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Shop owners get free business tips

April 28, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

Every small-business owner should ask at least two main questions, a state expert said Thursday.

Who are my customers?

How do I differentiate my business?

Casey Willson, a retail industry manager for the Maryland Small Business Development Center Network, shared a number of tips at Hagerstown City Hall on Thursday morning.

About a dozen people from downtown businesses attended the free seminar, which was hosted by the city's Economic Development Department.

Willson touched on several categories, including merchandising, presentation and finances.

Knowing customers, he said, means knowing as much as possible about them: their gender, their race, their income, whether they own or rent, how many people are in their families and so on.

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"All this affects every decision you make about your business," he said.

Differentiation means what makes a business first, best, most convenient or the best value, he said.

Willson said it's important to know what matters to the public.

He cited a survey of people who ate at restaurants. The most important feature named by respondents was cleanliness.

Service was second, followed by the presence of a manager.

Good food was fourth on the list.

Other tips for running a downtown shop were changing window displays regularly, making a good first impression when answering the phone and talking to customers when they enter the store.

"People will wait 10 times longer if you acknowledge them," he said.

It's also a good way to cut down on theft, he added.

Deborah Everhart, the city's economic development director, said the turnout might have been low for Thursday's seminar because it's tough for small-business owners to get away from their shops in the morning.

She said a follow-up session might be scheduled for an evening.

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