Gareth Osborne at Tarmac Cement offers a few tips to merchants looking to step things up a gear in 2021.
Builders merchants have been key in helping support the construction industry’s recovery after a turbulent year, maximising their essential retail status to support trades that worked through COVID-19 restrictions.
Growing your marketing presence
There are many ways that merchants can grow business – and in today’s digital world, a solid social media strategy is one of the most effective ways to help grow your customer base and increase engagement.
Social media has now overtaken a brand’s website as the primary source for information amongst users aged 35 – 55, so your online ‘shop front’ must be working as hard as it can be. Not every social platform will be relevant for your audience so start by thinking about which one is right for you. For example, if your aim is to offer better customer service, Twitter is perfect for quickly and efficiently responding to enquiries. On the other hand, if your goal is to build brand awareness amongst a younger audience, you might want to consider Instagram. Likewise, Instagram’s image-based interface allows tradespeople to visually showcase their work to potential customers, while Facebook opens the door for strong communication between merchants and the customer. Understanding what your objectives are and where your audience is spending their time is the first step in getting them to engage with you.
When thinking about your content, establish some themes to guide your content and ensure a good mix and balance of posts. Simple themes can include areas such as team news, product information, industry insight or even live content direct from the branch. Consider asking a question to encourage interaction from followers or promoting a specific product’s benefit. Likewise, invoking curiosity works well – try giving a sneak peek at a new product or kick-off a competition encouraging people to share and interact with your page.
Ready to expand?
If you’re ready to grow your team, there are many ways to find good people. For smaller or independent merchants, a good first step to take is to use personal networks first – and merchants have a bigger network than most. Speak to your customers and make it clear that you’re recruiting, because they may know somebody either at another merchant or even someone in the trade who is looking to switch. Again, make the most of social media too here, particularly Facebook which is useful to spread awareness in local communities.
Another option is to look at apprentices – the Builders Merchants Federation has developed a merchant apprenticeship, which offers a structured route into merchants for school leavers.
There is an inevitable trade-off when taking on apprentices compared with more experienced staff. Apprentices will need guidance and support, and perhaps an element of patience – but they can be more easily moulded to the ways that your business works. There are financial incentives too, with continued Government support for apprenticeships to help get people into work.
Margin erosion through unnecessary discounting and poor sales techniques can be a key problem for builders’ merchants, so it’s important that all front facing staff receive suitable training to tighten margin management.
Of course, there are the obvious training considerations, such as understanding mark-up, profit and net-profit. Yet, a major factor for sales representatives is to be able to recognise the key steps in successful product placement. Reducing single line purchases and enhancing the customer journey should be a priority for merchants. One way of doing this is to place products in eye-catching, logical groups, that not only increases awareness but also makes the purchasing process easier for the customer.
An example is cross selling, which can be one of the simplest ways to grow revenue. Here, merchants should be taught the skills to successfully identify customer buying motives and position similar and relevant products accordingly. For example, positioning cement products such as Tarmac Blue Circle Postcrete near to fencing products will make the customer journey easier and increase wider basket spend in the branch.
Building a brand
Consolidating your expertise is another simple way to grow business – knowing your products inside out can really add value to the customer. Ask your customers questions – what they are working on, what tools do they need for the job? Show a genuine interest in their projects and offer advice on what they may need. Engagement with customers benefits both the customer and, crucially, your bottom line.
And on the topic of products, think about the brands you work with. Merchants who stock brands that customers instantly recognise to stand for quality, value or superior performance can achieve numerous business benefits. Not only can the merchant sell at increased premium, but they will also increase customer loyalty and footfall, earning further sales across other products. And as we know, loyal customers are the backbone to any business.
Tarmac covered some of the issues in a recent podcast in the One of the Family series from Blue Circle cement products.