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Building Your Retail Store's Brand Equity

  
  
  

Only a single minded clarity of purpose will build a memorable identity for your store, and brand equity that will earn long-term customer loyalty.

Published by Baby Shop magazine

Think for a second of those larger retailers we all know and love. Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble. When you think of those stores, what do you think of?

You most likely have a very distinct impression of each of those stores, the products they sell, what they do well, and what to expect when you go there. For better or for worse.

When a customer thinks of your store, what do they think of?

Your store's identity is the sum of many critical decisions that you make, involving every aspect of your business. It is the nexus where strategic positioning, merchandise assortments, visual merchandising, pricing, customer service and marketing all come together to create a comprehensive whole, more significant and compelling than the sum of the individual parts. To create the identity that you want for your store requires a singular vision that encompasses all of these elements.

Your objective is nothing less than to build brand equity for your store. Brand equity is not just something that products like Pampers, Kleenex and Band-Aid have built up over the years, but it's also the image that stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble have built up over time. The brand is the store, and the store is the brand. 

What does it take to build your store's identity and brand equity?

Strategic Positioning
Building your store's identity begins by determining who the customer is that you are going to serve, and what her needs are. What are the products and services that you excel at providing? No retailer can be all things to all people, most surely not a smaller retailer, so who exactly are you? What really sets you apart and what will you need to learn to do better to meet your customer's needs and fulfill their expectations? While you may not have ever consciously asked yourself these questions, you know the answers, and those answers form the foundation of building your identity.

Merchandise Assortments
As a small retailer, your success depends on carving out a niche for yourself in the marketplace. By definition, this means that while you may carry some core items that the large chains carry, the focus of your merchandise assortments is likely to be on related specialty items. The depth and breadth of these assortments is a primary means of communicating to your customer who you are and what business you are in. Carrying items or categories that are not clearly related to your core items and categories may add marginally to sales, but detract from your focus and the clarity of the message you are sending to your customers. The brands you carry also convey an important message about who you are. Carrying premium products that possess their own brand equity reinforces the brand equity you are building in your store.

Visual Merchandising
Visual merchandising encompasses everything from the layout of the store to the way merchandise is organized and displayed to signage and color scheme. It also includes housekeeping. It is just as much about execution as it is about the design and concept. Anything a customer can see is a visual key. Evaluate the visual impact of your store from your customers' perspective. What does she see? What draws her eye? Is your store easy to navigate and shop? Is it pleasing? Is it consistent with the identity that you are trying to create?

Pricing
Your merchandise assortments are structured to set you apart, to carve out a niche that is uniquely yours. Don't be afraid to charge a premium price for your premium products and services. While you may have to be sharp on core items that the large chains also carry, don't fall into the trap of thinking that you have to work on short margins on every item, and have your overall margins fall below where you need them to be. Adopting a promotional pricing strategy or suddenly dropping your prices in an effort to simulate business is likely to be at odds with your efforts to build a premium identity for your store in your customer's minds.

Customer Service
Outstanding customer service begins with the mindset that your purpose is not merely to sell merchandise but to build an enduring relationship with your customers. While this may sound pretty high-minded and open-ended, customers will take notice when you spend the time to answer their questions, share your knowledge, do whatever it takes to get the item they need, be sure it's delivered when promised and set-up or installed correctly the first time. It's the little extra that will turn a satisfied customer into a loyal customer, and recommends you to others.

Marketing
Your marketing consists of every single communication with your customer, from traditional advertising to email newsletters, from in-store seminars and workshops to community sponsorships. Creating a consistent logo and slogan is only the beginning. Every opportunity you have to communicate with your customers must be focused on communicating a singular, focused, and thus, memorable message.

It all must work together. Everything you do must be focused on building a brand identity for your store, and communicating the value of your brand to your customers. There can be no mixed messages or dual agendas. Anything that you do that is at odds or cross purposes with the identity that you are trying to create must be changed or eliminated. Everyone working in your store must be on the same page. Only a single minded clarity of purpose will build a memorable identity for your store, and brand equity that will earn long-term customer loyalty.

© Ted Hurlbut 2005 All Rights Reserved

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