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You Have Been Framed

Retailers - How many of these 5 habits fo you have?

I've always wanted to be a private eye. Growing up watching the three M's will do that to you (Matlock, Macguyver, Magnum P.I.). My mission was simple: Visit multiple retail framing stores posing as a customer to do research for an upcoming seminar at the AFEX show. Donning an old baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans, I set off on my search for the best and worst experiences I could find. Unfortunately, none of the fourteen stores I visited could be classified as "best" since they all performed miserably. My initial thought would be some stores would get it right, treat me as a valued potential customer and understand how relationships equal good business, and there would be others that didn't have the time of day for me.

Each store had the same scenario presented to them, a young man in his street clothes comes in to inquire about getting his College diploma framed, which he did not bring along. So off I went... and that's where everything went downhill. I can't really choose which part was worse, the store owner/operator peering out of the back room announcing "CAN I HELP YOU?" in a tone that would define "stern" or the rolling of the eyes when I mentioned I didn't bring the item to be framed with me.

At every stop I was told that I should have brought in the piece to be given a proper estimate, and to come back with it if I wanted a quote. Is this reasonable? Of course, I understand the concept of not being able to quote on something you can't see, but there is no need to make a customer feel stupid about it. I was in your store, you've got me through the door, what can you do to make sure when I leave, I will still come back later?

I certainly can tell you what NOT to do. :

1. Don't let me off the hook when I say I'm "just looking".

This is the biggest lie in the retail world. The majority of the time, no one is just looking. They didn't randomly end up in your store and became curious as to what was inside. Your store is called a framing store, not exactly something that draws a "I wonder what they do, let's go inside and take a look!". Especially if you're situated in a strip mall, people don't just drop in. even if it's because they really enjoy looking at the art inside, they're expressing interest in what you and the artists do, so capitalize on it! If the person enjoys looking at art, offer to invite them to an exclusive preview of new pieces down the road, or discounts when new pieces arrive. Make them feel special.

2. Don't hand me a frequent shopper card.

I have more frequent shopper cards in my wallet that it's starting to resemble a new appendage. Instead of making people add your punch card to the masses they already have, offer to keep it in the store and when they come back again, they can let you know they have a card, and they get their discount! Also, make it easy for them to get the incentives if they buy enough. One of the department stores I used to frequent made it harder to redeem my already earned points than it would be to frame a poster only using saran wrap and twigs. The last thing I need to do is have to jump through hoops just to give YOU more business.

3. Don't ask "Can I help you??"

Being of the male gender, the term "can I help you?" sets off the same alarm bells when I'm told to ask for directions. Something deep down inside tells me "You, man, need no help...grunt..." No one ever needs help, but everyone is interested in being asked how they are.

4. Don't wait to acknowledge me.

I'll be the first to admit, I've always had the dream of being the invisible man, but not when I'm in your store. At least 6 of the stores I went in, the owner was speaking to someone else and never acknowledged my presence until they were done with that customer, plus whatever else they were doing. All it takes is "Hi! I'll be with you in just one minute" said in a pleasant manner. Therefore, I don't feel like I'm rudely interrupting you when I walk in your store.

5. Don't send me to look at your online brochure...er....website.

The majority of framing store sites I looked at after leaving the store (that's if they even had one!) were practically the same as their store brochure, except in digital format. The function of your website should not just be to inform, but to collect information of your visitors. Set-up a newsletter that says "Sign-up for our monthly newsletter to be the first to see new prints, and receive a 10% discount on all future orders" Therefore, you "Pull & Stay" with all of your visitors (more on that below).

First, treat each customer with the respect and treatment you would as if they were your dream customer with money to burn. Many store owners I spoke with afterwards want more corporate accounts, some of which need to get in touch with the Human Resources Manager to get the sale (The HR Manager is the one who is in charge of incentive plans i.e. framed prints etc..) Little did these storeowners know, but the guy with the baseball is good friends with at least 12 Human Resource Managers in the area, and was a former one himself.

As I write this I received an email asking for some opinions on incentive plans from a colleague in HR, do you think I'll be sending them to one of those stores anytime soon? You must view every person that walks through your door as one person removed from your ideal client, and treat it as such. I am not an interruption to your day, I am not an inconvenience, I am a potential customer, and a word-of-mouth machine that can spread the word, good or bad. You choose.

Too many storeowners let people come and go, when they should be trying to "Pull & Stay" each customer. Let me explain:

A typical framing storeowner practices the "Push & Pray" technique. People come into their store, look around and leave. They have made no attempt to find out what they were interested in and offered no opportunity to give their contact information. The stack of business cards and brochures on the counter, if someone cared to take one, was the standard fare. They were defining the term "Push & Pray", which means they were "Pushing" out their marketing (biz cards, brochures) and praying someone would buy from them some other time.

What they should have done is the "Pull & Stay" technique. A simple request to gather the potential customers' information by either a contest (giving away a postcard sized print, etc..) or a discount. They could have gathered every interested person's info and kept in touch with them consistently, so when the time does come to purchase a painting or get something framed, they would be at the forefront of the buyer's mind. One of the easiest methods I've used is to create the "Top 10" list article. Pick the need you fill, the problem you solve and write an article that would be similar to advice you would give a customer.

It's always easier to write this when you choose a "focus" market. Notice I didn't say a "target market". When people think of a target market, they make it far too vague or wide to work (i.e. my target is people who want framing done!) You need to pick a focus that you can get your mind around and meet their needs. Is it new corporate accounts? Local artists? Once you choose who they are, write your Top 10 list. It could be the "Top 10 ways to preserve your art". You write the article, print it out and offer it to every single person that walks in your door and let them know if they want more, to give you their contact info and you'll send them new articles as they come out. Now you can be in front of our potential customers with great information.

When you're faced with competition from a bigger store you tend to look at what you can't do better then them (out advertise, better discounts) as opposed to your strengths of a passion for your craft and the ability to give personalized customer service. With the above method of sending out quality articles every so often to interested potential customers, not larger store can out-advertise that!

So, what could these fourteen storeowners have done to get my business? Instead of scolding me about not bringing in the diploma, they could have showed me some typical sizes and framing set-ups for my diploma, but with the stipulation that if I could bring it in, it would make for a much better estimate. They could have asked what school I went to (getting to know me and build the relationship), or handed me a list of ways that I could best preserve my keepsake. Do anything to show that you're interested in my potential business with you, instead of an interruption in your busy day. If you're too busy to deal with customers, you should not be in retail.

My diploma is still unframed and in my closet, so I'm off to try some more stores. Now where did I put my cap?

Scott Stratten is the President of Un-Marketing, a firm that works with business owners to help them become customer magnets. He uses proven methods of successful marketing to increase awareness and sales both within a company's current customer base and new ones. He recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Fast Company and his articles have been published all over the world. Find out more about Scott at Un-Marketing .

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