Experiences that Bring Customers Back!

We’ve heard from several communities across the commonwealth that improving downtown hospitality is a high priority in making their downtowns a destination! With help from the Virginia Tourism Corporation, DHCD has put together a series of 20 workshops across the state called Delivering Memorable Experiences Downtown, which aims to strengthen business hospitality to provide an experience that creates return customers and positive and proactive word-of-mouth.

Delivering the workshop is Virginia Tech associate professor and author, Dr. Vincent Magnini, who was recently ranked one of the top 12 most prolific hospitality researchers worldwide. Dr. Magnini has published six books and more than 150 articles and reports. His projects typically include destination marketing plans, economic impact analyses, feasibility studies and visitor satisfaction tracking. Before his career in academia, Dr. Magnini worked on management teams at Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton Garden branded hotels in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern regions of the U.S.

This training is designed specifically for business owners – restaurant, retail, service – there is something for everyone. Learn how to generate good buzz for your businesses!

Sign up for a workshop near you! Contact Jessica Hupp at Jessica.hupp@dhcd.virginia.gov or 804-371-7121 to register. Do not wait to reserve your seat for these one-time events!

August 6: Hopewell
August 14: Petersburg
August 15: Farmville
August 20: Waynesboro
August 21: Staunton
August 22: Winchester
August 23: Culpeper
August 29: Strasburg
September 11: Altavista
September 12: Pulaski
September 13: Lynchburg
September 14: Vinton
September 18: Cape Charles
September 19: Franklin
September 24: Gloucester

Quality v. quantity

Last Thursday, at the Virginia Main Street 25th Anniversary Milestone Achievement Awards, keynote speaker Chuck D’Aprix spoke about the importance of making your downtown attractive to entrepreneurs.  One way to do this is to focus on the quality of the experience rather than the quantity of products you sell.

In short, it is difficult to compete with big box store prices and the accompanying scale that makes those small margins possible.  So why not try delving into high quality products that carry a much higher margin and offer a much richer experience? 

If you focus on giving your downtown customers a quality, authentic and unique experience, you will become an attraction for those with quality in mind who don’t mind paying a little (or a lot) extra for that quality.  To quote an article on Kansas’ Prairie Marshes in Legacy Magazine,

Happy and satisfied visitors stay longer, return often, and “spread the word” both about the joys of visiting our region and the importance and significance of the resources found here. This has raised the visibility of the tourism industry at the local, state, and national levels.

From $10,000 boots to stagecoaches to ballgloves to guitars, watch this short slideshow on successful “craftpreneurs.”  And yes, I just made up that word.

Bob Mills, owner of Angle Hardware in Rocky Mount, VA, once told me that Wal-Mart didn’t bother him.  Their product knowledge and quality was poor.  Lowe’s has a much wider selection and is more specialized than Wal-Mart, but do you think you can get someone at Lowe’s to tell you whether a machine screw or a hex bolt will hold better?  Angle Hardware is the real deal.  You don’t wander for hours past spa tubs to find your drill bits.  You walk in and you get greeted by name and with a handshake and a sincere, “What can I help you with?”  If you need one screw, you get one screw, not a box of 25. 

Quality customer service is a rare commodity; but one you can find readily on Virginia’s Main Streets.

Guest Blogger: Orange’s Jeff Curtis on rallying Main Street around customer service training

We’re turning over the space today to Jeff Curtis, director of the Orange Downtown Alliance for some tips on rallying downtown merchants for an effective training. 

One of the recurring issues addressed in our Business Development Committee meetings has been customer service, or more specifically, the lack of it.  It’s an important issue for any community, and especially important for those wanting to tap tourism markets.

Orange is barely five minutes away from James Madison’s Montpelier, which has more than 90,000 visitors a year. We’re close to some of Virginia’s wineries, including Barboursville, and we’re  part of the regional cultural heritage trail, The Journey Through Hallowed Ground, which follows the Old Carolina Road from Gettysburg to Monticello.

In addition to having our doors open and making sure people find Orange when they’re visiting these attractions and exploring the area, we also want to make sure that tourists have a good experience while their here.  So when the opportunity arose to engage the community in customer service training, we leaped.

Here are some key points to consider when planning a customer service training event:

  1. Commitment.    Agree as a group that there is a need.  The backing of a committee or a board is important so that you’re not out there on your own.
  2. Confidence.  Be sure a positive message is sent out from the start.  Nothing worse than the subliminal message of, “Our stores suck at customer service”.  Better to have the message that “We are dedicated to providing the best customer experience available in (town).  We care about you (the merchant) and you the customer and are here to offer suggestions.”
  3. Capability.  Who do you have that can do this: a community college? A business leader?  A college intern?  Virginia Main Street retail consultant Marc Wilson?
  4. Cost.  If it’s free, participants may not think it’s worth their time.  What do you have to charge to recover expenses and perhaps make a profit while still maintaining an affordable tuition?
  5. Location and Timing.  Make it accessible. Can you do it before opening hours or after closing hours.  Are there competing events on the community calendar? What is the ease of getting there?  How accessible is parking?
  6. Promotion.  You don’t want this to be a case where you built it and they didn’t come.  No secrets here:  do whatever it takes to get people there.  Even if they come kicking and screaming about being sole shop-owners, no time, don’t have the money, etc…  Get them there.  They’ll thank you about three minutes after the class is over.  Use your newsletter, your Web site, direct mailings, announcements through an e-mail listserv, go door to door with flyers, make phone calls, hang posters, send press releases (why you always stay close friends and lunch buddies with your local newspaper editor),  find a sponsor to help pay for advertisements, talk it up–send it out–float it around.
  7. Appreciation.  Thank anybody who does anything at all to make this happen.  Give away the credit–the newspaper, the trainer who’s volunteering his expertise, the sponsor, and the town for use of the community room.  People are motivated by being appreciated. 
  8. Modification.  What are you going to do different next time?  Write it down or you’ll forget.

Finally, make note of participants who get really involved. They might be good candidates to help organize the next training, and you can encourage them to spread the word to their peers who couldn’t make it about what they learned.

Let me know if you have any comments or additional suggestions by e-mailing me at: director@orangedowntownalliance.org.