Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This week’s guest is Marcus Lemonis @MarcusLemonis – Marcus is chairman and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises and host of CNBC’s Primetime reality series “The Profit,” where he lends his expertise to struggling small businesses around the country. Crain’s Chicago Business featured him in their 2005 edition of “40 under 40” and in 2008, Ernst & Young named him “Entrepreneur of the Year.” Marcus’ success in business and philanthropy has also paved way for a valuable television career. In 2011, he was featured on two episodes of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice and also appeared on an episode of ABC’s Secret Millionaire in 2012. For more information, visit bit.ly/1zwzGxS.
SmallBizLady: What is the number one thing that small businesses need to remember when it comes to staffing during the holidays?
Marcus Lemonis: It’s so simple, but very often overlooked: Make sure you are fully staffed with trained employees at all of your locations. There is nothing worse than having customers in retail stores looking for assistance….and not enough staff on hand to greet them or answer questions. Holiday shopping can be stressful, and customers turn to small businesses because they trust them and enjoy the personal attention that many big box retailers don’t provide. By simply having enough trained staff present to handle customer inquiries, small businesses help their customers feel valued—which goes a long way to building loyalty.
SmallBizLady: What is the best advertising strategy for small businesses for the holiday season?
Marcus Lemonis: Small businesses don’t typically work with an excess of funds to put towards advertising and promotion, so the key is to get creative. Small businesses have the advantage of being able to give their customers more personalized attention – offer sales for your existing customers and host unique events offering free coffee and donuts for example. Pay attention to competitive advertisements and learn from the big box retailers. Avoid Black Friday and offer customers a more unique, personalized experience on Saturday or Sunday.
SmallBizLady: What can retail businesses specifically do to help boost sales during the holidays?
Marcus Lemonis: Festive store and window appearances during the holiday go a long way! Retail stores should not only decorate for the holidays but also make sure that current specials and promotions are on the storefronts as well as their website. Beat the big box retailers by stocking shelves with the season’s most popular items and offer special services like free gift wrapping or home delivery.
SmallBizLady: What tips can you offer online retail small businesses for the holiday season?
Marcus Lemonis: The most important thing for online retailers to do is give customers a reason to stay on their website. Some incentives to consider are competitive pricing, flash sales, and free shipping –these are often standard features of larger retail sites and an easy way for small businesses to stay in the holiday shopping game. Online retail small businesses should also ramp up on customer service during the holiday season –be sure to staff up on both technical and general shopping support professionals.
SmallBizLady: What is the best way to promote sales and specials?
Marcus Lemonis: Remember, every customer has a different budget so small businesses should make sure to have a variety of specials to appeal to what each customer considers a “deal”. For example, “Deals under $25”, “Great Finds under $50”, or “Steals under $200”. This helps customers to not be overwhelmed by cost, but rather be able to focus on the options that best fall within their budget.
SmallBizLady: How can small businesses build customer loyalty?
Marcus Lemonis: In addition to providing superior products and services of course, small businesses should make sure they are showing their appreciation to their most loyal customers. Establish a special “club” for frequent customers and offer them exclusive discounts throughout the year or even invitations to special sales or previews of certain collections of products. Consumers like to feel “valued” by the businesses they support, and with a core group of loyal customers, your small businesses will flourish.
SmallBizLady: How can small businesses capitalize on the influx of new customers during the holiday season?
Marcus Lemonis: During the holidays customers are often looking for the best value and the perfect gift – this presents an amazing opportunity for small business owners to keep those customers year round. Before the holiday madness begins, establish a customer retention plan for the new customers that come in during the holiday season. Repeat shoppers are the basis for longevity, which is every business’ goal. Offer a coupon for new customers to return in January, when the crowds have died down, to keep the momentum going.
SmallBizLady: How should small businesses use social media during the holiday season?
Marcus Lemonis: All businesses, regardless of size, should be using social media to connect with both existing and new customers. But because there’s so much clutter in the social media space, make sure whomever is working on the social media efforts is posting relevant (that’s the key word!) information on the right days and times of day to help drive traffic to your company’s website and store. Make sure to offer social media followers special deals, which will turn into actual business as well as encourage others to become followers, too.
SmallBizLady: What should small businesses do for their staff during the holidays?
Marcus Lemonis: Remember, your staff is the backbone of the entire operation—spending countless hours to keep the business flowing and thriving. And like anyone else, your staff will enjoy knowing their work is appreciated — this can be as simple as planning a catered lunch, dinner, or late-day snack if your store has extended hours. Once the holiday madness has died down a bit, gift them with an end of year party or small present to help make sure that they know they are the number #1 reason for the business’ success!
SmallBizLady: What benefits are there to using a small business credit card during the holidays?
Marcus Lemonis: The holidays are a time of year when everyone is spending more money— small businesses are definitely not exempt from this! With the need to keep more product on the shelves, fulfill specialty orders, expedite shipping and wrapping, etc. – cost can add up quickly – but by having the right business credit card you can earn rewards on the purchases you are making anyway. For example, Ink from Chase allows cardholders to accumulate points to reinvest—in their business or themselves. Ink offers five times the rewards on purchases most small business owners already make this time of year, including mobile phones, Internet, cable, and office supplies.
SmallBizLady: With so many different holidays celebrated during the season, how do small businesses stay sensitive to their customer base?
Marcus Lemonis: Because there are so many different holidays during this time, it’s important for small businesses to know their customer base very well. If it is a diverse mix, then make sure to show appreciation for all of the different religious and cultural traditions that customers may celebrate in any interior or exterior decorations or marketing promotions. If your customer base is a bit narrower, then feel free to highlight the specific holiday that they celebrate to show that you respect their traditions.
SmallBizLady: How can small businesses give back during the holiday season?
Marcus Lemonis: Small businesses are traditionally known to be great supporters of local charities and community efforts – whether they’re contributing to local schools, community sport teams, or local charities – the holidays present a great time to give back. Be sure to offer opportunities to your customers take part in the gift of giving as well – an easy way to do this is by posting signs and literature near registers or offering special discounts and coupons for customers that contribute. Also, remember that donations don’t have to be confined to monetary giving only – you can also donate time, resources and even products. Charitable giving not only feels good and impacts those in need, but can also shine a favorable light on your small business.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz
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