Catalog Doctor: How to Grow Your Small Business This Year
PATIENT: "Doc, my small company needs to grow — even this year. But I don't want to branch out recklessly and try to be all things to all people. How can I grow my company, remain relevant, but not lose focus of our unique brand?"
CATALOG DOCTOR: "It's possible for a small company to grow, even in today's economy. Look at expanding into new programs while improving existing programs as well. Here are prescriptions for both."
Try selling new services or products to your existing customers first. If your customers want them, it's more likely new prospects will, too — likewise if your customers don't want them. Do the same when upgrading existing programs.
To get an idea of what your customers want, ask them. Surveys are easy and inexpensive nowadays. Try them on the web at checkout, by email or with reply postcards in outgoing orders. (If you survey through the mail, have customers use their own stamps — you'll still get a surprisingly high response.)
Useful questions/comments to research:
- What three new products would you most like to see us offer?
- What are five favorite magazines you regularly read? (Customers' favorite magazines are a good source for design, color and copy treatments for your catalog.)
- List three things you like best about our website.
- List three things you'd most like to see changed on our website.
Build on Uniqueness
Begin any growth program by defining your company's uniqueness. What's the essence of your brand and unique selling proposition? Your unique products, your brand's look and feel, and your set of services are what attracted your customers in the first place. Use your brand as the standard to judge new ideas. Asking, "Is this true to our brand?" will help keep new programs on track.
You don't need to launch a whole new channel to grow. So before you take a big risk in an unknown arena — like building a new brick-and-mortar store — look around. You may find easy and inexpensive opportunities right in front of you. Consider some of these examples:
Susan J. McIntyre is Founder and Chief Strategist of McIntyre Direct, a catalog agency and consultancy in Portland, Oregon offering complete creative, strategic, circulation and production services since 1991. Susan's broad experience with cataloging in multi-channel environments, plus her common-sense, bottom-line approach, have won clients from Vermont Country Store to Nautilus to C.C. Filson. A three-time ECHO award winner, McIntyre has addressed marketers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has written and been quoted in publications worldwide, and is a regular columnist for Retail Online Integration magazine and ACMA. She can be reached at 503-286-1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.