Don’t overlook the construction details.

Customers notice the details. They can tell if a contractor has cut corners. The transition detail in B above was installed instead of the one shown in A below. As architects we can observe the construction and point out discrepancies, but it is the client that must insist that a contractor exactly follow the details shown on the construction drawings. It is to their advantage to do so.
This bargain-basement installation detail interferes with the nice contrast between the carpet and tile.

What makes a store look expensive? Way back in 2013 I wrote a post on this site asking if a higher price could be placed on merchandise because the store design looks expensive? The post was about the impact that a curved ceiling might be expected to have on what is generally considered inexpensive merchandise. I concluded that answering the question about pricing was related to how well the design feature performed, which in the particular case in questions was quite well. I bring this up again here because I want to consider the topic in a more subtle, yet possibly more important context, that being what makes a store design look expensive?

Customers notice everything. Answering this questions means that a retailer needs to pay attention to what people notice, which is everything, whether consciously or not. The importance of “creating a shopping experience” has been a fact of retail life for quite a while now. Back in 2013 one of the retail marketers summed it up nicely when she said, “..retailers should use stores to create a brand experience that customers couldn’t possibly get online.” She went on to cite the “old adage” that “retail is detail,” saying, “stores can engage all five senses;” the online world cannot. Few would argue that the perception of quality involves more that just an online image; that tactile contact with a product is critical, including how it is displayed; that successful retailers aspire to demonstrate quality in every possible aspect of their store, because quality sells, often for more.

The refined transition detail in image A above sends a message of quality, It is what we typically specify in this situation. This contractor exactly followed the details on the construction drawings with positive results.
A refined transition strip is barely there, putting the attention on the contrasting finish materials.

The importance of quality. Clearly, since sales are seen as directly effected, most retailers are acutely aware of the quality of products they bring to the market, including a range of related price points. This is their main business and most get it right. Merchandise displays, because they are driven by practicality, are also less prone to failures in quality. Matching their actual store environment, on the other hand, is where things can begin to fall apart. Finishes, In particular, are vulnerable. Think:

  • sagging carpet,
  • old leaks exposed and never repainted,
  • light fixtures with burned out lamps,
  • cheap, broken or mismatched ceiling tiles & floor tiles,
  • stained and dirty hvac supply and return air diffusers,
  • dirty windows.

Is it really possible that customers do not notice these things, that they do not reflect on the perceived merchandise quality, that they do not contribute to a customers notion of the brand? Another marketing pundit put is this way, ” a business should always strive and prove to be the best that money can afford because that solid reputation will establish a top brand that’s reliable and worthy of respect.” I couldn’t agree more.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Holiday Marketing Campaigns – Some Advice to Small Business Owners

Every year, a small subset of small business owners that I meet lament that they were not prepared for the “holiday marketing season.” That is, they say they were not prepared with their holiday marketing campaign in time to take full advantage of it. Don’t let this be you! Before you know it, the winter… Read more »

The post Holiday Marketing Campaigns – Some Advice to Small Business Owners appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Every year, a small subset of small business owners that I meet lament that they were not prepared for the “holiday marketing season.” That is, they say they were not prepared with their holiday marketing campaign in time to take full advantage of it. Don’t let this be you! Before you know it, the winter holidays season will be upon you. After all, there are less than 12 weeks until Christmas as of the time of publishing this article.

This period is prime time for every type of business—brick-and-mortar retail, service-based, manufacturing, and online businesses alike—to make a plan to reach out to customers, even if it’s not for the winter holidays season. Now is the time to start preparin

Holiday Shopping in Alexandria

Photo Credit: James Cullum, courtesy Visit Alexandria

g and executing the background plans to be ready with your annual marketing campaigns!

Holiday marketing is a year-round event

The first bit of advice is to understand that holiday marketing campaigns are not just for the winter holidays season. Yes, according to the Retail Marketing Federation, the winter holidays (Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, and to some extent, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day) spending rings in at more than half-a-trillion dollars (that’s 10 zeroes before the decimal!). But, that’s not the whole story.

Consumers don’t only spend leading up to and for the winter holidays. They spend year-round at strategic times. It’s important for you as a small business owner to know when those times are that your specific consumers are buying. If you look back at your prior sales and revenue reports in your accounting software, you should be able to see where peaks and valleys are in purchasing. As well, speak with your local businesses and/or retail stores that have similar target audiences (and this doesn’t mean you have to talk to your competitors necessarily) to learn about their experiences for when the highs and lows are in their businesses’ sales and revenues throughout the year.

You might learn that the winter holidays season is actually not the best time for you to spend your hard-earned money and your hard-fought time on acquiring new business. (And, it might be and that’s good to have confirmation.)

What are the holidays that you can market to business on?

In that vein, it’s a good idea to find anchors in the calendar to have a reason to reach out to your current and past customers, and do pull marketing for potential customers. There are several events throughout the year and even more holidays than Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.

