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How to Find Your First Customer

Flickr Photo by Simone Lovati

Most business experts agree that it costs a business six times more to attract a new customer than it does to retain a current one. But here in Montana that may not be entirely true. Montana towns have a much higher turnover of residents than most other states.

We have a low per capita income, sparse population, and some pretty challenging weather from year to year, that cause people to seek more lucrative opportunity elsewhere. We have a hard enough time just trying to keep our MSU graduates in Montana.

According to local figures, Bozeman’s population turns over every seven years. So even if you are the best business around there is a constant influx of new customers up for grabs at any given time. So what’s the best way to bring in “new blood?”

There Are Only Two Ways to Get a New Customer

There are only two ways a business can bring in a new customer. Method one is to steal them from your competitor. Find an unhappy customer from a competitor and make them happy at your business. Method two is to develop a brand new customer that has never used your products or services before.

For example, a high school student turns sixteen and gets a drivers license. The student is now a gas station; tire store, auto repair, car wash and oil change customer. This one person affects a lot of local businesses just by being a new customer to the market.

Stand Out And Bring In New Customers

I would make the following suggestion to every retail business owner reading these posts. Have a yearly, yes I said yearly, “Grand Opening.” When I moved to Bozeman I had to find all sorts of goods and services. A grocery store, shoe store, dentist, auto mechanic, and the list goes on and on. Every year several thousand brand new students show up at MSU needing almost everything.

New people are invading your selling markets daily and any time a new business opens the natural urge is to take a look. Anyone been to the Olive Garden yet?

A yearly grand opening does two things. It alerts new residents, and those MSU students, that your business exists and it also reminds some old customers you may have lost that you are still around and better than ever.

If you are a seasonal business like a ski shop or bike shop you would plan your grand opening just before your selling season begins to capitalize on the peaking interest.  Budget this expense into your advertising and marketing plan each year.

Some final Thoughts

The most important takeaway is that good planning is the key to your success. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Your employees and sales people have to be at their very best. Not just during the Grand Opening but everyday thereafter.

Make sure you have enough salespeople and inventory to satisfy demand. Take a tip from restaurants that have an unadvertised “soft opening” to work out all the kinks and problems before the actual Grand Opening takes place.

You are trying to turn first time customers into lifetime customers, even if they may only be here for seven years. This is much more than a one shot deal — so make the most of it.

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