Opening your shop: how to create a community and find your first customers
Opening a shop of any kind requires significant preparation before your launch. You’ll probably spend several months working to prepare everything!
Developing a community around your shop is an integral part of this; it’s worth spending time and energy on it.
In this article, I’ll start by explaining why I think that a community is key to your success, (because I’m not going to assume anything)! Then I’ll provide a list of practical points to help you to develop your community.
Because yes, creating and managing your community is quite an adventure: you’re going to become ”well known” (relatively speaking) within your local area, you’re going to meet people, make contacts and friends, learn a lot during your discussions and much more.
Creating a community for your shop: what are the benefits?
Is it really worth it?
The question is worth asking: what tangible benefits can you expect from spending so much time and energy building a community before you open your shop?
After all, with all the other things you have to plan and prepare, is it really that useful? Is it just a fad? Can you ignore it?
My objective here is simple: I want to prove to you that it is now essential for your shop’s success, especially if you open a shop with a particular “purpose” (such as an organic shop, a zero-waste grocery shop or a shop selling sustainable products).
Customers of this kind of shop are often part of a community and are used to how it works. Customers who buy from zero-waste shops, for example, have often attended zero-waste workshops and met other families who share the same environmentally responsible beliefs. Creating your community is an opportunity to join existing communities and bring them together to focus on your shop.
What tangible benefits are there to having a community?
Secondly, having an active and close-knit community is a tool which can help you with various other aspects of your launch.
To take a specific example, when we launched our organic and zero-waste grocery shop, Du Bonheur en Bocal, our community helped us to find our shop’s premises. We’d been looking for a long time (this is often a major problem) when a future customer, who shared our interest in the environment and whom we knew and liked, contacted us to let us know that the premises would soon become available. This meant that we were among the first people to meet the owner.
The members of your community will do you countless favours. For example, they:
- will be your first customers,
- will help you to find applicants if you want to recruit employees,
- will advertise for you for free, telling their friends, family and colleagues about the shop,
- will lend a hand! That’s right, we’ve often seen it for ourselves: for example, customers spontaneously offered to help us by taking part in a video presentation of our shop,
- will talk openly about their ideas to improve your product range (remember to check out our new products if you need ideas), your shop, your activities and your events (suggesting speakers for in-store workshops, etc.).
Building your community isn’t a gimmick; on the contrary, it makes it much more likely that your shop’s opening will be a success!
How can you create a community for your sustainable shop?
I hope I’ve convinced you to spend the time and energy on developing a community before you open. Now let’s look at how to go about it.
Get involved in your town
Unless your aim is to open a national chain of shops, you’ll probably be based in a particular area. Your future shop is located in a single town and your customers also live there.
It therefore makes sense to take an active role in your town.
This can include involvement at many levels:
- becoming the chair of a sports club,
- becoming a member of an environmental charity,
- volunteering to teach at a music school,
- joining a local choir,
- organising a street party with your neighbours,
- being someone who says hello in the street and is open to conversation,
You’ll enjoy meeting and talking with new people and you can also lay the foundations of your future community.
It should be noted that some people who run shops prefer not to live in the same town as their business so that they can maintain a certain level of privacy with their family.
It’s true that there’s a quid pro quo to keep in mind: if you’re very involved in your town and you also run a shop, you won’t be able to leave your house without running into a dozen people you know!
Create the right online spaces
How can you create social connections more quickly? With social media, of course.
Creating your Facebook and Instagram accounts several months before your planned opening is a great way to start capitalising on all the “real life” connections you create on a daily basis.
It’s also one less thing to do when opening your shop. For those of you who prefer not to give money to Facebook, having plenty of people who “like” your page will potentially save you from needing to advertise with Facebook Ads.
Manage your online community
Creating a presence on social media ahead of your opening will also give you the opportunity to keep your community informed of your progress, whether you’ve found your premises, had your logo designed or started work on the shop’s layout.
Throughout these preparatory stages, your community can provide feedback and ideas and will feel personally involved in your project. It’s a way for your community to develop a relationship with your future shop!
Manage your “real life” community
If it’s possible, in view of the pandemic, you can give your fans a tour of the shop and invite them to the opening on the big day.
If you have partners or employees, make use of their local networks as well.
Make the most of local contacts
Lastly, remember to meet and communicate with other local contacts who may be able to help you, if only by telling their (often extensive) networks about your shop:
- the local MP, the local mayor,
- community leaders,
- local police,
- the local fire brigade,
Continue to develop your community in the long term
Your community is very important to the successful launch of your shop. As an entrepreneur, you need to focus consistently on developing your community! Part of your community is likely to leave your customer base for various reasons:
- moving to another town,
- gradually taking less interest in your product range,
- changes to their shopping habits (something which can happen at different stages: when children are born, on retirement, etc.).
On the other hand, towns (and therefore your catchment area) often develop at a rapid pace: new neighbourhoods, new housing estates and new business activities all attract potential new customers. These newcomers will not be familiar with your shop and will be delighted to become part of your community, thanks to your continued efforts to develop it in store and online!
In conclusion, developing the community of your future shop is very important. It’s also something which takes time, usually several months. Take it slowly, be consistent and take advantage of every opportunity to meet new people in your town: they’re all potential customers!