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8 Ideas to Grow Sales at a Small Business

Sumit Gupta
February 2013

I find that small businesses are often "sleepy" businesses. The owners have lost the spark to grow the business and are settled into the income stream they have.

Here are 8 simple tips that a sleepy business can do to reinvigorate and grow sales and get new customers. I will use a “laundry” to demonstrate the ideas, but they are applicable to any business, whether a restaurant, ice cream store, or bakery.

  1. Customer registry: Start collecting your customers names and email addresses:
    • Sounds simple. It is simple. Everytime you ring up a customer, ask them their name and email address to start a customer registry. Tell the customers that you will send them discount coupons.
    • Once you have the list, there are tons of different ways to take advantage of the email list.
    • Get a simple, and cost effective customer relationship management (CRM) system to manage your customer list.
  2. Reward Referrals: Offer your customers rewards for referrals. “Send this 25% off coupon to your friend. If your friend comes into the store and uses it, we will launder 1 item for free for you”.
    • Redemption is simple. When the friend comes to the store with the coupon, ask him for who his referring friend is, look up their account and give them the reward.
    • Hire a professional graphic designer to create the coupons and email invites. The costs are low and it makes for a much more professional outreach.
    • Of course, don’t forget to add the new friend into your customer registry.
  3. Discover Slow Days: Study your sales carefully to look for opportunities to grow on slow days.
    • Look for:
      • Days when sales are low
      • Times when you don’t have enough work at the business
      • Anytime that you are wasting product
    • Offer discount coupons to customers (via your email list) for the low days. Pizza companies do this all the time ($5 pizzas on Mondays and lunch buffets).
    • If you are a food (eg: bagel / donut) shop and you end up throwing away product every Tuesday night, then offer a Tuesday night special to drive traffic to the store.
  4. Sell More to Existing customers: Look for spending patterns of your customers.
    • If your customers are getting 10 shirts laundered a month for $2 each, then offer a package for the month for $30 for up to 20 shirts. In the worst case, you will make $1.5 per shirt and make $10 more per customer who signs up. In the best case, many of those who sign up will only bring in ~15 shirts (and not 20).
    • Offer bundles: Pre-pay for 10 shirts and get the 11th shirt for free. This forces loyalty and repeat business.
    • If a customer only launders shirts, offer them 25% of a trouser for every 5 shirts he brings in.
  5. Learn About Your Customers: Figure out who your customers are and also who lives in the neighborhood that should be your customer.
    • If the neighborhood has lots of young, single professionals, offer them a monthly service for their laundry. This will encourage them to sign-up & be loyal to your business.
    • If your customers are families, and perhaps laundering only adult’s clothes, then offer them a “launder a kids shirt for 50% off with every adult shirt at full price”. This will upsell existing customers to bring in more business (tied to tip #4 above).
  6. Serve Local Businesses: People working in local businesses should be a big target for any store / consumer service company.
    • Go to local businesses and talk to the human resources (HR) person to offer them
      • Discounts for their employees
      • Free delivery on catered orders or if a laundry, free pickup and drop off from the business.
      • If a bagel, donut or ice cream store, offer to deliver bagels and / or donuts every Friday morning. If ice cream, offer to bring in ice cream cart every Friday afternoon at 4pm.
    • Every company is looking for low cost ways to make the workspace fun for their employees.
  7. Special Day Offers: Hallmark and others have created tons of new special days for businesses to have an excuse to reach out to their customers.
    • Offer Mother’s Day, Birthday, whatever day specials to your customers. Each of these is an excuse to call on the customer to remind them to come into the store.
    • The incentive you offer is purely to cause your customer to come in early, rather than wait. That’s why all coupons are time bound.
    • Have a professional graphic designer to create greeting cards / emails for you to send out to your customers with the offer.
  8. Cut Costs: Obvious, but often overlooked. Go over your expenses line-by-line and spend a few days brainstorming on how you can reduce that expense. Start with the biggest expenses first.
    • Power (electricity) bills are often a place for cost reduction.
      • White goods like heaters, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc consume a lot of power. Often, if your refrigerator is more than 5 years old, buying a new one pays for itself in power savings within a year or two.
      • I had a friend who upgraded his swimming pool pump to a new one, which paid for itself in power savings within a year.
    • Switch off lights in areas you aren’t using. Install motion detection based light switches; they are inexpensive and a onetime purchase. It pains me to see the lights and projector on in a conference room when I am leaving work in the evening.
    • Cutting products from your portfolio. Study your sales. Remove products that don’t sell well. Example: cut the ice cream flavors or bagels that folks don’t buy. Might make some customers unhappy, but might also significantly reduce waste and save money.
    • Are you ordering too much product / raw materials too far in advance? Managing inventory more closely can be a way to improve cash flow and save a lot of money.

Do leave a comment below to let me know your ideas on how you improved sales at your business or if you tried one of these things and it worked or not.

Good luck and you can learn more about marketing from some of the articles I authored.

Questions, Comments? Send me a note at sumitg AT

Sumit Gupta

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