Winter challenges can be opportunities

FRED OHLSSON
Last updated 16:11 24/06/2013
Fred Ohlsson
FRED OHLSSON: Weather gloom need not spell doom for small businesses.

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OPINION: Attracting customers over winter can be a challenge for small businesses, but the gloomy weather can actually spell opportunities if you're prepared to try new ways of attracting business.

For retailers and hospitality businesses that rely heavily on foot traffic, July is often the quietest month as tourist numbers fall and people spend more time indoors. But this doesn't mean you're doomed to struggle through the winter months; you just need to get creative about attracting business.

To bring in customers and new business when it's cold and wet, you have to convince people that it's worth venturing out.

This might mean you have to reassess your point of difference over winter. If you're cheaper than the competition but are located away from a main shopping area with limited parking, you could find your customers go elsewhere. Being the price leader might be enough over summer, but in the winter your location and ease-of-access could be just as important.

Here are some top tips for firing up your business over winter:

WINTER-PROOF YOUR BUSINESS PREMISES

Make it as easy and comfortable as possible for customers regardless of the weather. Do you have good heating and insulation? Is your signage clear enough to be read easily in poor weather and low light?

For businesses that rely on outdoor areas, such as cafés or food outlets, gas heating or a covered canopy or waterproof sailcloth can be a great investment to protect customers from the wind and rain. Some outdoor bars even offer patrons hot water bottles with their drinks.

CREATE A 'HOOK'

To keep customers coming through the door, think of a 'hook' to get them in - an extra perk you can offer that separates you from your competitors.

Put yourself in your customer's shoes and think about what appeals to them most. This could be your location, general convenience, or unique approach to customer service, as well as range or price.

Examples of hooks could include:

Free or low-cost delivery of items that could be damaged if transported in poor weather.

Ease of parking. If customers can park right by your door this could separate you from bigger chain stores in busy shopping malls.

Winter-specific deals for hospitality businesses (For example, a free muffin with every two coffees) or winter giveaways and competitions (every in-store purchase goes into the draw to win a prize)

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TAKE YOUR BUSINESS TO YOUR CUSTOMERS

 

If your customers are at home keeping warm, it doesn't mean they're off limits. Reach out and grab their attention with an e-newsletter or email with special offers, or keep interest brewing through social media. 

The ability for customers to order online is an obvious advantage. You can make the most of this by offering free or low-cost delivery of purchases made online or over the phone.

Posting marketing material, or using a direct mail service, is another way to take your business to your customers. On more valuable items, it could be worth offering home demonstrations.

COLLABORATE WITH OTHER BUSINESSES

Adding value by offering discounts or special offers with purchases is another way to attract wary winter customers. Explore whether you can collaborate with other firms to offer a winter-themed package deal. For example, a discounted ski pass or snow chain hire with every winter jacket purchased.

If, despite all your efforts, you still hit some quiet patches over winter, make the most of the time. Update your marketing material, research new products, get your books up to scratch or plan your spring sale - so you can hit the ground running when milder weather returns.

Fred Ohlsson is the Managing Director of ANZ Business Banking.

- Fairfax Media

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