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Why Do Your Customers Shop With You?

If all you have is a guess, then you are projecting your own preferences on your customers and may be completely wrong. This is a really bad way to run a business. If you don't know why your customers shop with you, you can't emphasize those reasons and may end up inadvertently doing something to change your customers' opinion of your store.

I recommend asking your customers to fill out a simple, one page survey at the counter while they are waiting in line. You can give them a free holy card for filling it out.

Here are some good questions to ask:

1. Do you prefer our store above all other places in town to buy Catholic gifts? Why or why not?

2. Do you buy Catholic products on-line? If so, do you buy them from our website? (If you don't have a website, get one.)

3. Do you recommend our store to other people? Why or why not?

4. What one thing do you wish we carried that we don't?

5. If you could design the "perfect" Catholic store, describe what it would be like.

From these five questions you can find out:

1) If your customers actually come to your store on purpose.
2) Whether or not you are losing sales to stores that have websites.
3) Whether or not your customers will risk their reputation by recommending your store to others.
4) What you should be carrying but don't.
5) What you should be planning for for the future.

If your customers don't shop at you for a reason other than convenience, buy Catholic things online from other businesses and don't recommend you to friends, you have some problems that need to be fixed quickly.

First, you have to have an identity that extends beyond being "that Catholic store downtown". If that's all you have, someone who has a concrete mission and some initiative can take away your business very quickly.

Second, if your customers won't recommend your store to others, you are going to have a very hard time increasing your business. Getting your customers excited about your store requires taking care of the first issue as well as focusing on customer service and making your store a place that people don't feel grubby walking into. Keep the store clean, well lit and organized with clearly labeled sections.

Third, you really need to get a website. You may not personally shop on-line and many of your customers may not shop on-line but if you want to cater towards younger Catholics you are going to have to have a web presence. You can have someone do it for you, you can let us take care of the lion's share of the work or you can hope that younger Catholics will always drive down to your store instead of buying stuff on-line.

Ian Rutherford is the owner of Aquinas and More Catholic Goods -the largest online Catholic store and has been in business for five years. During that time he has seen enough of the small business world to realize that business owners lack basic business knowledge that can mean the difference between success and bankruptcy.

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