This month, our contributors discuss why small businesses should think about including a retail offering into their day-to-day operation.
Managing Director, Autosupplies (Chesterfield)
Over the years, we’ve significantly enhanced our retail offering at Autosupplies, and we are looking to do the same with our Butlers Automotive operation in Barnsley.
While the Autosupplies retail operation is now quite sophisticated, it is perhaps better if I focus on Butlers Automotive and the steps we are taking to improve the store.
When we acquired Butlers, one of the most important exercises was listening to customers – both trade and retail – about how we can improve their customer experience.
One thing we found was that, due to our location and history, customers were drawn to the store and wanted to see if we had the product before anybody else. As a result, we set about boosting availability of products, namely winter essentials such as batteries, screenwash, de-icer, oils and lubricants.
We worked with suppliers and in addition to the work we put into the factor side of the business, we began the process of revamping our retail offer.
When we were happy with our availability, we then started to promote our products and brands to local customers. Butlers is situated in the heart of Barnsley, surrounded by car parks, and has a thriving taxi community. One of the things we focus on is our store accessibility.
We produced a number of leaflets and flyers, and distributed these to the local community, as well as through newspapers. We also ensured our social media presence was up to date and engaging for customers.
Retail is about listening to customers, engaging with them and responding to their needs. It’s very early days but we’re making serious inroads into establishing our retail presence in the local community.
Proprietor, Scotlands Ash Garage
The message we always try to get across is that independent garages are small businesses, just like any other independent retailers and service providers. The steps we take have helped us become an integral part of the local community. It’s good to see that other garage businesses are now cottoning on to this mindset. The aftermarket is a changing game, now more than ever before.
The bad weather in early spring, which was very disruptive and unwelcome for the majority of the UK, provided garages a golden opportunity to bring in further sales while offering customers access to winter essentials.
As such, we saw a spike in interest for seasonal retail products such as antifreeze and de-icer, plus components such as batteries, rotating electrics and wipers.
Just being ‘seasonal savvy’ has paid dividends for those businesses that have made the effort in appealing to more consumers. For example, by simply stocking summer accessories – such as screen wash, coolant and even refreshments – has proved a hit with both sides of the counter.
As a business to consumer (B2C) business, we have to think like a retail outlet and focus on our presence on Google, social media and in the wider community.
But, where the lines are blurred with retail is when customers bring their own parts to be fitted to their vehicle, which have been purchased off the internet. We won’t fit internet purchased parts or parts of an unknown origin.
Retail is all about understanding the consumer, and by extending your garage offering, it means you’re building a stronger rapport with your customers than your competitors, providing a more rounded customer service experience.