It’s fair to say businesses thrive and grow through the cooperation of others, so networking is a key activity in building and maintaining constructive working relationships.
Networking can help not only build your business but also improve your service offering; for example, sharing information with other retailers regarding the benefits you’re deriving from your POS (Point of Sale) tech can help them evaluate these options for their business and mean you can - in return - seek their help and information when you need it.
The networking categories
In retailing, effective networking would encompass three categories:
• Suppliers and vendors
• Other retailers
Suppliers and vendors
Establishing good relationships with suppliers and vendors is highly valuable as it means you can create good working relationships with those who you may be doing business with over a long period.
For example, one of your suppliers may have an association with you for many years and - in time - you may be able to gain special terms or favors such as early notification of new lines or special ‘priority’ stocking of an exclusive new product.
Having a presence where your customers gather is no bad thing; platforms such as social media afford an excellent opportunity to build relationships with potential and actual customers.
Many brands do this very effectively, and you can use certain aspects of social media - such as Facebook ads - to more directly draw attention to your enterprise. Formalize this with an event if you want to build on the relationships offline.
Building a network of other retailers can prove highly worthwhile.
As touched on above, sharing ideas and information such as the latest tech innovations you or they are using is beneficial as is, perhaps, supporting one another when disputes occur (such as with local lawmakers).
Sharing business intelligence and generally being able to compare notes is valuable in business generally, and in retail ideas and suggestions as to how to achieve more of the fabled ‘foot traffic’ are always very welcome.
How to network effectively
There’s face-to-face and online networking (usually social media related).
Joining groups who meet occasionally is worthwhile in certain cases, but don’t overdo it and spread yourself to thinly so clogging your diary up with endless networking gatherings: choose carefully and follow these basic principles.
Perhaps identify the key area you’d like to improve your presence in, such as amongst suppliers and vendors or other retailers, and focus on participating in the most appropriate networking groups for these.
When starting out try not to always be directly seeking advantages for yourself: offer your help first and, given a little time, people will start to reciprocate.
Physical networking events can range from local breakfast meetings to larger scale trade shows. Obviously, there’s a big difference between going to a breakfast meeting a few blocks away for an hour every month to attending a trade show that could be halfway across the country involving heavy expense and time away.
Larger commitments like this involve careful groundwork to get the most out of them so prepare properly: perhaps find out who will be there and try and ensure you spend some time with them, for example.
A popular way of engaging with customers though relationship building; many brands have a very effective social media presence.
With customer related social media, it’s important to choose the right platform - or platforms - and use the same ‘voice’ as your customers so as to build empathy.
When using social media for networking with suppliers, vendors and other retailers you’d more likely be using business focused platforms such as Linkedin.
As with physical networking, the key is to offer help and cooperation rather than start by immediately asking for favors and contacts.
Giving and receiving
Along with gaining valuable contacts for yourself, your aim with effective networking for your retail business is to become a worthy asset to others whether customers, suppliers or other retailers. Strike the right balance to reap the rewards for your business.
Patrick Vernon is an experienced freelance writer, specialising in business and finance related content. Patrick has gained experience writing for a variety of magazines and websites, researching the latest money saving tips and offering his advice to the public.