 15 to 20 percent a year when businesses begin frequent buyer programs. Develop yours by evaluating your objectives: do you want to encourage shoppers to come in more often or do you want to encourage your customers to buy more each trip? Once you've decided which you want to accomplish, run your final idea by a few of your best customers for feedback. By all means, make your program simple. One of the easiest methods is using a punch card: every time a customer makes a purchase, a hole is punched in the card and when a certain number of holes are punched, the customer earns a free bouquet or plant.

    Buy One, Get One Free. You can't beat this for moving inventory. Do you have a surplus of plants on hand? Try this and watch them move. Before you advertise this special, be sure that your plants aren't already discounted. Pricing is the key. Plants should be competitively priced, but in your favor. In other words, your mark up should be healthy. Your objective in pricing should be to move your excess inventory and increase your profits.

    Service with a Smile. How about a bit of whimsy? Sales that make people smile get attention. A flier or advertisement headline such as, "We Take Trade-ins!" will get attention and should entice people to read on. Offer to take in any potted plant - dead or barely alive - as a trade-in on the purchase of a plant for 30 to 50 percent off the tagged price. Have fun with the program by displaying the "trade-ins" on a shelf until the sale is over. This kind of fun event is a great way to break through summer monotony.

    Firing Up Slow-Movers

    Before you start slashing prices on merchandise gathering dust in your shop, stop to consider if you can barter it, trade it for advertising on a local radio station, donate it as a prize in a contest, or give it away in a drawing.

    If none of these is an option, then begin your "summer cleaning" by having a sales meeting and putting a positive spin on the merchandise. Why? Because you and your employees won't be able to sell merchandise successfully if you already have a negative view of it. So, dispense with the "let's get rid of this stuff" attitude. Approach this as a sale you are building around certain products.

    Your first impulse is to cut the price, but hold off on that for the moment. If you slash the price drastically, you might be slashing your chances of moving it out. Customers might regard the bargain basement price as a sign that the merchandise is inferior or damaged. That's not only a bad reflection on the items, but also a bad reflection on your shop.

    Move the merchandise to a different location in your shop, preferably closer to the front door. Display it attractively. Once you've improved the display, you might even decide to increase the price. Surprisingly, some shop owners have discovered that raising the price on a product gets attention and improves the overall impression of the product. You can always reduce the price later to its original cost and offer it "on sale."

    Establish an incentive to employees for moving the merchandise, such as movie tickets and dinner at a nice restaurant for the employee who sells the most.

    Finally, make sure that you and your employees are well versed on the product's benefits so that you can relate these to customers. If you know the product well, you can sell the product better.

    Summer Sizzles

    Staging attention-grabbing sales and training your staff to sell more can put sizzle into your summer profits. When autumn arrives, you and your bank account won't be drained, and you'll sail through to Thanksgiving without a worry.

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