November 25 is this year’s official Small Business Saturday, a day when local retailers can strut their stuff on the Saturday bookended between mass retailers’ Black Friday madness and e-tailers’ Cyber Monday frenzy. It was conceived by American Express, which reported that small businesses generated some $15.4 billion dollars on Small Business Saturday last year. American Express explains the goal, “to support these local places that make our communities strong” with plans “to bring more holiday shopping to small businesses.”
Small Business Saturday brings much needed attention to an often overlooked contributor to the U.S. economy. The National Retail Federation reports there are some 3,793,621 retail establishments, and nearly 99% count as small businesses with less than 50 employees.
Owners of small retail shops often feel overwhelmed by the rapidly changing retail environment with competition on all sides and most especially from Amazon. Small business retailers have a competitive edge that none of these bigger, better capitalized and techno-powered retailers have: Their personal touch. It is realized not just through the personal service that specialty retailers offer, but by being vital members of the local community, like Beekman 1802, which has been instrumental in bringing new life back to its small town of Sharon Springs in upstate New York.
Founded by the “Beekman Boys” Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge, Beekman 1802 is a small business that is rapidly growing one neighbor at a time to make a community that spans the United States and increasingly the world. This past January Ridge and I were invited to speak at the NRF Big Show, Small Business Experience, about how retailers can use the power of making retail personal as their secret weapon. But before I share highlights of our talk, let me give background on Beekman 1802.
Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge are accidental entrepreneurs, or as Ridge says “Beekman 1802 has really no reason to exist.” With a home in New York City and two high-powered jobs, they bought a 60-acre goat farm in Sharon Springs as a weekend getaway. But with the recession of 2008, they both lost those jobs, and retreated back to the farm to figure out what to do next.
“We were faced with no income, a million dollar mortgage and 80 goats to feed, but we had goat’s milk,” Ridge says. “We started Googling what we could make from goat’s milk and decided soap would be easiest. So we apprenticed with a local soap maker who taught us how to make soap, started using it and discovered it was amazing for the skin. So that is what we decided to launch with – one product, natural goat’s milk soap.”
From those humble beginnings, Beekman 1802 has grown to include a flagship store and website, Beekman 1802 Mercantile, a publishing enterprise including a quarterly magazine Beekman 1802 Almanac and four cookbooks, an ever growing range of products with some produced through partnerships with companies like Target, Bloomingdales, Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams Sonoma, Anthropologie and MacKenzie-Childs, and appearances on TV-shopping channel Evine.
Behind Beekman 1802’s success is community. “So much of the community helped us starting out. We didn’t know how to run a farm. We didn’t know how to make soap. We had to rely on people in our community to help us and that is why community is such an important part of our brand,” Ridge says.
On Small Business Saturday, and every other day of the year, retailers need to use their secret weapon — making retail personal — to create a people-based, people-first shopping experience. Here’s how:
Retail is first and foremost a people business
Making retail personal means crafting the entire shopping experience around the needs and desires of the people in the community that you serve. Yes, people want a product experience when they shop, but it takes more than that to get them off their computers, out of their homes and into the store. “You have to differentiate yourself in your community and make your place a destination for people with a unique experience and carefully curated products,” Ridge notes.
That requires small retailers to put the people first, before the product. For Beekman 1802 it starts with the superior skin-healing experience that its goat’s milk soap delivers to people, communicating that special experience, then creating a destination where the experience can be realized. People come to Beekman 1802 Mercantile to buy more than a bar of soap, they come to become part of the total experience and join the community.
People crave to be more than just a customer. They want more than just a transaction. They want that sense of community that only community-based retailers can give them. “We call our customers neighbors,” says Ridge. “That is the evolution of the customer/retailer experience, because it used to be customer, which is a very transactional idea. Then a lot of people [e.g. Target] went to calling their customers guests, which was a service idea. But now, people want to be part of the community, and so that’s why we call all of our customers neighbors.”
Find a Neighbor Memory Opportunity in every connection
To create a people-based, people-first retail experience, not a product-based one, Main Street retailers need to make every neighbor connection count. Beekman 1802 calls these Neighbor Memory Opportunities or NMO. “Our company has grown from this little farm and this little shop on Main Street into a company that designs hundreds and hundreds of products each year,” Ridge explains. “The very first thing that we start with in any idea is we ask, ‘Is it a Neighbor Memory Opportunity?’ How does that product or that idea or that piece of content help that person, that neighbor, create a memory for themselves or in their family or among their friends?”
That is the thinking behind all Beekman 1802 special events that its hosts throughout the year, like their summer weekend ice cream socials, harvest festival and spring garden party. “Retailers need to figure out how in their store they can provide an experience that goes beyond their doors,” Ridge says. And that is where word of mouth, specialty retailers most powerful and effective promotional tool including social media, plays a part.
“You should always think about, ‘What is going to be that thing that as soon as someone comes in the door that they want to take a picture of?’ when you’re doing your product displays, merchandising and the design of your store. Ask yourself, what is that awe-inspiring thing that they’re going to want to share on social media? You have to provide the experience so that they can take the picture for social media,” he says.
“We’re always trying to figure out how to surprise and delight our customers, our neighbors. And, this is something that no big retailer could ever do,” he continues.
Get out of the back room and onto the sales floor
One of the secrets of making retail personal uncovered in research for my book, Shops that POP!, and backed up by quantitative research with specialty retailers is that the more time store owners devote on the sales floor rubbing shoulders with their neighbors and modeling the service experience that they want to see in their sales staff, the more successful their store. Too often business owners feel trapped in the backroom ordering products, working the books or other administrative tasks, when their first responsibility and their most important priority is being on the sales floor to meet and greet their neighbors and tell their story.
“It’s not just you or your employee telling the story anymore. It’s every customer who comes into your store that’s telling your story” Ridge says. “So you have to guide that customer to tell the story that you want them to tell. So your merchandising, the ambiance of your store, the music you listen to, the way you meet them and share with them, those are all the cues for that customer to tell the story you want them to tell, because they’re going to share it, good or bad.”
Embrace your neighbors with warmth and caring
On Small Business Saturday and every day of the year, specialty retailers can make retail personal by embracing their neighbors with the warmth and caring that no big box, mass retailer, Amazon or any e-tailer can do.
Beekman’s spirit of caring was on display last year when a December snow storm created white out conditions in the northeast. “We got up on Saturday morning, saw the weather forecast, and sent out an email to all of the neighbors within a three-hour drive area, and said, ‘If you were thinking of coming to Beekman 1802 Mercantile to do your Christmas shopping, we don’t want you to do it. Stay at home, use your computer, we will give you free shipping on any order that’s placed within the next two days,’” Ridge shared.
“We’re a small company, so we can’t afford to give free shipping on every item, but what that did was it not only drove up sales for people in our region who weren’t even going to drive to our shop that day,” he continues. “But then that message spread across the Internet. And even though people in California could not take advantage of the free shipping because they were out of the geo-target area, we still had an uptick across every state, because they felt good that a business was doing this. We saw a 27% increase in sales that day over what was anticipated,” he reports.
That is the power of making retail personal. As Maya Angelo said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This quote should be posted in every specialty retailers’ shop and be the words they live by. It’s for Small Business Saturday but also every business day of the year. Retailers’ success is not about what they sell, but how they make their neighbors feel