Looking back at the Summer of 2015, many retailers in the smoke and vape shop industry reported having endured an exceptionally slow summer season. Some college-area stores tend to see a slowdown each year around that time as students vacate the local dorms and head back to their own hometowns, but this year, according to the hundreds of store owners I speak to, has been different.

Nobody can seem to put their finger on any specific reason, or reasons, for the drop in business, with most stores having come off of a record breaking 1st quarter only to fall flat in the 2nd and 3rd.

Fortunately, the common consensus is to not give up, and I totally agree. When markets are at their lowest, opportunities always tend to arise and we’ve got a few pointers here that should be able to help you bail out the year’s sales with a strong finish to 2015.

MARKETING MAKEOVER

When your sales are low, there are a number of factors that may be contributing to it, but the most common is the simple fact that sometimes your customers just don’t have the money to spend. With low sales totals being reported coast to coast, it stands to reason that the day-today retail customers of our industry are not driving it as forcefully as they did at the beginning of the year.

By showing sympathy to their plight, you can make a human connection between your brick & mortar store and your customers, which in turn will encourage them to support you when they do have some spending money in their budget.

Consider big sales/price reductions, contests or giveaways on social media, as well as in-store raffles. I realize that it hurts a bit to give away product after a tough sales season, but your customers will see compassion, and compassion breeds loyalty.

You can even hit up your vendors, distributors, and manufacturers for promotional gear like stickers, posters, apparel, accessories and more. You’d be surprised at how many of your customers will tell all of their friends a message of your choosing, all in hopes of winning a free pack of stickers that essentially costs you nothing.

Also, don’t be too proud to mention the slow summer in your advertising. Let your customers sympathize with you, but always word your marketing properly to make your customers feel like you are ultimately lowering prices or making deals to help them get back in the game.

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

When you are trying to snap your customers out of their spending funk, there is no better way to do it than with new and innovative products.

Trying to excite and motivate your customers to take a trip to your store is not an easy task when your only bait is the same products they saw on your shelf in March. Fortunately, we work in an industry constantly in flux, where new ideas and products come to market year round, allowing you to always stay ahead of the curve, and keep your shelves stocked with the latest and greatest.

Attending trade shows and working with diverse distributors are two proven ways that head shops, smoke shops, and vape shops keep themselves on the cutting edge of what our industry has to offer.

Of course, you need to make room on those shelves, so coming up with inspiring deals on your aging inventory is another great way to get customers to open their wallets a bit wider. Bundling older products, especially if they are closely related, is a great way to give an older product a new look, as well as renewed consideration from your customers.

CONSUME CUSTOMER FEEDBACK

When business is slow, it is human nature to let laziness creep in – don’t! Particularly when it comes to dealing with customer feedback, be it positive or negative. When times are good, it’s easy to satisfy customers and bend your policies to keep people happy, but it’s when times are not so good that you will truly be judged by your customer base.

Using a rough summer to connect to your customers can be a winning strategy when the feeling is mutual, but it can have the complete opposite effect if your rough summer becomes the go-to excuse for why you are not handling your customer service correctly.

Instead, actively farm for feedback from your customers. Teach your employees to fish for those tidbits of info from your front-line customers, and with enough of it to work with, you can steer your store’s policies or purchasing to be more in line with the desires of your paying customers.

NOTE THE PRESENT TO PREDICT THE FUTURE

If you are not already doing so, implement a record-keeping system for your store’s monthly sales that you can reference for years to come. It will take time to compile – years before it is truly effective – but having the ability to look back at the past three summers, or specific months, and being able to predict with some certainty how your next few months will go can be a priceless commodity for a budget-conscious store owner or manager.

How you itemize or break down your sales numbers is up to you; but the more detail you put into those records, the more educated your decision making process will be for years to come.

In summary, there are sure to be some lessons learned from the slow sales summer of 2015. The biggest lesson, though, is not to dwell in the past, but to look to the future – and the future looks bright.

A report by industry magazine states that the smoke shop industry generates over $10 billion annually in the U.S. The popular online listing site HeadshopFinder.com claims to have over 7200 stores in its database, with several more being added each day.

We wouldn’t be seeing this continued rapid expansion of the industry if this lazy summer was any sort of a true financial indicator of things to come. Instead, we are seeing smart investors making moves now that will pay dividends for the months and years to come. Are you one of them? SVBS

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Jack “Guru” Riordan is the Senior Account Manager at Masterminded Distribution. Jack brings well over a decade of high level sales and marketing experience to the table. Jack can be reached  by phone at 949.420.0507, or by email at [email protected], or visit their website at www.master-minded.com.