Over the years I have learned and developed a lot of little (and sometimes big) methods of selling in retail. Although these use examples for an aquarium/pet store the concepts and methods should be applicable to any retail and even sales environment, whether you sell smoothies, jeans, or houses. I hope you find these methods as helpful as I have.
Nice Display Tanks Sell Anything You Use In/On Them:
One of the best selling tools you will ever have are display tanks. If you have a nice looking display tank it can help you sell anything in it. If you want to sell certain fish, put them in a display tank. If you want to sell more nice canister filters, put one on a display tank. If you want to sell nice high end LED light fixtures, put one on a display tank. There is a reason why clothing retailers take up floor space by putting their most expensive clothes on mannequins. Many fish don’t look too great when they are young. One good example is the roseline shark. When young they look fine, but nothing special. However, when they are large they have much more coloration and can be very striking, especially in a planted tank. If you have a small school of three in a display tank people will want them. Tell them those aren’t for sale but we have young ones for $25 in this tank. They will see the babies and may ask if they will look like the others when they get big, you say yes, and you will sell them. Your other option is to wait for people who know what they will look like and will buy the young ones even though they don’t look that nice. This will not sell many fish at all. This is the same thing you will see with a lot of other fish like cichlids (especially peacocks), rainbows, and many more.
With expensive equipment like canister filters and light fixtures most customers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options and conflicting opinions. Pick any filter on the market and you can find people who love it and people who hate it. Someone new to filters can’t sort through this. The price of this equipment makes them unsure about what to buy because if they are wrong it is a huge loss for them, not like getting the wrong fish food. It is at this point that you have an opportunity to guide them and get them on the right track. If you have a nice display tank that you can point to and say “This tank is run by nothing but a Fluval FX5″ you will sell Fluval FX5s, a lot more than you would without having any running on a display tank. This is exactly what we did. We had Fluval FX5s on three different display tanks (a 120 planted community tank, a 220 with 2×2′ pacus and a 20” achara catfish, and a 220 African cichlid tank). All were crystal clear and the fish looked great. When you show someone these tanks and tell them that is the only filtration on it, they will gladly by one from you. This is in your best interest. It keeps them from simply going online and buying it cheaper there (although these days this will happen no matter what, but you can minimize this). It also gets them a good filter. If they get good equipment and are successful they stay in the hobby. If this is because of you they will keep coming back to you.
The same is true of lighting. If you are wanting to just sell high end lights you won’t. Put some on the shelf and the price tag will scare away anyone who ever thought about them. But if you put them on a nice looking display tank and say “This is the light we use on this tank” you will have trouble keeping them in stock. It says a lot to use a product. It builds your actual confidence in the product and that comes through to the customer. It tells them that it really is worth the price and you are also willing to buy it, not just ask them to.
This goes beyond high end items though. The substrate you use will sell better. We used Estes Marine Sand in some of our tanks, enough to show a lot of different color combination options. Because of this we had to keep at least a dozen cases of the sand ready to go at all times.
Tell Them What Other People Think is Good About it:
Food was one of the best examples of ‘use it and sell it’. It also exemplifies my selling method. We fed New Life Spectrum exclusively and our fish settled in and looked better. When we sold fish I would tell the customer “Just so know they are eating nothing but New Life Spectrum.” They would usually ask “What is that?” That’s when I would walk them over to the shelf conveniently located just feet from the fish room and register, pick up a container of the size they should have, and say, “This one. It is by far the best fish food on the market right now. Most people who try it notice a cleaner tank, they don’t have to feed as much, the fish have better colors, and in time they look back and realize they haven’t had to deal with any health issues in a long time.” Be enthusiastic, but not pushy. This is when it is very important exactly how you word things and say what you say. You want to be informative, but not pushy. Don’t tell them what they should do, tell them what other customers just like them noticed and liked about it when they used the product. Use bandwagoning and say things like, “Most of our customers have switched over to this and almost none have gone back. In fact, I can’t really think of any that have.” This lets them know they won’t be the only one, and the hesitation and uncertainty sounds very honest.
When I first took them over to the food I picked it up. Once I started to say “Most people who try it…” I would half reach it out to them for them to hold if they would. You want to offer it to them to hold without being pushy or making it awkward if they really don’t want to hold it. If you can get them to hold it and pick it up they are much more likely to buy it. For this particular example if they had further questions or concerns I would expand on it and say, “This one has a lot less filler and ingredients that are easier to digest so you don’t have to feed as much in the first place, and more is being absorbed in digestion so less comes out the other end, so less waste in the tank overall. And because you don’t have to feed as much it lasts a lot longer than most people expect it to.” Unless they are walking away you can sink the hook with, “If you try the small container you can see how they do on it and then if you want to keep using it you can buy the larger container next time, fill the little one, and stick the big one in the freezer.” This shows them you aren’t pushing the expensive one, just the little one that is less than $10. You are also not committing them to anything because you are saying ‘try it’. In addition you are trying to save them money by having them buy the big one later (keeping yourself in their mind for future purchaes).
