There’s only one boss, and that’s the customer. That is the essence of a presentation given by Jon Schallert to an audience of guests who came to hear him speak on "Reinventing the Mom and Pop Concept" during the two-day Downtown New Jersey conference.
The conference, held June 12-13 at the American Hotel, Freehold, featured "field trips" around the borough and around Monmouth County, a bus tour, a home and garden tour of the borough, and workshops for participants.
Schallert, a nationally recognized retail expert, teaches business owners how to compete in today’s marketplace by adopting new business strategies. He told attendees that reinventing a "mom and pop" concept means they should think about how to make their business a "dominant destination."
"Business is so decidedly different today," Schallert said. "People will literally drive hundreds of miles for a specific item or product."
With humor and wit he referred to several examples of successful dominant destinations. One such business is Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Ore., which has four floors filled with every type of reading material. He said people will drive from almost anywhere to visit the store. Schallert also mentioned a general store which put itself on the map by selling candy from behind the longest candy counter in history — 116 feet.
"This is a high margin item that’s marked up at least four or five times. They don’t sell the candy by the pound either. They sell it by the piece," he said.
Schallert said the individual candies priced at 25 cents each ultimately rack up substantial profits.
"If you don’t turn yourself into a dominant destination, you are going to sink," he warned. "You are not your demographics."
Schallert told the attendees that today’s customer makes business operators "grovel."
"They’re pressed for time, and they never get what they want," he said, noting that the trends in business today will rewrite how business owners actually do sales.
According to Schallert’s statistics, today’s business owners should be marketing their merchandise to the nation’s largest group of consumers — adults over the age of 44. To do that, he said that business owners must only market certain things.
"People over 44 no longer buy because of a certain feature or benefit. They purchase something by intuition or memories," he said.
This over-44 generation of baby boomers is rapidly expanding, according to Schallert, who said the group is topping out at a record 22 million people.
"It’s like suddenly having the country of Canada move here," he said, laughing. "This generation of consumers buys with their hearts, and they are also the wealthiest group of people on the planet as well."
Although Schallert told audience members to "embrace all ages" in their marketing, he stressed the importance of the buying power of the "over 44" crowd. He also reported that people between the ages of 20 and 30 have had a drastic reduction in their population.
Emotional branding was next up on the agenda for the business owners.
"What is the emotion you want to come out of your company?" Schallert asked, adding that one must remain consistent in their emotional branding. "You need to tell prospective customers who you really are."
Advertising by word of mouth and first-person testimonials are two of Schallert’s favorite methods of increasing business. Referrals and telling a friend is another good strategy, he said.
Factors Schallert said should be taken into consideration when trying to transform a business into a dominant destination are items such as exterior signs and exterior glass decor. He suggested placing only the hours of the business and the type of charge cards accepted in the window. Too much in the way of sign advertising is distracting and will detract from selling the product, he said.
Having "non-selling" repeated contact at least four times establishes memory and a bond between a business and a customer, according to Schallert. He suggested thank-you cards as a way of establishing that bond.
"Send a card 48 hours after contact, another at one month, three months and finally at six months," he said.
In addition to marketing to a specific age group, Schallert advised conference attendees to increase their service to the point of extreme.
"Do the unnecessary, the unexpected and the undeserved," he suggested.
Citing an example of a one-hour cleaning service, he told the guests the business owner allowed customers to honk their car horn when they arrived and their cleaning would be brought to the car.
Another bit of advice was getting the staff of a business to cooperate and sing the praises of the business the same way the owner would.
In addition to Schallert’s presentation, Susan Bass Levin, commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, delivered the opening address to the two-day event. Gov. James McGreevey shared his thoughts with conference attendees on June 13.
Other highlights of the event included an interactive seminar which focused on using the arts as a mechanism for growth and featured a panel of people from the arts, as well as the Center Players theater group, conducting role-playing workshops and vignettes.
A tour of the borough highlighting its history took guests to the First Baptist Church, to the Court Street School and to the former Karagheusian rug mill, which once employed roughly half of the town’s workforce for more than 50 years. The former mill at Jackson and Center streets has recently been converted to a residential and commercial use structure.
A second tour, according to Jayne Carr, director of the Freehold Center Partnership, which hosted the conference, took participants to other towns that are in the process of revitalization. Asbury Park and Long Branch were destinations for the guests.