4 Key Strategies Small Retailers Need for a Healthy Business

Chief among them: Know who you are and have a plan.

By Nichole Simms

Maskot Bildbyrå | Getty Images

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The retail landscape is ever-changing and evolving. Trends come and go, and the marketplace continues to stay highly competitive. Retailers must have a clear plan in place to ensure they stand out from the crowd, attract more customers and remain profitable.

In order to do this, you must have a clear sales strategy, one that is properly executed to ensure that your store can rise above your stiff competition and consistently generate sales.

A good sales strategy consists of four main elements.

1. Know who you are as a brand

Each retailer must ask:

  • Do I know exactly who I am as a brand?
  • How does every aspect of my online and offline presence reflect this?

Your customers need to know who you are. How you portray yourself online and in your brick and mortar store says everything about what you stand for, what you sell, what messages you want your customers to know about you and your brand, and who your target customers truly are.

For example:

  • Are you a modern, crisp, clean and minimal type of store?
  • Is your brand loud and trendy?
  • Do you take risks?
  • Is your product high-end and made overseas? Or is it relatively inexpensive but durable and made in America?
  • Are you targeting 6-figure executives or the frugal college student?

The more dialed in on who you really are as a brand and who you serve, the clearer all of your messaging will be.

Related: How to Make Your Brand More Cohesive

2. Have a plan to increase online traffic

Your online presence is a vital part of your success. Whether you have a brick and mortar store or not, your online presence is key to your overall growth.

To craft your plan, you need to understand what makes you unique so you stand out among all of the online noise. Once you pinpoint what that is, determine how to showcase that on your site. The first 10-20 seconds are crucial when someone visits your site. This is the only time you have to make that first good impression that will inspire visitors to browse your website.

Your website is not the only place that you need to focus on when attracting more traffic online. Your social media presence is key. This goes well beyond posting basic ads or "pretty" posts. Retailers should use their social media as a marketing tool. Try the following to increase engagement with your brand:

  • Showcase the products that you sell and lead customers back to your online store for purchase.
  • Engage with your customers to give them sneak peeks into your brand.
  • Have customers be able to purchase on the platform or get a shipping or sales discount when they buy from your website.

3. Have a plan to increase storefront traffic

Your brick-and-mortar store can still be the heart of your overall business with the right sales strategy in place. Understanding this part of your business strategy is key to your future success.

This is where your marketing and communication skills come into play. You have to develop an overall plan that draws customers to your physical location. Then you need to communicate this with your customers. Email marketing remains a smart strategy here. The people on your email list are your true supporters (or they should be). You need to nurture these people and ensure they remain your raving fans. Give them special sneak peeks of new launches, products or collections. Share a behind-the-scenes look into your brand and business. Give them in-store shopping incentives to come shop at your store. There are many ways to use email marketing to keep your customers engaged with your brand.

Social media can also be used as a marketing tool to boost traffic to your brick and mortar. Similar to the online strategy, you should use your social media to foster engagement and connection with your customers. You can post about upcoming in-store or pop-up events or post sneak peeks of new lines, collections, products or brands you carry. You can offer a unique discount just for them for buying at your store.

Related: Learn How to Engage Gen Z With Email Marketing

4. Know all of the needed visual merchandising strategies for your business

Understanding the importance of having and implementing a sound visual merchandising strategy is one of the most missed opportunities that both online and brick and mortar retailers have.

The one good thing about these key elements is that they work similarly for online as well as offline. The elements show up a bit differently online vs brick and mortar, but the concept and results are the same.

The five key elements that your merchandising strategy needs are color, storytelling, categories, visual display techniques and signage/descriptions.


Color is a key element of communicating with your customers. Colors tell your customers the characteristics you want them to know about you and your brand. For example, a furniture store that is modern, minimalist and high end would have a color pallet with a dark or muted tone to portray this message to its customers. If they chose a color pallet of bright neon colors, it would send the wrong message.

The colors you choose can also evoke certain emotions from your customers while they are shopping with you. You can create a certain atmosphere that can foster or deter buying behavior just by the colors you choose in your store or on your website.


You want to create themes or "stories" in your store and on your website. Stories enhance customer engagement with your store or website and increase their overall experience. The stories you create should tell your customers all about your product — how it can be used, what it can be used for, where it can be used. On your website, your stories can center around an overall theme such as new arrivals, items on sale or new brands you carry.


Categories are how your products are grouped together. You should group like items or collections together in your store and on your website, so customers can find what they want quickly and easily. You should also create subcategories when possible. This makes the shopping experience even more streamlined.

For example, on a boutique website, all 25 tops offered should be showcased under the "Tops" tab on the website. A subcategory would group tops by sleeve length so the customer can find the style they want faster.

Visual displays

Be creative and change things up! Too much of the same thing can become repetitive and bore your customers. Brick-and-mortar stores should change up what type of fixtures are used, the number of items per display, folding methods, fixtures and mannequins used in the windows.

Online stores should vary the way they arrange the photos on their website, use different display techniques in pictures and mix up what is showcased in each picture (i.e. just a still of the item vs a lifestyle scene showing the end use of the item). The more variety you can give your customers, the more engaged they will be on your website or in your store.

Related: How the Crisis is Changing Consumer Behavior and How Entrepreneurs Can Act on It


Having proper signage is key to any successful merchandising strategy. Signs are the multi-purpose silent sellers that have two main functions: to inform your customers and increase customer engagement. An effective and strong signage strategy will include the following:

  • Price signs. Highlight key items and strong regular prices.

  • Sale/promotions signs. Showcase great deals and special promotions.

  • New arrivals signs. Let your customers know what is hot and new in your store.

  • Brand information signs. Gives behind-the-scenes info about the brands you carry.

  • Used in proper proportions. Moderation is the key; avoid clutter.

  • Be balanced throughout the store. Only use in key areas of the store.

Similar to the signs in a brick and mortar store, the wording you use on your website should be used to inform and engage with your customers. If there's not enough information about your products, your customer can get frustrated, confused and ultimately leave. Too much information can make your pages look cluttered and can distract from the main purpose of your website — your products.

When planning your sales goals for your brick and mortar shop or your online store, make sure to address each of these strategies. In doing so, you will ensure that you will have the foundation by which you can build your business and keep it healthy.

Nichole Simms

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

CEO, Creative Visual Solutions

Nichole is the CEO and founder of Creative Visual Solutions, a retail- and sales-consultant company that helps boutique and small retail owners grow their businesses through proven merchandising and sales strategies. She has worked with top brands like Nike, Ann Taylor, The Gap and Forever 21.

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