Articles for Retailers - Tony Mines

A Reason To Come Into Your Store

by Tony Mines

Some of us are old enough to remember the first time Bob Dylan sang, ‘The Times, They are A’Changin’ while others of us simply know the lyrics and recognize the truth in that statement. Doing business today in a brick-and-mortar location is very different from the standard business plan just a decade ago. The majority of our products can be found on multiple Internet sites and our competition has become the faceless order fulfillers that respond to a click. The old adage that ‘you need to reinvent yourself [and your business] every now and then’ has never been truer.

If we are to remain vital as art materials businesses, we must do more than just adapt to a new consumer model; we must partner with our customers. We want our business to become their business. How? It’s not easy but it can be a 1-2-3 process.

1.  Build A Real Relationship With Your Customers
Don’t just be friendly; get to know your customers. Convenience is our competition and we must identify a way to make the drive to our store important to the customer. The alternative is easy. Search the Internet for a product. Order through PayPal. The product appears on the doorstep within three days or less. Efficient? Yes, but totally impersonal. Pop-up Internet suggestions are not the same as a conversation with an employee who uses the product and can skillfully evaluate the customer’s need. Today social scientists tell us that most people’s greatest fear is isolation, a sense of ‘not belonging’. Enhancing that personal and professional relationship with our customers is critical to our success.

2. Compete With New Ideas
Mailed fliers and email blasts with discounts may work, but let’s be honest. Most websites offer daily discounts. We have to compete with new ideas and fresh offerings that make our customers want to come into our stores. Take a realistic look at your process and be willing to change the way you do business. Our staff at ART CREATION recently canceled our 2018 Art Expo. For more than a decade, we hosted an annual expo that included product demonstrations, offered discounted items, provided tasty foods and drinks that encouraged conversations and developed seminars and workshops for our arts educators. But, when we stepped back and looked at this two-day event, we realized that we had become stale. It was time for a change.  

So, the brainstorming began.  We’ve designed a series of quarterly events that focus on selected themes and will take advantage of deeper discounts on larger quantity purchases. Think Spring - Think Watercolor Artists.  The Hot Days of Summer - Let’s Head Outside with our Pleinair Artists. The seasons change and the sessions change. The options are unlimited and can vary as our customer interests evolve.  ‘Test Drive Saturdays’ allow our customers to drop by between 10 am and 2 pm and ‘test drive’ new products with education staff members. Some of our tested programs will continue; we’ll still work closely with our reps to design stand-alone demos, seminars and workshops. Our strategic plan is constantly being analyzed, modified and implemented.

3. Listen More Closely To Our Customers
Is that a repeat of #1? Not exactly, but it is a much-needed outcome of building better relationships with our customers.  When we partner with our amateur and professional artists and arts educators in designing programs that impact our schools, our citizens and specific communities, the excitement and energy builds. Sponsor artist events. Attend gallery openings. Take the time to not just talk but listen. Remember, hearing is a biological process; listening is a mental exercise. From those conversations, Ideas are born and our partners become our customers in even more tangible ways. They learn to trust our knowledge and value our connections within the industry to supply answers and the products to create solutions. It all comes back to relationships.

Every decade brings new challenges and new opportunities. The last few years have been increasingly difficult as we battled the competition of the Internet but we can prevail. Getting to know our customers - competing with innovative business models - soliciting customer input, these techniques will build loyalty, improve our bottom lines and change our communities. It’s all in our day’s work.

Tony Mines is the founder and CEO Art Creations in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Tony has been in the Art Materials Industry as a retailer since 1973 and currently sits on the NAMTA Board of Directors.