Controlling Traffic to Your Business
In my last blog post I concluded by illustrating how effective branding could save both ourselves and our potential customers a lot of wasted time. The key is knowing who your potential customers are and who they are not. I would like to expound on that with a true experience I recently had. I had to travel to a marina about a 30 minutes drive away to hand paint a name on a boat. My truck was fully loaded with supplies except for the small paper cups (3oz. Dixie) and some varnish I needed to make a glaze. I decided to stop somewhere along the route to the marina to purchase the additional supplies.
My first stop was at an Ace Hardware near my shop. I picked up some varnish but couldn’t find the right paper cups. I also couldn’t find anyone to assist me. I eventually got in line with the varnish and waited for what seemed like an eternity while an older patron at the front of the line divided her purchases into groups to be paid for separately while at the same time disputing each transaction with the cashier. When I had finally had enough I stepped out of line, ditched the varnish and headed a little out of my way to the Home Depot. There I found an even better varnish but still no paper cups. After purchasing the varnish I headed to Yorktown. There, I stopped in a shopping center that has both a Dollar Tree and a Big Lots side by side. Once inside the Dollar Tree I spent a few minutes making a visual search before asking for help. I was directed to the party supply section where I had already looked but was now accompanied by a cashier. She could find red plastic Solo cups but no paper cups. I left the Dollar Tree and as I entered the Big Lots I decide to save some time and just ask someone for help. They assured me that they carried paper cups because they were on sale for the approaching Super Bowl weekend but believed they may have sold out. I was directed to the isle where the cups were located if any were still in stock. No…all gone. Leaving the shopping center I saw a drug store on the corner. I parked, ran in and with the salespeople assisting others I found the paper goods isle on my own and made a thorough search. Again, no paper cups. I recalled that I had passed a WalMart on the opposite side of the road but bypassed it for the sake of time. I then back-tracked to the WalMart was finally able to purchase 3oz. waxless paper cups.
This was a truly frustrating experience for me. What should have taken 30 minutes took an hour and a half. There were many things I should have done differently that would have saved me much of the aggravation. At least I learned a valuable lesson. While there is no way for consumers to know every product that is sold by a retail store, we, as business owners, can be proactive in minimizing the possibility that our potential customers might have a similar experience with us. I can think of many times when a potential client entered my shop only to be disappointed because I couldn’t fulfill their needs. We should make every attempt to inform and educate potential clients as to who we are and what we do, so as not to waste either their or our time.
I certainly can’t comment on your business without knowing who you are, what you do, who you do it for and so on. I can, though, comment on my own business and how this bad experience has made me examine my branding strategy more closely. I am first and foremost a sign painter. I provide hand-crafted and hand-painted signs to local businesses. This includes painted store windows as well as painted graphics on cars, trucks and boats. I also pinstripe vehicles, especially motorcycles. I am often called on to design logos for the businesses I provide signage for. Now I will describe what I don’t do. I don’t provide computer-cut vinyl letters either wholesale or retail. In fact, I don’t sell anything to the consumer to assist them in producing their sign or vehicle lettering on their own. I can only think of two customers whose signage I even use vinyl lettering on. It is what they want, it suits their needs and they have been loyal to me for many years. But with new customers it is paint or nothing.
The problem is that I still have potential customers coming into my shop to get a price on the things I don’t do. Let me rephrase that. Practically every potential customer that enters my shop wants something that I don’t do. I also have a problem with persons coming into my shop who immediately tell me that they don’t want to spend any money. They want whatever is the cheapest sign I have and as soon as they find out that I don’t make vinyl lettered signs they leave. They assume that vinyl is going to be cheaper than hand-painted. I personally believe that there are sign shops that charge as much for their vinyl jobs as I might for some of my hand-lettered jobs. Overhead certainly comes into play in these situations. Not that I really care. The cheap customer is never loyal anyway. They will drop you in a minute if they discover that someone else charges a dollar less.
An effective branding strategy, properly executed could curtail vinyl shoppers from ever entering my shop. I believe the weak link is my storefront. Even though all visible signage is painted; nowhere on the front of my building does it say hand-painted. I shouldn’t assume that the “average Joe” could quickly spot the difference. Also, my building is surrounded by lower income housing in a neighborhood that considers me to be the local sign shop. It is usually the local start-ups that are coming in requesting cheap along with the occassional contractor who only wants vinyl. The business inquiries I receive over the telephone or through the internet seem to know I specialize in hand-painted signs because that is what they ask for.
As I examine my storefront, I can definitely see some options that could help eliminate some of the confusion. I could paint the words, “Hand Painted” in a beautiful script that starts on the first glass containing the word, SIGNS and extends above the sailor girl and over to the end of the phrase, BOAT LETTERING. In my showroom I could add lettering to the area left of the sailor girl mounted behind my front counter that says, “Hand-Painted Like They Used To Be”. This would educate those that may have somehow missed the window lettering.
The point is this; we have to constantly scrutinize our branding strategy to see how it is working. My social media and website presence seem to be doing their job of educating others as to what my business is all about. My storefront and company vehicles however, could be improved upon. This is ironic because much of my social media traffic is either already in the same trade as me or live too far away to ever enlist my services. It is the locals that I should really be targeting.
Examine your own business. Could your branding strategy need tweaking to yield better results. One way to ensure that your business is profitable is to operate it efficiently. Wasting time and energy explaning to someone why you can’t help them benefits no one. Whereas, a well thought out branding strategy properly implemented may be just what your business needs.