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64 May 2017 | beautystorebusiness.com Unfortunately, we stumble upon these gems too infrequently. Sometimes we are too busy to notice fantastic ideas, even when they're staring us in the eyes. Taking a more purposeful and systematic approach to mining for new ideas is there- fore a must. Hopefully you're already using mystery shoppers—secret customers who act like all the other customers—to gain feedback about their shopping experience at your store. By completing a question- naire about their experience, mystery shoppers show you what store operations look like through a customer's eyes, mak- ing it easier to identify strong and weak points of your operation that you may not be objective enough to see. Consider tak- ing that mystery shopper questionnaire along when visiting relatives in another city or state and shopping your competi- tion. Resolve to make the most of your next incognito shopping spree. WHY SHOULD YOU? There are many reasons to shop the competition. Location is the first factor to consider: If you're in a small town or community, shopping your competi- tion there might be a little too obvious, whereas in a large city, you're more likely to get away with an anonymous visit. The best bet is to visit the competition in a nearby city or when you're away on busi- ness or on vacation. This way, you're less likely to be recognized. Visiting other beauty stores is helpful, especially if you feel stuck in a rut. Some- times the status quo makes us feel like our feet are trapped in molasses, making it dif- ficult to make progress. A strategic visit to a competitor can help spark your creativity by giving you a firsthand look at some different tactics. Perhaps they are experi- encing some of the same issues that you're facing, such as slow traffic early in the week. Or, more importantly, maybe they aren't slow at the beginning of the week. If that's the case, what are they doing to drive sales? If you see a competitor having a great day on your traditionally slow day, look around and see what they're doing differently. A successful "Terrific Tuesday 10% off sale" is something you can easily implement in your own store. Sometimes we just need a fresh way of looking at things. Being so close to our own stores blurs our objectivity, making it easy to overlook important elements that are in plain sight. Visiting a competitor who has a super bright and clean store may inspire you to give your store a make- over with better lighting, new paint and a more vigorous broom. New ideas are everywhere, so seeing what a competitor does and doesn't do can provide valuable new insights about your store. BEST PRACTICES Sometimes the best way to approach the competition located several states from your own is to simply introduce yourself to the store manager. Many store managers like yourself wouldn't mind a visit and are willing to trade tips with fellow store owners who don't present a threat to sales. However, if the manager is busy or not in, or if you'd rather not reveal your identity, you can still conduct your own mystery shop of the store. Approach the visit as if you are mystery shopping your own store. Start with a questionnaire or a good outline of the main points you're interested in. Pay attention to everything you encounter. Is the parking lot clean and inviting? How is the entrance to the store? Do you feel safe? Did you receive a greeting from an associate when you entered? How were your senses affected upon entry? Did it smell nice? Bad? Continue these observa- tions until you leave; notice whether or not someone says, "Thanks and come again!" Ask yourself all the questions you would want to know about your location. Keep in mind that the day or time you choose to visit can impact your findings. If you have the luxury of time, try visiting during both peak and slow days to get a feel for how well the store handles a throng of customers and what the asso- ciates do to occupy their time when you are the only customer in the store. Bringing a companion along is also helpful because you'll both notice differ- ent things. Also, when you're back in the car, you can discuss your experience and the merits of what you encountered— two minds are better than one and are likely to remember more details.