3 steps to building a community around your retail business

This retail tip is a guest post by Jianni Koutsos, Vend customer & owner of Velo Boutique, who understands well the value of knowing your market. So well, in fact, that his market often becomes his friends.

Why build a community around your retail business?

People can buy what you sell from anyone. Community means people think of you first. They know your name. They know you’ll look after them, so they want to look after you. And if they recommend you to their friends? Well, that’s what communities do.

You probably already have a community, you just didn’t know it.

Your customers come to you because they have an interest in what you sell. As a small business, it’s safe to assume that most of your customers share a common interest. You need to cultivate that.

I own a bike shop. To engage my customers with both my business and each other, I lead three shop rides a week. Don’t think we just ride bikes. We have a yarn and a catch up. We ask after one another’s jobs and kids. We become friends.

But it doesn’t matter if you sell knitting needles or garden hoses. You can create community. Organize free in-house courses – or get involved with existing community events.

Some call this networking. I consider it to be much more.

How to create & nurture a community in three easy steps:

1) Love (and live) your brand.

Your brand is your business personality, your culture. It’s not just your logo. It’s what you say on facebook, the merchandise you sell, and your phone manner. It’s all about your overall effect. Figure out how you want people to interact with your brand, and set the tone. Sometimes these choices will be obvious. Sometimes you’ll need to put some thought into them.

For example, do you sell bespoke suits? You’ll probably want to personify James Bond. Make your brand cool and smart. This will dictate how you answer the phone, field emails, and book appointments. It will also dictate what types of events you organise within your community.

Which brings me to my next point.

2) Make an occasion, regularly.

You’re not creating a community in order to sell-sell-sell. That’s a pyramid scheme. You’re providing an occasion for your customers to enjoy what they love. Try to think of what your community needs, and provide it. Would my community appreciate an origami workshop? Not a chance, but yours might.

3) Include your employees. 

Your employees drive your culture. If they aren’t engaged with your community then the cohesion and camaraderie you’re trying to foster is worth diddly.

There isn’t any one way to do this right. Take them to dinner sometimes. Give them rein to organize the next event. Make sure they share your passion.

Jianni Koutsos owns Velo Boutique, a bike shop and cycle-fit studio in Auckland, New Zealand. After retiring from professional sport he set his sights on running the world’s best bike shop. 

Have a tip you’d like to share with the readers of the Vend retail blog? Send us an email at tips@vendhq.com. We’d love to hear from you.

About Tara Benedict

A former retailer (and unabashed nerd) who daydreamed about integrated POS software, Tara now delightedly recruits, promotes, and enables Vend's wonderful channel of add-ons and partners. An ardent sharer of Vend news and events, connect with Tara on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ and never miss an opportunity to meet up with the affable Vend team.