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New Year's resolutions: fortitude, consistency, smiles.

When a gentleman by the name of Edgar W. Howe said, "I have failed to take advantage of many opportunities, but the world has not failed to offer them," he could have been speaking for any of us. Especially when faced with critical economic times, you must evaluate your business. Learn from your successes and failures in every area--from shoestring marketing techniques to employee telephone skills.

Casting too wide a net

Among even the most skilled specialty coffee and tea entrepreneurs - those who have allocated sufficient funds and recognize the need to continually attract new customers, marketing mistakes can happen. The most common is the failure to clearly define your trading venue. A key facet of effective shoestring marketing is ensuring that the time, energy, and dollars spent on marketing are focused on the customers who are essential to the success of your business.

Today's consumers, including your best potential customers, are being bombarded with catalogs, store flyers, coupon offers and special sales. Establishing your image will set you apart when the customer decides where to shop.

Using your time instead of your money

If you have been in business for a year or longer, list your 10 customers who buy the most beans or hard goods. If you are a startup entrepreneur, create a hypothetical list of the 10 best customers. To understand the needs of your customers and predict your best marketing effort, consider what these customers do in the privacy of their homes and offices. Bear in mind that the economy has everyone worried. Adjust your pricing and marketing methods accordingly.

Do your customers read the local paper, The Wall Street Journal, or trade periodicals? Are they inclined to read Food, Wine, Glamour, Sports Illustrated, or other consumer magazines? Or do they tend to ignore the written word entirely?

Do your customers travel to national conventions and trade shows? Do they actively participate in civic and community events? Do they volunteer? Why?

Do your customers respond to telemarketing, direct mail, instore demonstrations and tastings? Have you surveyed your customers to know how they first heard of you and why they still shop at your store?

In your trading area, are there problems with city politics that could affect your business? Are any of the key players your customers? How would street construction or traffic re-routing, for example, affect your business?

A trained sales staff is your best asset

A highly qualified sales force leads to higher profit margins. If you've trained your sales force adequately, they'll be more productive on the sales floor and behind the cash register. They will spend less time sharing information with customers while stimulating potential add-on sales. Qualified and productive employees project your store's image. Their knowledge adds to your bottom line. In addition, they must convey sensitivity, enthusiasm, maturity and professionalism. In determining whether your sales force is on the ball, you should review the following:

* What is the most important project for your employees to complete in the next 30 days? Why is it the most important? How do you plan to achieve the goal? Does it tie into your business objective? What will happen as a result of it being completed?

* Who benefits the most from your actions - your management team, your sales force, or your hourly employees? How do they benefit? How could you increase the benefit to them?

* What are the biggest problems or concerns facing customers, i.e., economic woes, health and environmental issues?

* When did you last conduct a customer survey?

* How do you rate your behavior and ability to provide results?

* As your employees meet customers and work with purveyors daily, what recurs repeatedly that could affect how they view you?

* Cite three situations in the past week when you responded positively and three when you responded negatively to employee performance?

* How can you best encourage your salespeople to be more concerned with effective customer service?

Mastering the fine art of getting referrals

Build a good foundation with your regular bean buyers by serving them well and developing a solid relationship. When seeking new business, ask your top customers to give you referrals. Be sensitive to proper etiquette.

When you get a new client as a result of a referral, find a specific way to thank that customer and stimulate even more referrals by offering new referral incentives: product or service discounts, product or service extensions, free samples, exclusive store memberships, quality group discounts, extended warranties on hardgoods, additional products or services for no extra cost, extended or VIP memberships, reduced costs on ancillary items or services, and finder fees for new customers.

Olympic medal phone reception

What are the hallmarks of a company that knows how to answer the telephone and how to treat those who call? Try these on for size:

Insist that employees answer the phone by the third ring.

Strive to have employees who are articulate. They should slowly and clearly state the company name.

Suggest that anyone answering the phone smiles when doing so. It can help the attitude they project. The strict rules of customer service even apply over the telephone. There is an opportunity in every inquiry.

Using part-time help

How many of the following tasks have you assigned to full-time (and probably expensive employees, and how many are consuming your own precious time? (Answering requests for coffee of the day, sending out bean advertisements, serving brewed coffee, measuring and bagging bean orders, routing/sorting mail, making institutional deliveries/pickups, researching/surveying customers and their needs, keeping track of necessary trade publications and news sources, typing, answering the phone/routing calls, cleaning, repairing, studying the competition, their literature, and products, lead calling, researching new products and services, cataloging new information or products, proofreading copy for marketing literature, memos, letters, tracking or arranging inventory or displays, doing anything that a less essential part-time employee could do without excessive guidance.

Three advantages for hiring part-timers to stick mailing labels on the envelopes are flexibility, low cost, and high productivity.

I'll scratch your back if...

Stores can barter with other retailers, vendors, and professionals. It's called creative bartering. Think of anything and everything you might have to offer in exchange for goods and services that can help your marketing and profit edge. It's not entirely cost-free, but bartering is a beneficial low-cost way to market your products and services.

If you answer the following questions with a yes, you would likely be a successful barterer: Do you have inventory or services that could be a less costly form of payment than cash? Are there marketing strategies you would like to use but can't afford at this time? Are you willing to be imaginative about what you can give and get without an exchange of money?

If you want to try your hand at bartering, these are the experts' rules of barter: Know why you're trading; investigate many alternatives; keep a tight rein on your ego; swap what is truly swappable and maintain realistic goals.

Don't try to trade over the telephone. Get an outside appraisal of your commodity's worth. Put your deal into contract form.

In conclusion, consider this thought: "Money still talks, but nowadays it has to catch its breath more often." Happy 1992.

Susan Freidman was a former editor of Gourmet Retailer magazine. She has her own marketing and public relations firm in Miami, Florida.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:specialty coffee and tea businesses need to consider their customers' needs when planning effective marketing techniques
Author:Friedman, Susan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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