Once you’ve identified the months, weeks, and days that are important to get in front of your audience, you have the background to create an editorial calendar and marketing plan. You then have the opportunity to execute the plan. And, finally, you should track what works and what doesn’t. This will information you for the future years’ planning. Also, beware of confirmation bias; sometimes Small Business owners see a small subset of success or failure and take that as the whole picture.

What’s the message you’d like to convey to your customers, or the goal of reaching out to them at all?

While decorating your front-facing retail spaces, website, email newsletter, and even your Google My Business listing, are important to your holiday marketing campaigns, these are vehicles to a message you want to send to your potential, current and past clients. What are you trying to say?

If you’re reaching out to clients during Thanksgiving, are you sending a message of appreciation/gratitude? That’s not necessarily “buy from me” and may not be as effective for sales, but for goodwill.

Are you networking among your other clients (especially if you’re B2B, but this works with B2C)? You might host an event–doggie happy hour, lady’s shoe club, or wine and cheese open house.

Are you celebrating a big anniversary of being in business? Use this as an opportunity to feature your best clients, because others who are like that best client will be drawn to connect with your business as well.

Is this a special promotion campaign? Be it a sneak peak of future products, discounts, free shipping/handling for your best customers, or something more creative (a la ugly sweater contest benefiting

a local charity), make sure your customers know what you’re offering.

Understand well what you’re trying to communicate and then work backward on the tactics you’re going to use to effectuate that.

If you landed on this article at the tail-end of the holiday marketing season, there are last-minute holiday marketing tactics. And, start planning for next year now, so you don’t get stuck in this position again! Good luck, and happy holidays!

The post Holiday Marketing Campaigns – Some Advice to Small Business Owners appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Me and My Arrow: Recruiting in the Digital Age Part 2

If you missed last month’s introduction to my arrow, this fall I’m devoting the blog to helping search teams make savvy decisions about where and when to invest their recruitment dollars in the digital age. We’re diligently following my Return on Investment Arrow – a handy little continuum you can use to map out a hiring strategy that is focused …

If you missed last month’s introduction to my arrow, this fall I’m devoting the blog to helping search teams make savvy decisions about where and when to invest their recruitment dollars in the digital age. We’re diligently following my Return on Investment Arrow – a handy little continuum you can use to map out a hiring strategy that is focused ...

What precautions are you taking for the next catastrophe?

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on September 28, 2017. Lately, our television screens have been filled with scenes of hurricanes and earthquakes, and people struggling to recover their lives – and businesses. For those devastated businesses, survival statistics are especially grim. FEMA estimates 40… Read more »

The post What precautions are you taking for the next catastrophe? appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on September 28, 2017.

Lately, our television screens have been filled with scenes of hurricanes and earthquakes, and people struggling to recover their lives – and businesses. For those devastated businesses, survival statistics are especially grim. FEMA estimates 40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster, and of those that do reopen, 25 percent fail within one year.

Tragic events dramatically teach us how much of our daily routines are dependent on infrastructure that we take for granted. We expect to reach colleagues, customers and our support network by email or phone. We count on accessing critical financial or operational records electronically or in our file cabinets. A variety of calamities can make those inaccessible – temporarily or permanently. These include hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, severe storms, fires, pandemics, power outages, demonstrations, terrorism and cyber-attacks.

The aftermath of catastrophes is always chaotic. Larger corporations dedicate staff to emergency planning and have established backup procedures, but small businesses tend to procrastinate such pre-planning, and often flounder through the recovery process. Even when federal, state and local resources are made available, it’s often not obvious when and how to access them.

Since hurricane images are fresh on our minds and September is National Preparedness Month, this an ideal time to pause for a moment to think about the most critical aspects of your business and the many ways they could be disrupted. With those contemplations, you can then plot a few basic preparedness steps. Here are some basics:

  • Check your insurance to see what coverage you have. Is it adequate? Do you have flood and business interruption coverage?
  • Establish a communications plan for alternate ways to reach employees, customers and your support system. This might necessitate keeping key lists and records offsite.
  • Have offsite backup for your digital files. This can include a full copy of your encrypted data on an external hard drive taken offsite, and/or using a cloud storage backup service. Note that offsite storage of data, lists and records must be routinely updated.
  • Prepare a handy, waterproof and fireproof survival kit that includes cash, nonperishable food, water, first aid, sanitation, flashlight and battery supplies. Retailers and restaurateurs might add a manual credit card machine, credit card slips and instructions on what to do in case of an outage. If you have perishable items, consider a generator for refrigeration.
  • Make sure all of these contingency efforts are periodically explained to all staff.

