Got 60 minutes? Let’s build a marketing plan

November/December 2017—

Without one you’ll never know who your target customer is —or how to reach them.

You’ve been running your furniture store for years now and you’re confident you know who your customer is and, just as important, how to reach them. At least you think you know.

Ask yourself this question: Do you have a marketing plan? Many of you might think you have a plan, but you’re about to find out you don’t. You’re also about to find out how important they are. Because without one, you really haven’t focused your attention on who your customer is or how you’ll connect with them.

A good marketing plan helps you understand who your target audience is—and who they are not. That’s important, especially if you’re trying to reach Generation Generic—the Millennials.
A marketing plan also helps you effectively reach them and gives you a tool to boost your retail sales.

I know you’re busy juggling nine different tasks at one time. A marketing plan is probably No. 10. But here’s the deal: One of the greatest benefits of developing a marketing strategy is that once you have one, all your planning becomes easier—not just your marketing.

The sad part is many independent furniture store retailers have never considered a marketing plan unless they had to file for an SBA loan. If they did, they may have felt they needed an exhaustive and expensive one.

Maybe you yourself have reviewed a few small business marketing plan examples online hoping that you could simply copy and paste, or you’d buy some computer program to help you, and—voila! – you’d have your marketing plan.

Sorry. It doesn’t work that way.

The good news is that creating a plan for your store doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.

But “build it and they will come” just doesn’t work in 2017.

And just for the record, word-of-mouth is not a marketing plan. It’s the bonus, the pink frosting on the vanilla cupcake.

A marketing strategy helps you streamline your efforts because you know who you are talking to in the first place.

Whenever I do business makeovers I ask, “Who is your customer?” The clients invariably reply, “Everyone.”

That’s a lazy answer; you can’t market to everyone effectively. That’s like shooting a shotgun into the air and hoping you hit something and instead waste your effort.

Is everyone really who you’re after? Are you selling furniture to old people who like to skydive? How about teenagers who are constantly on their iPads wearing earbuds? Boomers who are far-sighted and downsizing? Engineers who value knowledge over low price?

There are many segments of shoppers, but most aren’t applicable to your specific business, and I’m here to help you get yours down pat.

When you spend the time thinking about your specific customer, you’ll toss away many ideas that will not reach the folks you’re pursuing. You’ll save time and money and realize your goals more quickly and efficiently.

Relax. This doesn’t have to take a long time to do. Grab a pen and a pad of paper. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, or if it’s after hours, a glass of wine, and develop your marketing plan with me in an hour or less. First, you need to answer these five questions about your furniture store:

Who am I?

Not you personally, your business. The answer has to go beyond your company name and some generic description of the furniture and services you provide. What makes your small store better? What makes you unique? How is what you do different than your competitors?

Better yet, why do you do what you do? Answer these honestly and you’ll be surprised how everything else fits perfectly. If you struggle with this answer, I guarantee your customers will struggle with identifying who you are, too, and your marketing will fail miserably.

Who are my customers?

One of the most important steps in marketing is to be able to target your messages as narrowly as possible. The smaller and more focused your audience, the less you will spend to reach them. Who is your ideal customer? How old are they? Where do they live? Where do they work? Why do they buy from you? Look for the obvious signs…What kind of cars do you see in your parking lot? Do they come in once a month or once a year? Do they pay cash, or charge, or finance or Apple Pay?

And yes, you will have many types of customers, but stay focused on just three different ones. In online marketing, we refer to these as buyer personas so that when we write, we envision one of those key groups.

For myself, I write columns like this one for independent furniture retailers. I’ll write an entirely different column for larger brands, and another column still for C-level executives. They are all concerned about similar issues but each has different needs.

Don’t become discouraged if you do not know some of the answers to these questions or your answers at first seem generic. As you spend time with your plan, you’ll have insights because you will really get to know your customers.

What are my goals?

I tell my small business makeover clients, if you don’t know where you’re going, anywhere will do. And if you don’t prioritize your goals, chances are you will never get there.
Creating a goal is setting the bull’s eye for the target; your goals help you measure the effectiveness of your marketing activities. Set measurable and realistic goals you wish to meet within the next six to 12 months.

This is part of knowing whether your campaign is successful or not so choose your goals to be facts, not a feeling.

How much can I afford?

Your budget will keep your marketing expenses from spiraling out of control or running out of money when you really need to be visible, like during the holidays. You don’t want to spend $1,000 to get $500 in sales so be realistic. If you want to have an event, it should still pay for itself in sales. Don’t forget to budget for Facebook sponsored posts or for your costs to acquire high-quality images for your regular newsletter.

On the flip side, remember many manufacturers have a set amount of co-op advertising funds. A lot of that money goes unspent each year because furniture retailers simply don’t ask about it.

How will I reach my market to meet my goals?

The simplest way is to work backwards from your goals to develop strategies (what’s your logic) and tactics (how you’re going to do it.) Then plug them into a calendar.

An example would be:
Goal: Increase customer traffic by 25 percent weekly
Strategy: Customer traffic currently increases by 10 percent with each e-newsletter. Increasing the subscriber base to the e-newsletter by 14 percent should result in a 25-percent increase in weekly traffic.
Tactic: Create a counter card offering a free widget to every new e-newsletter subscriber during the month of September. Train every employee on why this is important. Have an employee contest for signups. Heck, offer a contest for customers to sign up. Track all new submissions to see if they came back after an email.

You get the idea.

Your retail marketing strategy drives product purchases and lets you know how much you pay for attracting new customers.

Even a brief and simple marketing plan on a napkin can act as your road map to increase your retail success.

The key is to just start. Waiting gets you nowhere.

Follow these tips and you’ll not only find your marketing delivers more, but you’ll be able to buy furniture that more closely aligns with your target customer, which limits markdowns and out-of-stocks.

About the Author

Bob Phibbs

Bob Phibbs, aka the Retail Doctor, is a frequent guest on MSNBC’s Your Business. He has been featured in Entrepreneur magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He can be reached at Bob@retaildoc.com.