Column by James Dean
As a non-retail small business owner and an astute observer of Main Street USA, I have great sympathy for the economic struggles of Main Street USA storefront retailers.
Main Street USA, and its storefront retail businesses, can define their communities desirability and quality of life, by whether they look bright, attractive, welcoming, thriving, and growing, or dusty, dark, stuck in time, just holding on, or dying.
The centuries-old, only game in town, limited aging product inventory, “passive retailing” model of “open the door, turn on a few lights, and wait” has been laid to rest by the new, dynamic, low-expense, multiple-choice, latest model: the shop-in-your-underwear, anything you want delivered tomorrow, free shipping, free easy returns, online retailing model.
The choice for many Main Street USA storefront retailers — to have any hope of improving their customer traffic and financial situation — is to change the way they see and act upon the retailer/customer relationship and understand their additional responsibilities for the success of their own business, or slowly pass away from self-imposed, unwilling to change, benign neglect.
If a business district and the retail stores look bright, alive, attractive, colorful, vibrant, successful, active, cheerful, and welcoming, then people will be happy to be there. When people are happy to be there, enjoying the moment, they will patronize more businesses and spend more money.
Pedestrians are not on Main Street USA because they owe retailers a living. They are there because they are looking for pleasant experiences and to enjoy the day. The retailers are there voluntarily, trying to make a living from the pedestrians who may patronize their businesses. The optimum situation is when both needs are met.
Main Street USA and storefront retailers need each other for mutual survival.
“Passive retailing” is a storefront that, from the outside, looks drab, colorless, uninteresting; dusty windows with uninteresting faded content that blocks interior views of a dark, uninteresting store.
No one wants to walk into a dark store, realize they made a mistake, then have to walk back out — so they will simply not walk in.
Worse yet is when they cannot tell if the store is even open.
Storefront retail businesses cannot save their way to profitability and success. They must do everything possible, every minute of the day, to actively capture every possible customer.
The first customers of the month pay the bills. The remaining bring the profits. Obviously, every customer matters.
It is the retailers’ job to capture a potential customer’s attention, to make that customer want to enter the store, and then remove all obstacles between the customer and the sale.
“Active Retailing” is an ongoing effort between the retailer and the potential customer. Where the potential customer is then responding to the successful efforts of the retailer.
Active Retailing revolves first around the core retail concept that “light sells product” (and more light sells more product).
Active Retailing is lighting a general retail business with approximately 4,000 (Kelvin) color temperature LED lighting with a color-rendering index (CRI) of about 90. This will maximize the full color of everything in the store. It will make the store look alive and vibrant.
Active Retailing is being able to see into the back of a retail store, from the middle of the street, on a sunny day, through a clean, unobstructed window. A very well-lit store is capturing customers from a distance.
Active Retailing is a storefront presentation that is saying, “I am here for you, I welcome your business, please stop in to see what we have to offer.” The potential customer gets that message.
Active Retailing is not just selling an item, but providing a pleasant experience to be remembered. A repeat customer is born.
Active Retailing is clean, bright, colorful, open, and uncluttered.
Active Retailing is leaving the store lights on in the evening to give people a chance to browse the store’s contents, through the windows, after hours. A new customer may return the next day.
Active Retailing is understanding, and contributing to the whole of Main Street USA as one large family business.
James R. Dean