Once they agree to buy it you may want to give them a heads up about anything negative they may notice about it. In this case I would say, “This food has a lot of garlic in it so it tastes very different from other foods. This usually helps them take to it faster but because it tastes so different some fish just don’t take to it right away. Just get them hungry, they can go a week or more without food and once they actually get hungry they will take to it.” What this does is lets them know it is not unusual for some fish to not take to it immediately. What you are really doing here is normalizing this behavior. If you didn’t say this then in the cases where this happened the owner would just think it is a bad fish or their fish are an exception and won’t eat it. By letting them know it’s normal they are much more likely to stick with it and get their fish on a better food. In the long run this means their fish do better, they are happier and more confident in you, and they come back. This same tactic is used in selling homes. By letting buyers know that many people have second thoughts or buyer’s remorse about such a large purchase and saying, “Tomorrow morning you are going to wake up and think this was a huge mistake. This is perfectly normal. Any sane person will second-guess such a large purchase, so just be aware that those doubts are likely to arise.” Again, you are normalizing the negative that may come up and greatly decrease the chances of someone changing their minds and you losing a sale.
More Expensive Items Help Sell Less Expensive Ones:
One sometimes surprising method is the use of more expensive items to help sell less expensive ones. Basically if all your fish are under $100 you won’t sell many at the higher end. However, if you have one or two fish that are much more expensive it makes the ones in the $100 range look much more reasonable. A lot of people have the mentality of “well, I’m not the type of person to buy the most expensive thing in the store” so even if that price is relatively low, like $150, it will discourage them. But if you have a $400 wrasse it makes the $140 wrasse look cheap and you will sell a lot more fish in that price range because of it. Of course it is an investment to bring in a $400 fish, but if it helps sell a lot more $150 fish it is worth it, and it may even sell. The downside would be if you do too much of this. Having one, maybe two, really expensive fish is one thing, but if you have too many it will make people think the whole store is above their price range and that they have to search through the expensive stuff to find what they can afford.
Greet Them Properly:
Don’t ask “Can I help you with anything?” They are grown adults they don’t need help. If it looks like they know what they want ask “Are you looking for anything in particular today?” If they look like they are just looking around ask “Are you guys just checking things out today?” Either way try to start a conversation if they seem open to it at all. Don’t follow them around but check in with them. This also lets them know you know they are there which helps prevent shoplifting.
Don’t Point, Walk Them to it:
Don’t just point in the direction of something they ask for or tell them where it is, walk them over to it. This is a more personal effort for them. It also gives you the chance to ask questions and start a conversation.
Always Ask Questions:
You should always be asking questions. Don’t pester customers constantly, but ask them about their tank, what they feed, their water change schedule, filtration, etc. You never know what you may find out that may reveal some opportunity for improvement, and at the very least most people like talking about their tanks.
Put Weather-Proof Business Card Holders Outside Your Doors:
People put effort in to going to your physical location. If you are closed this is very discouraging. But if you put weather-proof business card holders on the outside of your storefront (stuck on the window for example) you can still save them as a customer. They now have your contact info and hours.
People Don’t Listen:
Accept it. People think they know better. They will do things you don’t suggest or they will talk with you for 45 minutes, ask a ton of questions, then go get what you recommend online. They won’t even ask what the price is, they will just assume it is cheaper online. This is too normal these days and you can’t fight it, so just let it go.
Don’t Obsess Over Battling Over Price:
People price shop, if you get caught up trying to be cheaper than anyone else you will go out of business. You guarantee you lose money on every sale and you won’t win. Big online retailers will continue to thrive, but it doesn’t mean you can’t provide high quality service, recommend high quality products, and earn your customers’ loyalty. Be competitive, but be reasonable. Good customers won’t worry about a few bucks.
Have a price guarantee. The truth is that few people actually use it against you, but it makes them all assume you have very competitive prices on everything. This makes them less likely to price shop against you.
Have a Strict Return Policy, But Be Flexible in Enforcing it:
Return policies guarantee what the customers can do. If you limit this you are no longer obligated to provide a refund or exchange, but you can if you choose to do so. This makes the customer feel special while still protecting you from people who will take advantage of generous return policies.
Our fish guarantee policy at the shop was practically non-existent, 48 hours on freshwater fish only. However, unless we had real concerns about what happened or why the customer wanted a refund or replacement we would happily replace the fish a week or even two after purchase. We wanted to make the customer happy and keep them coming back, but we still protected ourselves by not having many required replacements.
Hide Stuff That Customers Won’t Buy on Impulse:
I don’t mean to actually hide it, but something has to be in the back of the store and if it is stuff like medications you won’t lose sales because of it. No one who doesn’t need meds will buy them just because they see them and the people who do need them will ask where they are if they can’t find them.