By Mickey Howley
Margie Johnson’s presentation about the economic future of Main Street retail was titled “Trends Reshap-ing Small Businesses.” She was in Water Valley last week, brought here by Mississippi Main Street and the Mississippi Press Association.
Not only is Margie a nationally known expert in retail, she is an upbeat person; you have to be if you are in retail, because it is a hard grind. Her own enthusiasm for the subject was contagious and that was one of her key points. Margie said retailers must have a constant enthusiasm if they want to succeed. Not just happy face type of enthusiasm, but a deep-seated belief that what you are doing makes a difference and matters.
She talked about the demographics of change, who buys what and how do they shop, what each age group does as general trends and why they act in such a manner. She divided the buying public into four distinct generational groups and talked about their backgrounds and expectations. And how retail can fulfill what they are looking for. The hard news was I found out I’m in the second to oldest of the four groups, so that was a bit depressing.
But Margie was not all census data overlaid with sales tax graphs. She also talked about the physical experience of shopping and buying. How humans take much of our information on visual, not verbal messages. How the choice to purchase starts on the outside of a place. Why a good building facade combined with good signage matters. Can you see into the building? Can you tell what is going on inside from the outside? In many respects, we are still like our pre-modern ancestors; most of us are hesitant to just walk into a dark cave. So if folks can’t see in, guess what… they’re not going to come in.
Only once they’re in the door does the interior displays and lighting and presentation start. Margie’s other tip was to light the store at night, if only partially, for the price of the electricity, it is cheap advertisement.
Margie talked advertising budget—I know this newspaper likes to hear that. Her suggestion was to have three percent of gross sales dedicated to advertising. And to vary the methods, but have advertising constantly on the retailer’s mind about getting the message out about what is for sale. Folks need to be reminded your business exists, that is key for new and old customers alike.
The Farmers Mar-ket is going. Last Saturday it happened. That cold weather is finally wearing off. For those of you who were not trying to grow something, it has been a cool and pleasant, if a bit wet, spring. For those growers, well, it has been like being much further north. But summer is just around the corner and that means plenty of fresh stuff at the market. Check it out this Saturday from 8 to 11 at Railroad Park under the big magnolia.