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Building Business at a Boutique Store in a Mall

By Mark Wardell @MarkWardell |

Case study question:
"I own a small European style boutique located in a shopping mall. I need advice on how to market and advertise my business within a mall environment. I'm on a much tighter budget than the multinationals I compete against."

Mark Wardell's answer

Directly competing against a much larger competitor is often an unwise strategy. When you do this, the one with the deeper pockets will usually win. But don't worry. That doesn't mean you're out of options or that you can't build an empire of your own.

As an independent business, your key to successful marketing begins with a clear understanding of your brand. Many marketers believe that it is impossible for a small company to successfully brand themselves. But I disagree. Branding isn't just for the big guys. Whether you have one location or 100, you can and should create a professional, distinct and consistent brand appearance. And you can do this on even the smallest of marketing budgets once you understand the basic concept.

You need to know that your brand is much more than your logo. Your brand is actually the embodiment of how your customers experience doing business with you. This includes everything from the way your business looks to the way your employees behave.

Every time your customers interact with your business, they form an opinion, which I call a “customer contact point”. When you develop an understanding of how to control your customer contact points you develop the ability to control your brand.

The trick is to manage your customer contact points with focus. For example, if you want to run an advertising campaign on a limited budget, instead of putting a smaller ad in several newspapers, put a larger ad in the paper most read by your target market. People pay attention to what they see, not to what they don't. By concentrating your marketing efforts, you can create an appearance of size and stability, without breaking the bank.

Consider the following steps:

  1. Make sure your space looks fantastic. Not just good. The way your store looks, sounds, smells, and so forth, contributes significantly to the experience that decides whether your customer will return.
  2. Train your people over and over and over again. Your customers are not just buying your products or services; they are participating in an experience with your staff. Lasting success comes only when your customers have that same great first experience each and every time they do business with you. This is how the successful business forges lasting customer relationships.
  3. Leverage joint marketing opportunities with other local businesses or special events. A larger chain will typically need to get permission from head office before trying anything outside of the box. As a small business, you have the advantage of leveraging your local business network to become an effective publicity machine.
  4. Consider piggyback marketing techniques that let your larger competitors attract your target market for you. Kin's Farm Markets is a good example here. A BC-based retailer of fresh produce with 24 locations, Kin's may be a destination business today, but this was not the case in their early days. To facilitate growth, Kin's located their first stores in outdoor strip malls within walking distance of major grocers. They then offered a better alternative for consumers looking to buy fresh produce. Kin's couldn't compete directly with Safeway, for example, but they could compete with Safeway's produce department by offering a broader product selection and fresher produce.

As a small business, you will quickly discover what you can and can't excel at when it comes to marketing. You need to continue to narrow your focus until you do excel. Done properly, you can successfully carve out your own place in the market.

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