Emma Woodward is owner of five-store vintage-inspired womenswear retailer Aspire Style.
Just having better customer service is no longer enough for the independent. To stay ahead we constantly need to look at how we can change.
And no, this doesn’t need to involve having big budgets or slashing prices so we’re barely making a margin. The beginning of the year is historically quiet. Rather than fret about this, use it to re-evaluate the business and make sure every member of staff gets involved. We challenge our 50 staff across our five shops to tell us what we could have done better, what products or trends we are missing out on and how we could excite customers more.
Last year we thought we would have to get involved with heavy discounting in 2015, that our refusal to do Black Friday and go into Sale early cost us sales.
However, since we have taken time out to look at the business differently, we are feeling much more positive. It requires time and effort, but we are focusing on how we can give the customer something different.
Staff are selling new products better than ever as they have had an input into what is stocked, and our store teams are putting on events to launch the new season collections.
By going shopping ourselves, we have picked up lots of exciting new ideas - we may not command the prices that Liberty can, but we can certainly borrow some of its creative merchandising ideas. And we may not have the budget of Topshop, but we can learn from the way it uses its point of sale.
The quieter months should be used to get inspired and get everyone in the business involved. There will be lots of ideas - not all will come to fruition and not all will work, but already we can see the staff getting excited about the changes and that will only rub off on the customers.
If you want loyal customers to come back regularly give them something new, and at the same time engage staff and keep them motivated by involving them in how their business evolves.