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Tough questions net big results

There are a couple truths in life that are important to small retailers, especially if they feel like their business is in the doldrums or if they recognize it has slipped into a crisis.

The first truth is: The tougher the questions we ask, the bigger the results we net. 

The second truth is: Not many people like to answer tough questions. And, the third truth is: Even fewer of us can ask the really tough questions of ourselves.

So, what's a business owner to do? The answer is something that's as certain to be necessary as it can be uncomfortable. You need to ask the people closest to you and even some people you don't know all that well to evaluate you and your business and honestly critique both.

At the Heart of Iowa Market Place, we do just that. We do it with our vendors, our financial advisers, marketing consultants, corporate and individual clients who do business with us online, the people who walk into our store in historic Valley Junction and -- this can be especially tough -- with my friends and family.

Part of that constant review should include customers and clients because business in general and retailers in particular don't go back as often as they should and ask their clients several important questions. How'd we do? Were you happy with our product and your experience? What can we do better? While we may not always get the answer we want, your customers and vendors will appreciate and trust you even more because you asked these tough questions.

My thoughts regarding this were recently confirmed when one of our large suppliers asked 15 of their top customers to attend a roundtable discussion on how they could improve their business and help us to sell more. While all of the feedback for them was not positive, I felt great about being asked and felt like they cared about me as a customer. (Now let’s see what they do with this feedback.)

That's important, because the process doesn't do you any good if you choose to ignore the advice you get. You have a responsibility to weigh what you're hearing -- even when it's uncomfortable or downright painful -- and make the right changes to make your retail business stronger. 

Inviting people in to critique you is hard, but if you don't do it you don't get better. Who should you be asking to critique your store? And why are you waiting another minute to have them do it?

-Kelly Sharp, owner, Heart of Iowa Market Place

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