If you really want to exceed in business, stop trying to appeal to everyone. Retail expert Clare Rayner reveals why indies should target a specific customer group and stick to it

The Centre for Retail Research estimates that as many as 62,000 UK shops – that’s one in five – could close in the next five years. The figure is a stark reminder of the current challenges ahead for retailers large and small – and it’s a real reason to make absolutely sure that your business model is as well oiled as humanly possible.

I speak to a lot of retailers in my role as founder of Support for Independent Retail. And what I’m often struck by is the general consensus that one business can appeal all purses and all people. The truth is that it absolutely cannot. As womenswear retailers, it’s crucial for your future success that you pinpoint your ideal customer and get to know them so well that they become as familiar to you as an old friend.

Only when you are targeting a very specific customer can you have absolute confidence that you’re presenting the right products to them, at the right price, and marketing to them in the right language.

Defining an ideal customer can be counter intuitive to a retailer who wants to increase their customer base – but it works.

Imaginary friend

If you know your customer in such a level of detail that they become as familiar to you as an ‘imaginary friend’ then you’ll be able to really put yourself into their shoes and you’ll be able to anticipate their needs and wants so that your business is primed and ready to deliver.

Let’s say that you want to attract ‘Sue’. She is 46, married with two children and lives in a five-bed detached house just outside London. She works part-time, but used to work in a highly paid full-time position. When the kids are at school she is working and in her leisure time she goes to the gym or out to dinner parties with friends that she’s met through the school. Her husband continues to work full-time in London.

If you want to attract ‘Sue’, and if you do a good job, you’ll discover there are actually a lot of Sues. In addition you will also attract ‘wannabe Sues’ (young women aspiring to her lifestyle); ‘has-been Sues’ (older women who used to have her lifestyle and still enjoy many of the same things); and then all the friends and family of the numerous Sues, wannabe Sues and has-been Sues as they recommend your business.

And all you started with was Sue.

Speak the language

When you communicate with your ideal customer through your marketing materials, speak to them as you would on a one-to-one basis and your marketing messages will be much more engaging. Your message will resonate with all those people out there who are very much like your ideal customer. In addition you’ll also attract the ‘wannabes’ and the ‘has beens’ too.

“But I’ve got several different types of customer: I can’t only define one!” This is a common response I receive from retailers when posed with the ideal customer scenario. My answer to this in the first place would be to analyse your types of customers and understand which are the most profitable, loyal, and most similar to the one you expected to attract when you wrote your mission and positioning, and continue to focus on that one initial type.

Your ideal customer is who you are buying product for, who you are selling product to, and why you are in business – and you can’t afford to be vague about this!

It’s not about being restrictive – it’s about being specific. You’ll soon realise that there are a lot of people just like your ideal customer. If you serve them well they will bring along all their friends who will have very similar needs, wants, likes and dislikes, to your ideal customer.

Building loyalty

ideal2You also have to consider those who aspire to be your ideal customer – the wannabes! They will want to buy from you, and whilst they may be less frequent customers initially they might become more like your ideal customer in future and they will already be loyal to you.

Like all of us, your ideal customer ages – remember this – if they loved your offering (or would have loved your offering had you have been about when it was most relevant to them) then chances are you will still be able to fulfil some of their needs and wants. I don’t mean the team ‘has-beens’ in a derogatory way – it’s a fact – once upon a time they were your ideal customer – now they have aged. While a trendy fashion boutique aimed at 20-somethings may not be appropriate for a professional in her 40s, it may still stock a few items she would like. Moreover, if she ‘has been’ a loyal and satisfied customer in her youth then she may pop back and buy accessories, or something for a party. Don’t think this group doesn’t apply to you – it does.

By analysing your ideal customer you will discover that by not being all things to all people you become a very important part of some people’s shopping experience. Think about your own shopping experiences – is there a shop where you just know you’ll find exactly what you are looking for? Did there used to be a shop like that but you just ‘out-grew’ it?

If you can really ensure you know your ideal customer so well that you almost know what they want before they know it themselves then you are in the perfect position to secure their custom, their loyalty, their advocacy.

Never underestimate the power of being in tune with exactly who your ideal customer is.

Clare Rayner is The Retail Champion, author of 10 Steps to Retail Success and founder of Support for Independent Retail. For more tips and advice visit Retailchampion.co.uk/steps-to-retail-success