When you decided to open a retail chain, what was your ‘why’? Owning one retail store is a major lifestyle change for you as a retailer, so opening several is not easy. However, there are many good reasons why retail chains work. They give your brand greater visibility and geographical reach. If you manage them well, they become multiple revenue channels and are a time-tested way of scaling up your business.
This guide is meant for two kinds of retailers- if you’re either thinking of opening up more stores or if you already own a chain of stores, this is for you. In the first part of the article, we will be focusing on retailers who want to open more stores. Yes, even in the online retail era, they exist and with good reason. The second part deals with what to do when you already have a chain of stores open.
Part 1: Scaling Up With Retail Stores
Most retailers make the decision to open more stores just when their first store is beginning to do well. Specifically, when your first store breaks even and begins to make a profit, you would want to invest in more stores. The success of one store is a sign that your business model is sound, and your customers like you enough to keep you in business. Here are a few things you need to consider now.
To Expand Or Not To Expand, That is The Question
While there is no doubt about that multiple stores are multiple avenues for selling, you need to consider the cost of scaling up. Financial costs are just one aspect- there are other considerations to make as well. For example, if you spend much of your time at your retail store, and believe that your presence is resulting in conversions, how would you do this across all your stores once they open? Then, there are the hiring considerations you need to make. What kind of people would be able to run your business as efficiently as you do?
Ask yourself a few of these questions:
- Why am I opening multiple stores? If the focus is on revenue alone, in how much time can I expect to break even across all my stores?
- Do I have the money and/or the valuation required to keep me afloat until then?
- Am I prepared to make the sacrifices I need to, to achieve this dream?
- Am I prepared for the challenges of manpower that are bound to arise when multiple stores open?
- And most importantly, have I chosen the right location for all of these stores?
If you’re able to answer them with a fair degree of certainty, you already have a plan and are good to go.
Aspects To Look Into
Develop a niche you are proud of
Branding is key
Know that eCommerce is here to stay
Make the most of technology
1. Develop A Niche You Are Proud Of
Think Marks&Spencer and you know they sell clothes. Women will go one step further and tell you how amazing their lingerie is. This perhaps explains why they have separate stores worldwide just for lingerie and nightwear. Choose those products of yours that have a huge fan base and begin opening chains with a specific focus on those. This is not to say that you should avoid selling multiple products under one roof, but as you start out, selling fast-moving products that customers love will bring in the money and boost your morale.
2. Branding Is Key
Customers who shop at chain stores are coming back to your other stores, not only because of the products but because of what your brand stands for. Are you all about fast, easy fashion? Does your coffee cup come from responsibly sourced beans? Do you make all of your sandwiches in-house, or is your gemstone catalog known for responsibly sourced diamonds? Whatever it is that your brand stands for, customers want that.
3. Know That E-Commerce Is Here To Stay
Since that is a given, think of ways in which your stores become extensions of a single brand experience. Omnichannel retail is more than a buzzword, and huge retail chains like Staples have walked that path with great success. You can consider having smart checkout systems or automatic checkouts in your store. You can also offer ‘order online and pick up in-store’ facilities so customers can get what they want in a shorter amount of time.
4. Make The Most Of Technology
The world runs on computers. Instead of being daunted by it, make technology work for you. Investing in a good order processing and retail management software can help you keep track of inventory and sales across stores. Some products come with POS features built-in to make the integration seamless. An accurate inventory management system will save you a lot of pain and sleepless nights.
So there you have it! If you have the money and the insight to open the next store, go ahead and do it! You may just be the new kid on the retail block.
Part 2: Managing A Retail Chain
Owning and operating retail chains in these tumultuous times can seem daunting. Every day, business news is flooded with information about the number of stores that are shutting down. However, don’t be disheartened. In most cases, shutting of stores is a strategic move, and while the lower rung of employees and business are hurt, that is what it takes to keep your brand alive. We’ll discuss store strategy a bit later.
Aspects To Look Into
Maintaining uniformity in catalogs
product assortment and arrangement
Uniform customer database
Inventory handling across stores
Choosing locations for new stores
1. Distributed Employees
Depending on how many cities, or even countries, you operate across, you may have employees from different backgrounds and values working together. While part of the onus is on them to collaborate and work towards keeping the stores running, the other part rests on your abilities. However much the employee distribution, they still work for the same single brand. Do they understand the brand’s values? It isn’t enough for store managers alone to get it- customer service reps build your business from the ground up, and they need to get your message too.
You can consider all-hands-on-deck meets and training programs where everyone gets a chance to meet others working across your stores. While they may be a logistical nightmare, they can also provide an even ground for your internal stakeholders to come together and understand what is going on.
Another aspect of having sales representatives across locations is the problem of dealing with and understanding the local language and customs. This aspect is even more important when you have an international presence. In such cases, hiring local talent is your best bet. They already understand the place and the people, so that is one less thing for you to worry about.
