Does Your Small Business’ Inventory Sustain Customers?

Does Your Small Business' Inventory Sustain Customers?A new Cre8asite Forums’ member, JoeD, has started a very interesting thread regarding achieving conversions for small business clients in which he asks:

“Ask your non-seo friends to list the places they’ve shopped at online. See if you can find a mom and pop level business that they bought from? If so, what percentage of the list is mom and pop?

I’m going to try this myself, but used this question to illustrate to a client of mine today who wanted to know how to convert sales. I asked her how many times she bought something online from an outlet of her size and she said Zero… Amazon, yes. Major fashion outlets, Yes. Mom and Pop, none.”

Great responses have followed, and I recommend Small Business and Local SEOs check it out. I’d like to add a related but different thought to the pot here.

In my experience, women in my mother’s age group (50s-60s) do develop loyalty to small business websites. This occurs when the small business offers something the customer has been eagerly searching for and having trouble finding anywhere – an ‘it’ factor. When my mother finds ‘it’ on a Mom-and-Pop site, the first thing she does after buying the product is to tell me to go look at the website. She’s excited, and from then on, thinks of that business as a great find.

But, here’s the problem. Once a customer buys ‘it’ from your small business, what else is there for them to do?

Case in point:
In our continuing quest for greater sustainability of our own, my husband and I have started baking our own bread. With store-bought bread at nearly $4.00 a loaf now, we’re not only saving a bundle by baking our own, but we’re also eating some mighty tasty sandwiches around the SEOigloo now. Mix up a batch, call three clients while the dough rises, knead the dough, design a homepage layout while it rises again, answer evening emails during the third rise, and write a blog post while it bakes. SEO and bread baking are a match made in heaven!

Our decision to start baking our own bread sent me on a search for the perfect loaf pans. I needed them to be:

  • Non-toxic – no aluminum or teflon coating
  • Made in the USA
  • Reasonably priced

Internet searches and word-of-mouth recommendations from loved ones resulted in my discovery that GraniteWare was my perfect solution. GraniteWare is that dark, speckled enamel-coated bakeware you might remember from camping. It’s been made in the USA for at least a century and is quite inexpensive. It sounded great, but I discovered it was hard to find. The manufacturer’s site has no e-commerce option (how silly is that?) and Google was providing slim pickings. Then, I discovered Lehmans.com. Their website design looks a little funky in Firefox, but they’ve got tons of GraniteWare and had the exact loaf pans I was looking for. I ordered 2, got them in an admirably short time and am very happy with their performance.

But Now That I Have My Loaf Pans, Why Would I Shop At Lehman’s Again?
Unless a small business is selling something perishable like food, candles, soap, clothing, etc., the loyalty earned by providing ‘it’ gains only a one-time transaction for Mom & Pop. Barring an unforeseen disaster in the kitchen, I won’t be needing to buy any more loaf pans for years. A business like Lehman’s is going to have a hard time surviving if they depend solely on unique sales rather than sustaining repeat business so that subsequent sales are won from already-satisfied customers.

How do you get those subsequent sales? The answer lies in your inventory and your customers’ lives. Lehman’s needs to try to figure out who I am – this woman who bought loaf pans – and what lifestyle I am living that brought me to their door. If they had access to my short bulleted list, above, they’d have some very good clues.

I’m a woman looking for non-toxic products. This means I’d probably be interested in a non-toxic products section at Lehman’s. This might include anything from GMO-free garden seeds to organic fabric.

I’m a woman looking for Made In the USA products, endeavoring to support domestic industry. This preference in combination with my desire for non-toxic bakeware would make it a pretty safe bet that I may be the type of customer who is worried about the news of poisonous imports from countries like China. Lehman’s could respond to this concern not only with a Made-in-the-USA category, but also blog posts that address my worries about imported inventory.

I’m looking for a fair deal. As a relatively young housekeeper, I’m not at the point in life that I’m ready to invest hundreds of dollars in master-chef-level kitchenware. Can Lehman’s find other products that, like the GraniteWare, answer my needs but don’t break my bank? They should certainly try.

I Think Lehman’s Is Onto Me
Further exploration of this interesting little website reveals that they do have other products I might be interested in future. They’ve got a great setup for canning your own jam. Some day, I may have the orchard I dream of, and my good experience with the loaf pans could lead me back to Lehman’s. They do have an American-made category! I think it needs to be a little more visible in the design, because I didn’t notice it on my first visit. And, while I’m not so far off the grid at this point in life that I’m going to invest in a composting toilet, (ehrm…I’m not really sure I ever want to reach that point) I think this company is making good efforts to sustain the interest of a customer like myself who is trying to apply green principles to daily living. Since my purchase, I’ve already told two people about Lehman’s and now I’m telling all of you. How’s that for loyalty?

Going One Step Further
Though they’ve got an email list opt-in, I don’t see a blog on this site. Unless I’ve missed it, this should be Lehman’s next step. Hire a couple of bloggers who know everything about natural living and farming and put them to work writing about anything they can discover the customer base is interested in. Most important of all, start asking the customer, directly, exactly what else they’d love to see at Lehman’s. They could so easily do this.

And, if you’re a small business owner, so could you!

Sustaining your customers means really getting to know them, really coming to understand where they are heading in their lives right now that would bring them back to your website for a wider circle of needs. It’s probably not practical to employ people to phone each and every customer to speak with them directly (although I’d love to see how this would play out) but a blog provides the place for a community to form around the goodness of your business. I had to do a lot of searching to find Lehman’s. Rather than counting on someone new to make those efforts for the next sale, how smart they’d be to keep me shopping with them, since the effort has already been made to win my business.

Your customers are the reason your business exists. Find out what they want.

Time to go take the bread out of the oven.

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* Above photo by Munir

4 Responses to “Does Your Small Business’ Inventory Sustain Customers?”

  1. on 20 May 2008 at 9:47 am Dave

    Miriam:

    I can smell the aroma…hmmmmm…..I love bread.

    On a serious note….if you get your customers to really love you….you get the power of word of mouth advertising. That is always the best thing going.

  2. on 10 Oct 2008 at 3:42 am Nathan Ketsdever

    I think real estate is one of the prime exception to the mom and pop conundrum above. However, most real estate companies come with national brand reputation.

    Skilled web designers + photographers + lawyers also may experience a higher degree of online conversion.

  3. on 10 Oct 2008 at 11:30 am admin

    Welcome, Nathan,
    Agreed. Real estate is a somewhat different business model. Good point. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and I hope we’ll see you here again.
    Miriam


  4. […] a growing concern among consumers.  Are the items you sell harmful to the environment or are they sustainable?  Are they sourced from countries that have unfair wages?  Are the products safe for children and […]

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