Retail Week hosted by the Community Business Partnership kicked off today in Occoquan with “Day 1: Make it Happed All Year Round! What are you doing to keep the foot traffic flowing into your store year-round?” Marc Wilson, a successful entrepreneur (many times over) and business consultant focused on retail and restaurants, delivered the keynote address and tackled the most pressing issues for brick and mortar retail in the age of Amazon.

“Profit is an opinion. Cash is a fact.” Those were Marc’s words describing the importance of year-round cash flow to brick and mortar businesses. Retail faces challenges from the online marketplace and declining traffic during the off-peak season. How is each problem tackled?

Amazon is both feared and respected by brick and mortar retail. But take step back, online shopping accounts for only 9% of domestic retail sales (Amazon is 50% of the online retail market), in some sectors, such as clothing and apparel, that figure is much higher. However, Americans still perform an overwhelming amount of the their shopping in stores, but it almost goes without saying that a commanding internet presence is an absolute must-do for all retail stores. With that in mind, retail stores MUST have a strong social media presence, a clean and attractive website, and an email list.

“Google is king.” An attractive, regularly updated, and relevant website is critical for any business, not because having one is nice, but because a website along the lines described above will land you on the first page of a Google search (Commonly referred to as Search Engine Optimization, or “SEO”). Social media  and an email list are both critical for your image and cultivating a loyal following (make sure to ask customers to “check-in” on Facebook at your store).

“80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers.” Marc emphasized that businesses should cultivate a special rewards program among their most loyal customers, notably special “trunk” or “invitation only” sales. Not only does this tactic build revenue over the long term, but it also is an opportunity to increase foot traffic, especially in the “off season,” and established an emotional connection with your customer. On a broader scale, special events draw a wider audience to your store and cultivate more return customers.

Partnerships with local government and organizations.

The importance of local events, for example summer concerts or movie nights, cannot be understated. Events draw people to businesses in your community, they and concentrate a large group of people around restaurants, ice cream shops and bars. Perhaps most importantly, however, is  those customers will return in successive weeks and months to purchase items they may have seen while in town. Retail stores should be open and part of the event, not just observers–but attach themselves in a meaningful way to the event and its theme.

Lastly, Marc emphasized the importance of differentiation. Businesses MUST differentiate themselves, not anything that can be found, as Marc stated, in Wal-Mart or Target. This can mean a niche of a particular product or an experience in and unto itself. But uniqueness attracts and sells. It delivers value.