By: John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.
The lease is up at your existing location, and the new center down the street is happening. The thought of relocating your business is daunting—when will you find the time and will you lose customers? An important decision faces your brand—do you relocate your business?
Thousands of retailers face this dilemma every year and while it may be the correct decision to stay put, in many cases, relocating your business can provide an updated look for your store and jumpstart your business that may have plateaued. Serious risk in relocating is present, but if managed correctly, tremendous upside is attainable.
Relocating your existing store is a two-step process: Building a new store while simultaneously de-branding the existing location. Careful consideration needs to be made in the timing of both projects. Closing the existing store prematurely is not a desired outcome, nor is having to maintain two existing locations. For the customers, a seamless transition for their shopping is the key to maintaining their allegiance.
NOTE: Store de-branding is not an effortless process and generally an allocation of upwards of 40-60 man-hours may be required to properly de-brand the store (depending on the store design and format). The goal is to return both the interior and exterior of the existing store to its original state.
Make It Positive: It is all in the positioning of the message. A relocation should be celebrated as a positive event—one that has only been enabled by the patronage of the existing customers. Position the relocation not as an inconvenience of moving, but rather a reward of a fresh, new location for the existing customer base. It is through their ongoing support that the relocation has been made possible. Highlight the incremental features of the new location in addition to any new store designs or merchandise that will be added. New features and merchandise will reinvigorate your existing customer base.
Tap Existing Customers: Think about how much you have invested in your customers. Relocating your store should not and can not cause you to lose any of your customer base. Your goal should not only to maintain your customer base through local store marketing, but grow the base by moving to a better location. That is the reason the relocation is taking place in the first place, yes? So, each and every customer needs to be addressed so there is no margin for error or miscommunication. The cost associated with maintaining your existing customers is far less than the cost to acquire new ones.
Over Communicate: Just when you think you have communicated enough, double it. It is better to be safe than sorry, and while you are fully aware that your store is relocating, your customers have interests outside of what is going on with your store. While planning your relocation, start proactive messaging at least two months in advance with flyers going out to every customer. Include the reason behind the relocation, the key dates and an appreciation for their business. For instance, if your business is phone-based (call in orders), send a refrigerator magnet home with every customer if your phone number is going to change.
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words: Many people are directional challenged, so adding a map of both the existing location and the new store to all communication is critical. A large sign in the window helps existing customers envision where the new location will be. During the buildout of the new location, it is also critical to place signage up at the new store. That way, if an existing customer wishes to find the new location in advance, the signs will assist in their navigation as well as providing information to new customers.
Create Incentives: While all the communication in the world may still not get your existing customers to the new location, incentives may be the next option. Much like a grand opening, your relocation needs to be promoted with both existing and new customers in order to make the transition as seamless as possible. Providing incentives to your customers as you would with a grand opening, is a terrific way to get them to seek out the new location. Once they find your new location and have made that effort, your ongoing marketing communication should keep them coming back to the fresh new environment.
Celebrate A Re-Grand Opening: Yes, you do have something to celebrate. Your business has thrived throughout the years to enable an investment in a newly, relocated location. Do not be afraid to tell the world about your ongoing success. A relocation gives you an excellent opportunity to shout “I am alive and well” and position the relocated store as a “thanks” to existing customers that will now be rewarded with a fresher store. Once the relocation is complete, plan a grand re-opening—communicating the activities to the new and previous trade areas.
Planning your relocation is as critical as when you opened your store. Many years of customer cultivation cannot be risked by a poorly executed relocation. Manage your time line, over communicate to your existing base and make sure that you treat the relocated store as a grand opening. Proper execution will ensure that your existing and new customers will grow their patronage and jumpstart your new location with an influx of sales.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.