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SIU Small Business Development Center offers free retail business workshop

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AFTER: Rendleman Orchards Store

AFTER: After design and consultation work by consultants from Retailworks, the store at Rendleman Orchards' store features improved displays of merchandise.

Southern Illinois retail leaders have an opportunity to look at their business from their customers’ perspective as part of a free workshop offered by the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Small Business Development Center.

The center's goal is to offer professional advice on improving the customer experience. 

“Creating a Customer Experience – Inside and Out,” set for 8 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 7 will give area businesses tips and tricks to get more customers into their stores and make more sales. The workshop will be led staff members of Retailworks, a Milwaukee-based commercial design, display, branding and consulting firm.

“This is about looking at your business with a fresh set of eyes to think about the things that stores can do to make the outside of their business more appealing and then once inside, to think about the psychology side of things – what you can do to get more sales,” explains Greg Bouhl, director of entrepreneurship and business development for the SIU Office of Economic and Regional Development.

Bouhl said the presentation will cover everything from lighting and signage to merchandising and customer flow within the business. In addition to the 90-minute presentation that will be offered both in-person at the SBDC’s offices in Carbondale and via Zoom, a limited number of area businesses can schedule presenters Lyn Falk and Suzanne Rafenstein to visit their location for free on-site consultations.

“We have some slots available where they will actually be going to these storefronts to take a look and provide some one-on-one feedback on how they can improve,” he said.

Bouhl said this is “return engagement” for Falk, founder and president of Retailworks, who has offered a similar presentation and visits a couple of years ago and also has conducted a virtual workshop.

“This is probably the highest-ranked workshop that we do,” Bouhl said. “There’s really a lot of great information and a lot of great takeaways.”

Dave Armstrong, owner of Farm Fresh of Carterville, said the experience was very beneficial for his business. He said he came away from the workshop and visit with a long list of improvements.

“Lyn gave us a lot of great information specifically for our store, things to improve how we were doing business and engage with customers. Her advice was so insightful; she understood the struggles of small business and offered things that was meaningful and unique to my business,” he said.

He said he continues to refer to his notes – almost two years later – when considering changes for his store.

Rendleman Orchards completely renovated and updated their store based upon attendance at the first workshop and later work with the company, vice president and owner Michelle Sirles said.

“We’ve changed the entire store,” Sirles said, adding that she has since contracted with Retailworks to assist with merchandising, point-of-sale systems and store layout.

“I had made all of these changes for a couple of years in a row that I thought were big changes, but I realized they weren’t nearly big enough. She quickly gave me some solutions for customer flow issues and some help with pricing that I knew immediately would pay for itself,” Sirles explained. “Everything that I learned has been so spot on.”

Bouhl said a wide range of ideas and suggestions will be presented.

“There will be some real easy and low-cost things you can do to improve your facility – things that can pay huge dividends just as far as getting people in and to spending more. If you have a building where customers come in, this workshop is for you.”

Registration for the workshop is free, but in-store visits are limited. For more information or to register, call the Small Business Development Center at (618) 536-2424.

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