Main Street USA

The National Retail Federation reports that today there are some 3,793,621 retail establishments in the United States, and nearly 99% count as small businesses with less than 50 employees.

Unlike the 1% big retailers at the top, the 99%ers don’t have legions of MBA’s to guide their businesses, and few have dedicated marketing, merchandising or technology departments. Owners of those 99% of small retail businesses have a wide span of control, but often are hampered by not having enough time, discipline-specific expertise or money to invest in the many parts of the business that need attention in today’s rapidly evolving retail world.

New Year’s is the time for resolutions. It’s when we look back at what went wrong during the past year in order to resolve to correct those areas that need improvement and set us on a path of greater success in the new year.

To help the nation’s 99% of retail businesses prosper in the New Year, here are the essential 6 New Year’s resolutions you need to make :

#1 — People before product

Retailers have long been schooled on the 4Ps of marketing – Product, Price, Promotion and Placement. Amazon, for one, wants to keep you focused on that because that is where it beats you. But in the 4Ps model the most important P is missing – People – and that is where the 99%ers can win.

The new retail paradigm has shifted from a focus on Product to People. It means you must put people, not product, at the center of your business. Retailers are competing in a marketplace where consumers’ expectations of the shopping experience is elevated far beyond simply finding and buying a product.

Certainly, product remains part of the mix, but it’s been eclipsed by the service side of retail, especially for the 99%ers. The human element in retail is the most important factor in attracting customers and driving sales in-store. That’s why people – both the people you serve, i.e. the customers, and the people who do the serving, i.e. retail staff — are the two most critical factors in retail success today.

To put people first at retail means everyone in the store, and you especially, needs to spend time on the sales floor, meeting, greeting and learning about the customers. Caring and personal customer service greatly enhances customers’ satisfaction, resulting in a greatly enhanced likelihood that customers will return to the store again for their next shopping experience and talk about your store to their friends.

And because the people in the store now take precedence, both the customers and staff, you need to evaluate all your staff members on their most critical personal skills. Way too many retailers have people in their employ that don’t have them and so shouldn’t have customer-facing responsibilities. If you’ve got one, two or more of those people skill-less people on staff, get them off the floor and find others to replace them.

This year resolve to make people your number one priority in business.

#2 — Merchandise with stories attached

With people, not product, the focus of the retail store, the function of merchandising the store has changed. In merchandising your store, you must to evolve from merely selecting new products to put on the shelves into being a curator who selects products to go with other products that tell stories for the customers. It’s those stories, not individual products, that will fire the imagination of the customer and get them to buy.

One of the best examples of story-based retailing is NYC’s STORY Store, on 10th Avenue in the Chelsea district. Founded by Rachel Shechtman, STORY is described as “Point of view of a Magazine, Changes like a Gallery, Sells things like a Store.” Every 4-to-8 weeks the store reboots to bring in a whole new range of merchandise to tell a new story.

At STORY, products tell the story, but aren’t the story. For Shechtman and team the story comes first. “We have to let our story drive the assortment, rather than let the assortment drive our story,” she says. As a result, The STORY Store has become a mecca for retailers large and small, to be schooled in the fundamentals of retail storytelling.

And perhaps one of the best examples of a story-based retail product line is ALEX AND ANI jewelry. ALEX AND ANI is known for its series of expandable wire bangle bracelets, each with a small charm attached. These bracelets (and the companion necklaces and earrings) are made for collecting with each charm representing a symbolic icon that tells a story about the wearer. Merchandising a store with story-based brands like ALEX AND ANI affords retailers endless opportunities to storytell at the sales counter.

The evolving role of retailer is to tell the story, like the STORY Store, and sell the story with merchandise, like ALEX AND ANI. The story is what will capture the imagination of the customer, entice them to shop and compel them to buy. In doing that, your store will become a place where people engage in shopping experiences of discovery and delight where product is the reward they take home.

This year resolve to bring in only new products that have a story attached and to continuously set up storytelling product displays in your store. And, of course, train your staff in how to tell stories to sell the merchandise.