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Keep Your Best Clients
From Stitches' State of the Industry 2009
May 2009
By Julie Cajigas

If you’re trying to save dollars for your business, look no further than client retention. It costs a lot more to go out and find a new client than it does to develop client loyalty and keep your current clients happy, but that can still be a tall order. "I’m working on retention constantly," says Jay Fishman, owner of Wicked Stitch of the East, a digitizing business. "That’s because every new digitizer out there will offer the first design free, and what’s difficult is that some clients will chase those discounts," rather than stay with a trusted and proven service provider.

The problem with offering initial order discounts is that some clients will go from decorator to decorator (or digitizer to digitizer) to get the discount. "In that sense, it’s very difficult trying to keep in touch with clients," Fishman says. "One day you’re the best thing out there, and then you haven’t heard from them in a while." Stitches talked to decorators to find out how they’re keeping their name out there – and building relationships that last with their clients.

1. Say thank you. Nearly every decorator we interviewed stressed that keeping in touch with your client on a very regular basis is the most important part of client retention. One easy way to keep in touch is to send your client a thank-you note after you’ve completed his order. "Really, one of the best ways to keep in touch with a client is to thank them for coming in to your shop and doing business with you," says Don Tillquist, owner of Coastal Embroidery LLC. However, "we don’t include advertising in our thank-you notes." A thank-you gesture might not seem as genuine if it includes a plug for the next hot product.
2. What else can I do for you? Our survey found that price was a major consideration for clients, but they’re also looking for additional services. "What we try to do is to first show people quality at a reasonable price, not necessarily the lowest price," says Gino Ventresca, general manager of National Embroidery and Transfers Ltd. (asi/299298) "If someone comes in and says, ‘Well, I can go down the street and get this for 50 cents less,’ my answer to that is, ‘What else can that decorator do for you?’" And, many times Ventresca’s clients stop and think. "They often say, ‘I never thought of it that way,’" he says.

In order to add value to their clients’ experience, National Embroidery and Transfers offers clients everything from embroidery and heat transfers to promotional products, plus one thing that’s even more important: information. "I keep information on hand about other services that my clients might need," Ventresca says. "I can’t do all their marketing or create their logo, but I’m happy to help them find someone who can. You’d be surprised how often people call back to say thank you."

3. Give a gift. Sometimes a branded gift is the best way to remind a client about your services and build a better relationship. "I send out thank-you notes and, of course, Christmas cards and holiday greetings, but what really seems to work is sending out a thoughtful gift every once in a while after a big order," says Marcia McGinn, owner of Distinctive Togs. "I don’t do it every time they walk in my door, but I do it when they least suspect it."

McGinn gives her clients samples of other things they haven’t ordered from her. "It’s not that I expect them to order the gift, just to enjoy it," she says. She often gives gifts from another part of her business, as she also does laser engraving and sewing. For instance, if the client orders embroidered shirts, she might give them a personalized laser-engraved clock. "I want them to know that they aren’t just an order to me when they walk through my door, and this has proven to be the best way," she says. But, the next time her client needs a unique logoed product, such as a laser-engraved clock, McGinn’s name will be top of mind.

4. Keep them satisfied. One final way to make sure your clients are happy is to survey them about their satisfaction after their order is completed. "I’ve been working on a survey through because I really wanted to know the good and the bad, and people won’t always tell me the bad," Fishman says. Unless something has gone terribly wrong with their order, many clients will simply swallow minor dissatisfaction, but won’t place another order with you. Instead, take a proactive approach and create a way to follow up with clients after each order to ensure they are happy. Even something as simple as a short e-mail will do the trick.  – JC

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