Sweeten Your Bottom Line: How to Bring in Dollars When Times are Tough

By Jean Becker

A time of crisis affects most businesses at one time or another. From an unexpected natural disaster to something as minor as construction that slows down business in the area, the companies that come through unscathed are those who plan ahead and adapt to change. Those are the ones that continue to bring in dollars when times are tough.  

Back in the early1980’s, when the national economy was in a malaise, there was a business that achieved a complete turnaround. A downtown gourmet shop and cooking school was struggling to stay viable as interest rates soared to 20% and at the same time inflation grew out of control. Big-ticket items were not moving and shoppers had turned into browsers. A consumable product with mass appeal might entice them to buy again.

Chocolate was the boost that would fit into the gourmet shop perfectly. It had many marketing possibilities. It was easily added to the inventory, in 10-pound slabs, direct from the factory. A huge sign that covered the display window and generous chunks of samples all over town actually created frenzy for chocolate lovers who kept coming back for more and spread the word everywhere.

An in-store display featured a wall of chocolate with 10-pound slabs stacked like bricks. An easel was set up with plain paper and children were provided with melted chocolate to finger paint a picture to take home.

Chocolate candy making classes were added to the cooking school curriculum, and related products were added to the inventory. A post card was sent to tour bus operators inviting them to bring their bus loads of tourists for a free “chocolate show,” which consisted of a demonstration of candy making and a taste of the decadent confections. They came in buses of 47 people at once and one day hit a record of 7 buses. They actually stood in line to make purchases of more than a hundred pounds of chocolate almost every day.

There was a buzz all over town, which caught the attention of the press. This created more publicity than any paid advertising could have done.  After the first year, over 16 tons of chocolate had been sold from a gourmet shop of only 800 square feet. The sales increased and held steady into the next four years. The economy started looking better around that time as interest rates began dropping and people returned to normal buying habits. What had caused a surge in profits at an obscure gourmet shop while other retailers were barely hanging on in the slumped economy? What were the lasting effects? How can you create a booming business when the economy slows or customers lose interest?

Adding A New Product: Is there something out there that is compatible and also an unexpected surprise? Is it vitamins at the gym? Is it t-shirts at a restaurant? Is it books or greeting cards at the coffee shop? Is it homemade cookies and cupcakes at the gift shop? Investigate how new products and services could increase sales.  

Promoting The Product: The simplest and most effective way to start is with “cross trafficking.” In the case of the gourmet shop, plates full of chocolate samples were placed in shops in the neighborhood. A simple tent card with the name of the shop was set in the middle of the plate. In return, tent cards, coupons and flyers about events were placed in the gourmet shop. This can be done as a partnership with many types of businesses. There’s a bookstore where therapists give five-minute chair massages, along with a discount coupon for a massage at the therapy center, to the customers who put coins in a gallon jar to buy books for local schools. At the therapy center, there is a “book of the month” to peruse in the waiting room and a discount coupon for you to buy it at the bookstore. Connecting with a charity is a great way to add to the “cross traffic” concept.

Big is Better: Show off what you are doing by making it bigger than life. Make the sign in the window as big as your city codes or mall association will allow. Look into the city codes regarding temporary signage. In some cases the rules as not as strict and even if you are only allowed to have a larger sign for a short amount of time, it is still an advantage. If you give samples of anything, whether it be a product or service, be generous. Make a display in your shop as large as possible. Make it say: “This is the reason you came here.” “This is what you want to buy.”

Go For Bulk Sales: Instead of selling just one of anything, find ways to sell dozens at a time. Promote yourself to clubs and organizations and invite them to have an outing or meeting program, which you can provide for them, at your place of business. Now that you have a group, you can sell one or more widgets to each one of them. If they don’t come to you, it’s worth your effort to go to them. Pack up your widgets and your samples and you free hand out sheets and be the program at their monthly club meeting. Word will spread and you will gain more customers and more opportunities to show off your product.

Participate In The Community: Many cities have festivals and events, which you can be a part of as a sponsor or vendor. You can connect with a charity to donate for their auction or give prizes of your product or service to contest winners. Even a small donation gains a listing in a program booklet or your name on a flyer. If your product or service is seasonal, you may want to sponsor an event just ahead of the season and stock your shelves early so you’ll be ready.

The lasting effects of what you did to get through the dry season will be just that—lasting. You will gain respect in the community for your participation and for your success in managing your business in a difficult time. You will create a desire for people to want to work at your establishment since it is so successful. You will establish a brand for yourself and your company. You’ve learned that by adapting to change and bringing in customers despite a dry spell, your business will be better prepared for any challenge ahead.

Read other articles and learn more about Jean Becker.

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