From the March 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Savvy ideas to boost sales

Floor Show

Advertising is hitting the floors running. Yes, even the space under customers' feet is sporting slogans and logos--good news if you're looking for a new place to advertise.

In Safeway supermarkets in Northern California and Winn-Dixies in the South, advertising on floor tiles is nothing new. So far, mostly large companies such as Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay are advertising on grocery store floors, but smart small businesses won't be far behind. Why? Because according to early reports, sales for items featured on floor tiles increased as much as 30 percent. And while fees vary among stores, an average price of $75 per tile per month makes this mode of advertising surprisingly affordable. (Of course, if you want to advertise on a store's floors, your products need to be on its shelves.)

According to Gene Gillespie of Ft. Worth, Texas, Indoor Media Group Inc., a company that makes ad floor tiles, supermarkets aren't the only stores trying the concept: Some Wal-Mart, McDonald's and AM/PM Mini Market locations are using floor ads to hype certain products. Have you got a retail store? You can use floor ads to tout a promotion, special sale or hot new product. It's just one more way to get your message across to your customers.

Emotional Rescue

Consumers are skeptical. That's why it's your job as a salesperson to listen carefully to customers' reservations and turn them into reasons they need your product or service. The best way to do that? Emmett Wolfe, co-author with Kevin Daley of Socratic Selling (Irwin Professional Publishing), offers five pointers for getting beyond the emotional barriers customers put up:

1. Acknowledge the customer's fears. If a customer says he's been burned before in a sales transaction, don't tell him there's nothing to worry about. Instead, address his fears directly.

2. Find out what, specifically, the customer's reservations are. If a consumer says "I'm wary of buying from a company this size," ask specific questions about that fear--and soothe his worries. "Don't think you're wasting time asking questions," says Wolfe. "It's important because it gets you into the customer's mind."

3. Emphasize value. If the customer is afraid something he buys will be instantly dated, stress the ways in which being a small company allows you to stay on top of the latest technology.

4. Calm fears of lack of follow-up. Most customers are afraid that once they buy a product, the company they buy it from will disappear. Find out what kind of follow-up the customer would like--a monthly phone call? A periodic meeting? Let him know that if there are any problems with the product, you'll be there to help.

5. Tout the product or service's value to combat reservations about price. Customers who are distracted by the price lose sight of the product's value. Remind them of how value and quality pay off in the long run.

Above all, clarify customers' expectations. That's key to serving them well.

Many Happy Returns

That's one thing all your customers have in common? They all have birthdays, and birthdays present a marketing opportunity for small-business owners, no matter what their industry. Do you own a restaurant? Offer customers a free meal on their birthdays. Retailers can offer a free gift; beauty salons, a free manicure--the possibilities are endless.

Offering birthday freebies is a highly personalized marketing gesture that makes customers feel singled out, cared about and pampered. It costs five times more to land a new customer than to keep an existing one, and treating your existing customers right is the easiest way to keep sales and profits in shape. What's more, customers to whom you wish a happy birthday are more likely to recommend your business to a friend or relative.

How can you keep track of your customers' special days? Set up a simple database or hire a consultant to help you. Even a file box of index cards can help you keep those dates in order.

Whatever route you choose, the goal is to create loyal customers. "Show your appreciation," says Vicki Lenz, author of Don't Forget Your Customers! (Affordable Marketing). "After all, they're keeping you in business."

Contact Sources

Indoor Media Group, (404) 261-3146;

Vicki Lenz, c/o Affordable Marketing, 8206 Lacevine Rd., Louisville, KY 40220-2895, (502) 495-1361;

Emmett Wolfe, c/o Communispond Inc., 300 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022, (212) 486-2300.