From the July 2005 issue of Entrepreneur

When local customers buy new furniture by 5 p.m. from Classic Furniture & Sleep World in New Albany, Indiana, the salesperson delivers the merchandise to their homes by 8:30 the same night.

"We send the sales person because he knows exactly what was agreed to, and customers appreciate it," says owner Todd Coleman, 32.

"Delivery is so important that if you're not offering it, you shouldn't be in a retail business today," says James E. Dion, president of Dionco Inc., a retail consulting firm in Chicago. Not all companies need to have a superfast drop-off like Coleman's shop, he says, but either local delivery or shipping is essential for brick-and-mortar stores to compete with e-tailers.

Dion offers these tips to keep deliveries from driving you crazy:

  • If your profit margin doesn't comfortably cover deliveries, charge a fee to recoup the cost, plus a small handling fee.
  • Have clear policies about where your local delivery territory ends. "Consider offering shipping options for areas outside that territory," he suggests.
  • If you need to outsource your deliveries to an outside company, get references, be clear about how your customers will be treated, and, if possible, accompany a driver or two on some deliveries.

Gwen Moran is a writer and consultant specializing in marketing.