You go inside an old, deserted house on the edge of town. Standing in the hall you hear a creaking sound. Back and forward. To and fro. It’s coming from the front room. Nervously you push open the door. What will you find? Is the house haunted?
There in the corner is a wooden rocking chair. It’s rocking. Back and forward. To and fro. As you watch, a warm, gentle feeling creeps over you. You’re no longer scared. The agent tells you later that a lovely little old lady used to own the house. Every evening she would sit in the old rocking chair beside the fire.
It seems she still returns to sit in her favourite place.
Getting customers to return over and over is every stall holder’s dream. It’s the ones who haunt your stall that you really want!
How can you get customers to return again and again?
Just like the little old lady in her rocking chair, customers come back again and again to a stall or shop because they enjoy the experience. It makes them feel good. But if you are only at the market once a week or worse once a month, then all sorts of things may prevent your customers from returning. They may make another arrangement or simply forget to come. This is where a gentle reminder from you can make all the difference.
But to give that little nudge, you need to be able to contact your customers.
How can you get in touch with customers?
The answer lies in email.
Email is the easiest and cheapest way to keep in regular contact with your customers. Post is a bit more reliable but the costs make it less desirable. Collecting and storing your customers’ email addresses is best done in a customer database.
What on earth is a customer database?
This is simply the name given to the place where you store email addresses and other important contact details about your customers, such as name, postal address and telephone number. You can get fancy customer databases that store a whole lot more information such as purchase history, birthdays, ghost beliefs (just joking) and other information about their buying habits but you don’t necessarily need all that information at the start.
If you use a billing system like Sage or Quick books you already have a customer database. However most businesses selling through shops or farmers’ markets don’t tend to invoice customers and so they don’t tend to collect and store customer details. This is a missed opportunity.
Why do you need to store customer details?
A customer database gives you the opportunity to create much more targeted, personal marketing campaigns. A campaign is just a fancy word for an organized course of action. The success of your campaigns relies on putting a targeted message in front of the right audience. Without a database, you rely on your website and or the evening newspaper, or a leaflet drop to get your message across to customers and potential customers.
Details of potential customers, known as prospects, are even more valuable. If a prospect has given your their email address they have given you permission to get in touch with information about your products and services they may find relevant and useful.
Once you have a customer (and prospect) database you can communicate directly with your customers through e.g. email marketing or direct mail letter. The advantage of this type of communication is that it is personal and can be very targeted. For instance if you have collected all the email addresses from the farmers’ market then you know that everyone on the list goes to farmers markets. You can’t say the same about everyone who reads the evening newspaper. In comparison an advert in the newspaper is far more hit and miss. What about keeping it legal?
Are there any legal issues around data collection?
Before you begin collecting contact details from customers or prospects, you need to sign up for the Data Protection Act. The link takes you to the UK government page which tells you all about the rules regarding keeping people’s data. If you are outside the UK, search for “data protection” in Google or another search engine, to find the equivalent legislation where you are. Once you’re legal, then you can get started collecting data. What’s the best tool to use?
How do you create a customer database?
There are a number of tools to choose. Which you choose will depend on what you want sort of communications you want to carry out. For direct mail, a simple Excel spreadsheet with a column for each piece of information e.g. Title, First name, Surname is ideal for starters.
There are all singing, all dancing customer relationship management (CRM) programmes which enable you to track every interaction with each customer. This is probably unnecessary for most businesses doing Farmers’ Markets but you may require such a programme in due course.
Email marketing software such as Mail Chimp www.mailchimp.com/ offers free entry level packages and allows you to store email addresses and other customer data in a list which help you quickly and easily create email campaigns. Mail Chimp and similar programmes have the added advantage that you can create a sign up form for your website, blog and Facebook page where people can sign up to your list. You can also, still collect details at the market stall and enter information manually.
How do you collect contact details at the stall?
Why would customers give you their contact details? You might well ask. You need to give them a good reason, after all they are giving you something of value. What can you offer in return that is valuable or useful to your customers?
Recipes, special offers or simply reminders about the market can all be helpful for your customers and prospects. This is slow but sure and many farmers’ market businesses such as Sussexway Meat have successfully built up a database of over 1000 farmers market customers using this method. Remember these are people who shop in the farmers markets you attend. How much more targeted can you get?
Don’t like asking for email addresses?
A small well targeted list is worth far more than a huge random list. In fact one accountant has put a nominal value of £10 on every email address on a business list. You can see why because, if you don’t keep in touch with your customers you may find they start haunting other outlets, where they’re made to feel more at home. Places where the business keeps in regular contact. If you offer something of value, such as special promotions, recipes or just reminder nudges for markets and food events, most of your customers will be happy to give you their email addresses. However if you don’t ask, they almost certainly won’t offer an email address to you.
Make sure your customers return again and again to your stall by building and using a customer database. You can take the hard work out of getting sign ups at the stall by using QR codes. To find out how, read the article on How to use QR codes to get sign ups to your email list at farmers markets.