2. Maintaining Uniformity In Catalogs
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of maintaining a uniform catalog across stores. It is a given that geographically dispersed stores will have different products in their assortment. But for the products that they do have in common, what are the price points?
If two stores in neighboring localities have different prices on the same product, it reflects a degree of shoddiness on the store’s part. It is important, therefore, to have a product catalog that is similar to its cousins in the geographical area.
The exception to this rule is when you are closing down a particular store and decide to offer hefty discounts on some of that store’s products.
3. Product Assortment And Arrangement
Product assortment in retail chains is usually expected to be diverse and manifold. Even if you specialize in apparel, you would be stocking apparel for men, women, and children, and then sort them by season and occasion. If you’re a grocery chain, you probably have a very wide assortment of food and drink, and fresh produce to boot. Choose your product assortment based on what you specialize in and on what sells often.
Enough and more has been written about retail store arrangements. Impulse purchases are always positioned closer to the billing counter. Fresh drinks and foods are placed somewhere in the middle so customers find them just as they’re getting exhausted.
An impeccable-looking store is one that sells more. Don’t we all love shiny windows and clean aisles? You need to also arrange your store according to the logical order of purchase- so clothes go first, followed by shoes and then accessories.
Most retailers believe that offering seating within the store prompts customers to sit instead of shopping. While this may be true, think of those people who may actually need a break before they continue- young mothers, old people and those with disabilities. If you’re so inclined, you can position seating after customers cover a certain breadth of the store.
4. Uniform Customer Database
Since your brand is what has value for a customer, they may be neutral to store preference. In other words, they may not mind buying from any of your stores as long as it is yours. In this case, you need to maintain a uniform database of customers across your retail chains. Your loyalty cards and points must work across all your sales channels, online included.
Take it a step further. Develop a system where notes are made about the customers’ previous purchases and unique spending patterns. If this information is available across stores, your sales executives have a good base to start a conversation around.
5. Consolidated Reporting
While the front end is taken care of and the customers are happy, you cannot have an ailing backend. Indeed, if the chain suffers from within, it is only a matter of time before it begins to reflect outward. Reports of your business need to be of two kinds- each store periodically generates a report of inventory, sales, footfalls, and revenue; you then develop a consolidated report to compare which stores are doing well and which ones need more work.
A good retail management software can do this for you automatically. All you need to do is set parameters for what you want to measure, and at what frequency. You can then view reports based on those parameters and make decisions quickly.
6. Inventory Handling Across Stores
That inventory and its management is the single most important aspect of a retail business is known. Are you struggling with inventory? Is poor inventory management affecting your business severely? If that is the case, you need to get it in order. Start with a stock reconciliation exercise, and then make stock counting a periodic activity.
Invest in an inventory management system that dynamically handles it. The lesser human interference there is, the lesser the scope for errors. Also, since a system keeps an eye on sales across all your stores at the same time, you can quickly identify red flags and deal with them. Primaseller does all of this for you, and also comes with a stock notification feature, wherein you will be alerted to stocks out just when a product’s inventory touches its reorder level.
7. Choosing Locations For New Stores
Opening yet more stores? Congratulations! How wisely you choose the new store’s location determines how well it serves the purpose. A new store must either garner more revenue or become a great advertisement, even better if it can do both.
If you’re opening up in a new country, familiarize yourself entirely with the laws of the land. Don’t get tangled in legal loopholes and hire a team that is well-versed with the norms of the new country.
Instead, if it is more stores in the same geography you’re looking at, pause and think about the ‘why’. What purpose is this new store going to serve? The reason brands from AG Jeans to Armani have shops in SoHo is to serve as a very elaborate advertisement. Higher sales may actually be happening elsewhere.
Making The Tough Decisions
The choice of closing a store, or multiple ones, is never a pleasant one to make. There are several aspects to take into consideration both before and after making that decision. If one of your stores just cannot rake in the money and is also failing to serve the purpose of brand awareness, it is time to shut the store.
- Decide when would be the last day of operation for the store.
- Once the decision is made to shut a store, inform the store employees as soon as possible. If possible, relocate them to other stores within your chain. If you do have to let them go, assure the others that their jobs are safe, for now.
- Don’t delay making a public announcement. Bad news always looks much better in an announcement, than it does as a dilapidated building at the corner of the street.
- Think about what you want to do with the stock. You can either ship it to other stores and add it to their inventory, or you can have a clearance sale and sell as much as you can before you close.
- If you are closing multiple stores, follow this process diligently for each of them.
- Employee morale takes a huge hit at such times. Be as transparent as possible about the reasons for closing.
- Businesses don’t always close because they lose sight of the bigger picture. Sometimes, closing a few stores is the best thing you can do for your business.
What is the single most daunting problem you have faced while operating your retail chain? Share with us!