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Lately, the troubled U.S. economy seems to have thrown everyone into doom and gloom mode. Recent weeks have brought us the failure of countless financial institutions, a history making drop in the Dow, and a taxpayer funded $700 billion bailout bill that no one seems sure will work. Anyone with an ounce of common sense is worried, but if you own a retail business, you've probably chewed your nails to the quick. With the Commerce Department recently reporting that August consumer spending was the lowest it's been in six months—and that was before the financial crisis remember—you've caught a glimpse of the future and it doesn't seem to include many paying customers.
Stop fretting, advises international retail expert Rick Segel. It's true that you can't control Wall Street, but you have a surprising amount of influence over your own little corner of Main Street.
"Yes, our economy is going through a rough period, but that doesn't mean consumers have stopped buying," says Segel, author of the new book Retail Business Kit For Dummies, 2nd Edition (Wiley, September 2008, ISBN: 978-0-470-29330-0, $34.99). "People still need groceries. They still need to buy birthday presents for their nieces and nephews. They still like to reward themselves with new shoes or a new watch after a tough week at work. So the shoppers are out there—you just have to attract them to your store."
So, what should retail business owners do to survive and thrive in this tough economy? Segel provides some rules to live by:
Stay in tune with your clients. Now's the time to make sure you are providing your clients with exactly what they want, when they want it. Don't waste time trying to guess what your customers want; ask them. Hand out a customer survey or put a focus group together to get feedback. Let them tell you which items they'll make a sacrifice to buy even when they are cutting back on their spending. Ask them if there is anything they'd like your store to supply that you don't already, or if there is anything customer service-wise they wish you did better.