Most emergency preparedness recommendations are too cumbersome for small businesses to realistically undertake. SBA has more succinct guidelines and checklists at SBA.gov/prepare.
Alexandria Small Business Development Center staff interacted with SBA and FEMA following the disaster declarations for both 9/11 and Hurricane Isabel. Most of the resulting disaster loans approved throughout Northern Virginia followed the Alexandria center’s direct involvement. We pray there’s never another occasion to use that expertise, but local businesses should note Alexandria SBDC as their go-to contact in dire circumstances.

Preparedness efforts aren’t easy to prioritize, but they can predetermine business survival.

The post What precautions are you taking for the next catastrophe? appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Lead Generation on the Web for Small Business | Web and Beyond

Find the original archive of the video here: Lead Generation on the Web for Small Business | Web and Beyond. Sales is a tough area of marketing for any Small Business. It’s the lifeblood of our businesses, but it’s typically

Find the original archive of the video here: Lead Generation on the Web for Small Business | Web and Beyond.

Sales is a tough area of marketing for any Small Business. It’s the lifeblood of our businesses, but it’s typically not our area of specialty. We are service professionals and retailers, typically not sales professionals, that have gone into business. And, with the advent of the Web, sourcing leads from your website can be the primary generator of sales for a local business, but it can also be difficult to understand how. In this Webinar, we went through the process of understanding how to convert website traffic to sales and generate leads to your business.

What we discussed in this Webinar:
• why you want to create a marketing strategy for your website to increase sales to your business (even if you don’t sell anything online!),
• how to convert website traffic to sales, and
• tools and techniques for capturing leads for your business.


These Webinars are hosted by the Virginia Small Business Development Center Network – http://virginiasbdc.org – and presented by Ray Sidney-Smith, Author of “SoLoMo Success” (available on Amazon Kindle and paperback), Digital Marketing Strategist, and Managing Director of W3C Web Services, providing affordable Web, Managed WordPress, email, domain registration and other related services for Small Business – http://web.w3cinc.com. With the transfer of your business’ domain, WordPress *and* email hosting services, get a complimentary 1-hour Web, Mobile & Social Media marketing strategy session. Email [email protected] for full details and to get started!

Me and My Arrow: Recruiting in the Digital Age

Back in the day, job seekers would open a newspaper (remember them?), turn to the employment section, and circle with a red pen all the jobs they were interested in. They would then send via snail mail a well-written, typed cover letter and resume on s…

Back in the day, job seekers would open a newspaper (remember them?), turn to the employment section, and circle with a red pen all the jobs they were interested in. They would then send via snail mail a well-written, typed cover letter and resume on soft dove grey stationery with a matching envelope to the post office box in the ...

Register Now for Holiday Planning – Let the Festivities Begin! An Alexandria Small Business Development Center Workshop

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REGISTER NOW 08e404fa-da3c-4dc7-b3b0-2c6273a0a76f.jpg

For more information about this event please contact:
Gloria Flanagan
703-778-1292 | www.alexandriasbdc.org

Alexandria Small Business Development Center
625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

What is Your Competitive Advantage?

What makes a potential customer want to buy your goods or services from you rather than from someone else? If you are a small business you may not be able to compete with the “big guys” on price.  So what sets you apart?  This is something that all small business owners need to think about… Read more »

The post What is Your Competitive Advantage? appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

What makes a potential customer want to buy your goods or services from you rather than from someone else? If you are a small business you may not be able to compete with the “big guys” on price.  So what sets you apart?  This is something that all small business owners need to think about and cultivate. What makes you special?

At a recent Small Business Roundtable, several of Alexandria’s small business owners discussed what might differentiate their small business from a competitor. The first thing to recognize is how to make your product or service superior to that of competitors. Often it is because the customer experience is superior. Not too many folks worry about the “customer experience” when they buy paper towels or other ordinary goods – let the online services and big box stores deal with those. However, if what you sell is a product that people want to try on, touch, or feel, or taste, then you can offer what a big store or online service cannot, a pleasant experience for the shopper.

The same is true for most services. There are apps and online services for everything from banking to web design, and most of us do some purchasing online.  However, if your printer or designer had their shop around the corner, wouldn’t you consider that they would have a better “feel” for your business that some anonymous online presence? If you can offer the “local touch”, and are able to communicate that to your potential customers, than you have found a competitive advantage. Remember this when you do your own business-to-business purchasing as well. For your business and for the small business community around you, be sure that the word gets out to buy small and buy local.

The personality of the small business owner and the employees can also be a competitive advantage or, unfortunately, a disadvantage. A pleasant greeting on the phone and in person can go a long way. Know and advertise your neighborhood and your connections. People like to do business with folks who “know people”. If you can recommend the ice cream shop around the corner on a hot day, a great coffee shop where someone can rest for a few minutes during a busy day, or a great local dry cleaner, your customer will see you as a part of the local community. Reinvigorate the experience of doing business with your company, and with your business community — that is your competitive advantage, and it will bring the customers back time after time!

The post What is Your Competitive Advantage? appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.