Q: I run an online business which is growing steadily and is about to move into profitability for the first time since I started six years ago. While we cover all the major centres of population in the urban areas, Dublin is growing at a more rapid rate. In terms of focus, can you give me any tips?
A: I am delighted to hear things are going well and it is inspiring to hear about online businesses being successful.
To some degree, the answer is in your question. Dublin has a population in excess of one million and in terms of logistics for deliveries and a concentrated approach to promoting your business, it would seem obvious that you put a disproportionate amount of time into this market.
I am not for one minute suggesting you neglect any of your other markets but in terms of time and budget, you have to prioritise where you are likely to get the greatest return from. Your customers are already signalling to you from this marketplace that they like what you are doing. When running Superquinn, we initially focused on the Dublin market. In fact, our first mission statement was "to be the best at food in Dublin". The Superquinn model needed significant population density and a particular type of customer for our model to work correctly. Dublin offered this very well and we didn't find it too difficult to build sales where we had a dense population around us.
Where we tried to serve regional markets, while we had some successes, it was never our strength. We always struggled to find enough of our type of customer within a 20-minute drive of our shops.
I fully realise yours is an online business and your reach can stretch to anywhere, but strategically it may work to your advantage to focus more of your digital marketing budget and other resources at this large centre of population first in order for you to maximise results. I would be keen to hear how you are getting on in the future so do keep in touch!
Q: ARE there any aspects of the retail sector which annoy you, now or in the past?
A: Typically things don't annoy me, but one thing that I see in the retail sector which does frustrate me is negatively worded signage. It still surprises me when I see signs which say "no cheques accepted here" ... "security surveillance in place" etc.
I remember a key learning for me was at our Blackrock store where we offered free parking for customers. A small number of people were abusing the free parking we offered and we put up a sign that said "after two hours there will be a charge of €1 per hour to park". The aim was to encourage only our customers to use the car park - but the sign we put up was badly worded leading to an outcry from the very people that we wanted to entice in. We very quickly changed the signage to read "the first two hours are free".
Another challenge we had was with the wording of signage for our express checkouts which originally said "10 items only at this checkout". On a daily basis our staff would have to deal with complaints from customers because the previous customer had 11 or 12 items and it also led to those awkward situations where a customer was approaching a check out and would have to be turned away because they had slightly more than the amount. We changed the sign to read "this checkout is reserved for customers with about 10 items". The result was instant and we never had a complaint after that.
In summary, my bugbear is signage that doesn't have thought put into it and over the years I learnt that careful choice of words could avoid frustrating customers.
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