Creative Sales Techniques
Retailers that are looking to boost sales need to put aside the old strategies and replace them with some fresh techniques.
Are sales in your pet shop everything you always dreamed them to be? If the answer is “yes,” I need to talk with you immediately and find out the secret to that success. Most retailers, however, are in a fight not only to increase sales but also survive.
The best way for a retailer to boost the bottom line is to enhance its efforts to raise that figure—and employing creative sales techniques can be the key to achieving that goal. The trick is to actually be creative and not just trot out the same old dog-and-pony show efforts that are wearing thin at the edges.
Finding new ideas may require you to get out from behind your desk and out on the floor. You may need to talk with employees and customers—and brainstorm. Storeowners are not the only people with good ideas when it comes to merchandising. A lot of your customers probably work retail jobs. Maybe they can suggest ways for you to connect with the pet-loving public.
I also advise going the route of large corporations by employing spies. Independent pet specialty retailers need to know what their competitors are up to. That doesn’t mean you should march right into the store down the street and announce who you are and why you are there. It means you need clandestine observers who can take mental notes or, better yet, utilize digital recorders to log comments as they walk through the aisles. There is nothing illegal about this; it is simply good business.
How often should you visit your competitors? Twice a month will be often enough, but if someone is having a big event, be certain to check it out. And don’t leave the big-box or chain stores out of your research. They may be sucking away the majority of your sales—especially those from new customers. I know it’s difficult to compete with their prices, but occasionally you should match them penny for penny on brands that are mutually stocked. However, keep those items to a bare minimum, to leave more shelf space for manufacturers that focus on the independent retail channel.
In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to stimulate sales and stir up excitement on the sales floor. Most people have heard of a “Buy One, Get the Second One at Half Price” sale. Every retailer has used that trick at one time or another. It’s not new, and it’s not going to bring in anyone who does not need two of the same thing. Here is a new idea you can try instead: the Customer One and One Sale. A customer picks out an item he needs or wants. Say the retail price is $50; he now gets to buy any second item he wishes for half price. The trick is, the more expensive product has to be the first one picked. Nine out of 10 people will choose their second item based on its cost. It will be as close in price to the first item as possible. In this scenario, the customer is choosing what he wants rather than what you want to sell. Everyone needs something—even if it’s just a $10 can of fish food.
I suggest running the One and One Sale only during a brief period of time, not all day long. And, of course, it is a one-and-done sale, meaning you can’t buy a bunch of items during the sale, only “one and one.” This is easily controlled by filling out “proof of purchase” cards and storing them at the register for reference. In other words, the sale requires an ID that can be cross-checked against your files. Otherwise, you will have customers abusing the privilege.
A store can run the One and One Sale from noon to 1 p.m. for the lunch crowd. Run it the next day from 5 to 6 p.m. for the getting-off-of-work people. Run it the third day from 8 to 9 p.m. for the late-night shoppers. Don’t run it on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. You want sales to average out over the week, not bunch up together on high-volume days. The One and One works for shelf-stable foods and dry goods, but I would never use it for livestock. Livestock is a different story.
As a rule of thumb, never run fish sales on items that are expensive, rare or difficult to keep. The reasons for this are obvious, but here’s a review for those of you who came in late. Expensive fish are for specialists, and people who buy them should be able to afford the prices. Rare fish are frequently expensive and hard to keep. If it is really difficult to find these species, why would you encourage their quick sale? Keep them around for a while for people to see. It will help to build enthusiasm for exotic items. In the case of fish that are high maintenance, it is never a good idea to encourage their sale to novices or casual fishkeepers. These species will only survive in the hands of skilled aquarists. Lowering their price will merely increase the chance that they go to inappropriate homes.
Most of your livestock sales should center around fish that are bulletproof or at least capable of surviving with only minimal care. These would be species that I characterize as good neighbors. Perhaps, it is time for a Good Neighbor Fish Sale. All these fish can live in harmony—some in small aquariums, many in medium and any in large aquariums. The fish you select to put on sale should fall into three groups: small community, medium community and large community. If you designate a fish for a large community environment, it should not be purchased by anyone with only a medium or small tank. Likewise, only fish listed for small community setups should go in small tanks; these fish can, however, be placed equally successfully in medium or large aquariums.
Another livestock sale that I am very fond of is one that I call Manager’s Livestock Sale. This can only be effective if you have employees you can trust to always do the right thing when it comes to sales. Retailers can empower their managers to make on-the-spot deals with customers who are trying to negotiate better prices.
Leaving marine organisms out of the picture, there are still many freshwater and brackish species that command high prices. Let’s say you sell a lot of African Rift Lake cichlids, and the adult pairs of peacocks and haps might retail for $40 or more. Maybe the customers want two pairs, and will buy these items plus other fish as well. A manager can negotiate a mutually agreeable deal in this case.
Make the sale opportunity clear to customers by posting a large sign just inside the front entrance that states, “Freshwater Livestock Manager on Duty is John Doe. See this employee for unadvertised Manager’s Specials. When it comes to fish costing $40 or more, we are willing to negotiate, if you are willing to make an offer.”
In these discussions, the discount should probably never drop below 25 percent. When a retailer is willing to compromise more than that, people tend to believe the store is overcharging in the first place. Break off all talks when a customer is being completely unreasonable. Believe me, it can and will happen.
It’s really difficult to run sales on marine products and livestock—mainly because of the profit margins. With so many websites offering equipment at discount prices, there is usually very little wiggle room for retailers. Your best bets for sales are items that are bulky or heavy and are, therefore, expensive to ship, such as substrate materials, marine salt, live rock, aquariums, stands and canopies. These can go on sale on a rotating basis but never in a consistent way.
Sales should not be so predictable that customers can say, “I’ll just wait until July 4; there is always a sale then.” Another one I have heard is, “It’s almost the end of the month. You’ll be having a sale any day now.”
Marine lighting is so expensive that there is no sense discounting any of it, except for the entry-level fixtures. Even then, it is better to put an entire tank package together, but permit upgrades on the lighting. You want people to get into the hobby. Where they go from there is up to their desire, their ability to learn and the size of their pocketbooks. Try to hang on to good customers by listening to them and bringing in livestock they have voiced an interest in. A creative sales associate will know which buttons to push to make sales to pre-existing customers. Once again, a little flexibility in pricing must be the prerogative of the marine department manager.
Give Customers a Visual
One last idea from my grab bag of creative concepts involves interactive displays. This is the age of technology, and any retailer that is not using it to increase sales is dwelling in the Dark Ages. Buy four tablets and record video dealing with various aspects of the aquatic hobby. I would place one in the marine department, one in freshwater livestock, one in the shelf-stable food aisle and one in the filter section. Run video loops covering subjects specific to the location of the device.
You will need to build or secure proper housing for the devices so that they are not appropriated by thieves. These short films can cover any subject matter. They are easy to create, and they will serve as surrogate sales associates when there is no employee available. Best of all, at the end of any loop you choose, you can place a special online sale price for an item appropriate to the department. Once people realize they might luck into an unadvertised sale, they will spend more time reviewing the video footage.
This concept turns you into a filmmaker and you know how creative they can be. It’s time to pick up the camera, camcorder or mobile device, and start making promotional materials. Lights! Camera! Profit!
Edward C. Taylor has been in the pet industry for over 30 years as a retailer, live fish importer and wholesaler, and fish-hatchery manager.