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How to Get an Out-of-the-Way Retail Store Noticed

(Corrects Michael P. Wippler's title in fourth paragraph.)

Question: How do I increase store traffic without a location that is visible to drive-by traffic?

Answer: It’s difficult for retailers to thrive when they are on second floors or around the corner from main shopping streets. Being out of sight means they are also out of mind for most customers. And they’re definitely out of luck when it comes to attracting drop-ins.

“The principle at retail is, ‘If it is not seen, it is not there,’” retail consultant Herb Sorensen writes in an e-mail. It’s not too difficult to overcome a bad location if your store supports a thriving online business, but if you need walk-in traffic to make your sales, you’ll need to be proactive, he says.

That means ramping up your advertising, making sure you’re identifying your target audience, and giving your best customers incentives to write reviews about you on Yelp and other online review sites. You will also want to sell products that are otherwise unavailable locally and make your customer experience so great that people seek you out even if you’re out of the way, says Michael P. Wippler, a business and real estate lawyer and managing member at Dykema’s Los Angeles office.

“Look to your landlord for help with advertising fliers and see if you can’t direct cross traffic or pool advertising funds with some of the other retailers nearby,” he suggests.

Not so long ago, there wouldn’t be much more you could do, aside from setting up a sandwich board on the sidewalk with your specials chalked on it and an arrow pointing the way to your door.

Today, however, there’s a new world of technology that allows you to contact nearby people on their smartphones and other mobile devices. You could send discounts, coupons, or other incentives to people who might pass close to your store but not see it from the street.

“Experiment with iBeacons. This technology performs an electronic handshake with customers who come within a small canopy zone of your store. You can use it to send out messages to people looking for restaurants or stores like yours,” says Mike Wittenstein, a retail consultant and speaker.

Some of this technology requires would-be customers to install apps on their devices to receive such messages. Other products can send unsolicited messages using Bluetooth technology and free Wi-Fi connections. Alex Romanov is chief executive of iSIGN Media Solutions, an interactive mobile advertising company. “Once connected, users can interact with retailer content to view promos, take polls, and even join a loyalty program,” he writes in an e-mail.

During a three-month trial of his company’s Smart Antenna, a South Florida convenience store interacted with 10,980 customers and potential customers who were within 300 feet of the store. “This represents approximately 20 percent of the smart devices dwelling in the area long enough to be identified by the iSIGN technology,” he writes.

Of course, retailers using this new technology will need to use it sparingly—and give their potential customers something valuable in exchange for getting pinged with ads on their phones. Think of creative uses that bring customers in for special events, suggests James Buckley, general manager of location intelligence for Pitney Bowes. “A small coffee shop can digitally distribute a discount deal to nearby office parks around the mid-afternoon slump, hold a coffee-tasting mixer for younger singles, and drive creative pieces to families, such as promoting a playgroup coffee break.”

Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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