High overhead costs are nothing new to large department stores and retail chains.
But the results of a sluggish economy can mean deep cuts in customer service personnel. That could lead to a self-service shopping environment that customers may tolerate or even prefer for certain purchases.
But it can be a challenge for the customer who has questions or requests help locating an item.
Small retailers must keep tabs on overhead costs, too. They are in a better position, however, to provide the level of service that consumers expect.
Knowing your customers' interests and preferences enables you to provide a better shopping experience that will be repaid with sales, repeat business and positive word-of-mouth advertising.
Your sales force should be knowledgeable about the products, trained in the art of customer relations and motivated to do their best.
A wise investment in hiring, training and employee incentives will likely result in a top-notch sales staff that will keep customers happy and your business growing.
Routine sales meetings and informal training sessions can enhance employee performance.
Encourage discussions to keep up with product innovations, adapt to ideas of other retailers and make changes that can help anticipate customer needs.
Remember that all customers want to feel valued even if they say they are "just looking."
By being attentive, knowledgeable and sincerely interested in your customers, you and your staff will go a long way in building their loyalty.
Stephen L. Rosenstein is co-chairman of the Greater Baltimore SCORE Chapter No. 3. Call 410-962-2233 to speak to a SCORE counselor or visit www.scorebaltimore.org. To send a question to SCORE, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.