Small town retail ideas Part 1

At the Revitalize WA conference I sat in on a session by Scott Day with Urban Development Services, on Fifty Ideas for Retailers That Cost Less than $50.

People are not buying the same way they did three years ago. People are thinking and buying “inexpensive” far more often. Scott recommended a few tactics to take advantage of it:

  • Emphasize repairs
  • Provide add-on value such as personalization
  • Sell or include service plans

Scott divides retail into nine segments: three categories, each with three price points. There are traditional, contemporary, and hi-tech/funky retailers, and they can be cheap, moderate or expensive. Key point: make sure the appearance of your retail business gives the same impression that you intended and that matches your prices.

External selling space

This is your outside: your sidewalk, facade, sign and windows.

Shop Inside
Draw customers inside

If you park in the back of your business, make sure you walk out front every single morning and check your sidewalk and foyer. Clean up and sweep as necessary every day.

Improve your signage. Good signs can measurably boost sales. And you should measure before and after, when you invest in a sign.

Awnings can be great, or can easily look dirty. If you are installing awnings, Scott recommended avoiding barrel or vaulted awnings. Also, stripes hide streaks (from drips, runoff, etc.) better than solid colors. Awnings are washable, too, something many retailers never do.

Scott said no retailer should need a neon open sign. It should be obvious when you are open. You might open the front door or set out special exterior displays to make it obvious.

Your front door conveys an important message to your customers. Tape nothing to your front door. Nothing. Find another place to put signs and community flyers. Upgrade your hand-printed hours signs. Using a computer, you can easily make something with polish and a bit of personality.

Clean first impressions:

  • Entryway is swept and washed
  • Windows are washed once per week
  • Windows are free of scotch tape
  • Windows have only the store’s name and hours 
  • Interior of the display window is vacuumed

Window Displays

Traverse City
Window displays in Traverse City, MI

“Window displays are always mentioned by merchants as their best form of advertising,” Scott said. “They form the customer’s first impression of your business.”

Dirty windows discount the value of your business. One drug store Scott mentioned would wash their windows daily. The owner said that customers who saw dirty windows would wonder about the cleanliness of his drug counter.

Think of window displays as display ads: don’t over-clutter them like supermarket specials. Instead, create something that can motivate customers in less than 3 seconds.

A good window display:

  • can be seen from across the street
  • takes less than an hour to do
  • encourages the customer to make the effort to cross the street 
  • and sells merchandise. 

Good attention getters in window displays:

  • Floating or suspended objects
  • Motion
  • Changes in light or color
  • Personification, where the merchandise takes on human qualities

Small items can be lost in big window displays. Upsize them with photo blow-ups. Small items carry more weight as repeated or stacks of items.

Economic development idea of the day: creative storefronts in unused buildings.
A bad case of window glare.

Front window glare can keep anyone from seeing your amazing displays. To break the glare, set items back from the glass, light them well, and bounce light out the window. Halogen spot lights aren’t much on energy efficiency, but they do a great job lighting items in the window.

Cooperate with another store in town to cross-merchandise. Put their items in your windows and vice versa. One kids clothing store borrowed some used tires for a striking window display.

Continue reading Part 2 – including inventory control and interior tips.

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. says

    This appealed to me in all the diversity of my TwitterStream morning offerings – Of the 50 tips this one sticks out as so important and so essential yet often neglected:
    “Clean up and sweep as necessary every day.”
    Rule # 1 from ancient religious practices: ‘The temple must always be kept neat and clean.” When businesses realize that they are running a sort of temple to which money is either magnetized or from which it is repelled, we’d have a more pleasant stroll down Main Street.
    Thanks for the post.
    Now to go out and sweep my patio.

  2. says

    I love this! There are few real tip best practices for retail window space. My consultancy has a very nice corner window front and I find that I am befuddled when it comes to making it look nice. Sometimes it takes an entire day to plan and update.

    Although I am not a retail business, I do work in a building that has typically been used for retail. It has a great space with a lot of outdoor traffic. I’ve been searching for samples and tips available for best uses and design for inspiration for window space. Thanks for sharing! Good stuff!!!

  3. says

    I posted this to our Small Town Retirement facebook page even though we are not retail, I think our readers who are interested in small towns will appreciate.

  4. says

    We definitely can use much of this at our learning center and at my partner’s computer repair business. I look forward to week 2. :)

  5. says

    I think window displays are often overloooked, and if they are being used, they are not very well thought out. I think the larger retailers do it well, but what’s to stop small business from adopting dynamic displays for their shops. There is so much creativity lost in displays these days – it’s about time small business bring it back!


  1. […] I can share some advice from Scott Day who did a session on “50 ideas for retailers under fifty dollars.” He said you shouldn’t even need an open sign, because the whole front of your store makes it ultra clear that you are open. You might open the front door or set out special exterior displays to make it obvious. He showed an example of using a garden gate with a chalkboard signboard attached that one place used as a sidewalk display. For a pizza place, how about a little table with a red/white check table cloth that sits out when you’re open? Something like that. The rest of Scott’s ideas are here: Small Town Retail Ideas Part 1. […]